The Sept. 30, 2012 editorial of the Varsitarian, “Of Lemons and Cowards,” has arguably become the most controversial editorial in Philippine campus press history. Some would say the most notorious, but the Varsitarian would like to look at things positively. But if critics and detractors still would contest those claims, then they should agree at least that the editorial—with nearly 50,000 “shares” as of this writing—has made the Varsitarian, which closed the first semester with nearly 300,000 online hits, the most-read campus paper in the country, even shaming the circulation figures and online hits of the metropolitan news media claiming, without much mathematical bases, to have a national reach.
Many of these news media piggybacked on the Varsitarian to increase their circulation, particularly online agencies that cashed in on the heavy Internet traffic when the editorial went viral. Along with netizens with psychotic tendencies at cyberbullying, these same outfits through their editorials and columns roundly condemned the Varsitarian editorial for its alleged ad hominem attack against Ateneo and La Salle professors and other backers of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. It doesn’t matter that by their editorial practice, and by being less than candid about their funders, they have shown time and again their bias for the RH bill, for it to be passed at all costs, regardless of its questionable features. They have even carried out a vicious campaign against the Catholic Church, which, in this benighted country of political opportunists and media mercenaries, is the only authentic political opposition. Backed by financial heavyweights, the commercial news media assaulted a hapless campus paper and accused it of bad journalism and unfair commentary. It was a case of the sinner casting the first stone.
While the Varsitarian may be a bunch of political lilies, it is not a spray of shrinking violets. Like Saint Paul, it will not run away from the good fight. Like San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, it will die a thousand deaths just to uphold the faith. And like Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr (he was stoned to death, remember?), it is possessed with the purity of searing idealism to expose sham and uphold the truth. As Christ quotes Psalm 8 in Matthew 21:16, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes perfected praise.” This gem of perfected praise the Varsitarian tries to share with others even at the risk of provoking opprobrium while bearing in mind the admonition of Christ, “Do not throw your pearls before swines.”
In the case of its editorial, the Varsitarian merely stated the obvious. Catholic professors and school administrators who openly oppose the bishops’ stand against the RH bill should resign their faculty membership if only to show the courage of their intellectual conviction. Falling short of that, they risk being called interlopers, pretenders, and mercenaries. The Varsitarian is not one to mince words. It calls a spade a spade, a lemon a lemon.
But what if one’s idealism is blind? That is why the Varsitarian seeks guidance from the Catholic Church. At the risk of being called “pro-UST administration” and clerico-fascist, the Varsitarian mines the wisdom of Catholic teaching in order to craft its positions on the burning issues of the day. The UST administration itself has stated that it does not meddle with the Varsitarian, which is editorially independent. Moreover, the paper has maintained in its declaration of principles that it views itself as a Catholic paper, which is the perfectly natural thing to declare since, after all, the Varsitarian is the official student paper of what Pope Pius XII had declared as “The Catholic University of the Philippines.”
The Varsitarian has been consistently opposed to the RH bill for going against the natural law that is enshrined in men’s hearts and, mind you, in the Philippine Constitution: The State “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” The Varsitarian upholds the natural law even without recourse to Catholic teachings because the natural law covers everyone, including non-Christians. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “The natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.” This participation is available to all humans independently of their reception of divine revelation.
Moreover, natural law is self-evident. Anything good, according to the Angelic Doctor, perfects human nature, and the opposite of this good, evil, is to be avoided in all human acts. It is perfectly obvious from this perspective that abortifacients are “not good” because they destroy life. And women should not take contraceptives since they have dangerous side effects to their health and well-being. As Aquinas says, “Bodily health is a good to be pursued and bodily harm avoided.”
Although Rep. Edcel Lagman had initially maintained that the RH bill is a health measure, he has more and more justified the proposed legislation as a population-control measure, especially since President Aquino has more espoused it to explain the persistence of Philippine poverty as a matter of the poor breeding like rabbits. (Consider again his remarks in his last state of the nation address in which he called for the passage of the “responsible parenthood” bill to check the backlog in education). The President, who has an economics degree from Ateneo, betrays the business management mindset. He shows his condescension toward, nay his utter contempt for, the poor.
It is not surprising therefore for business groups to press for the passage of the RH bill. Zealots for management and order, they would not mind demographic curbs such as mass vasectomy and ligation even at the cost of demographic meltdown or women’s health being compromised because of the negative side effects of contraceptives. These would be the same business groups that welcomed Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972 and the formalization of constitutional authoritarianism via the 1973 Constitution, which, incidentally, enshrined family planning as a state policy, perhaps the only charter in history to do so. By the time the conjugal kleptocracy fled to Hawaii in 1986 amid the popular revolution led by the Church, the dictator and the business monopolies he had fostered through cronyism and corruption were a shambles. Marcos and the charlatans of business and management showed the stupidity of population control. They showed that poverty is caused not by alleged overpopulation, but by corruption, mismanagement and misguided and essentially anti-poor policies like family planning.
Intellectual dishonesty, moral cowardice
So the Varsitarian has been consistent—and sound—in its opposition to the RH bill. In the case of its controversial editorial, the Varsitarian tried to point out the inherent contradiction of the position taken by some Ateneo and La Salle professors in signing statements in which they identified themselves as members of the Catholic academe but opposing the bishops’ position against RH and generally calling for the passage of the bill. It doesn’t take a magus to discern that a faculty member of a Catholic school who opposes officially and openly a position consistently held by the bishops, who constitute the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Church, puts himself in a position that makes untenable his continued membership in the Catholic institution. For him to invoke his academic freedom in keeping his Catholic faculty position would be the height of intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice. It would be the height of selfishness.
In addition, for Catholic university authorities such as the Jesuits and Christian Brothers not to throw down the gauntlet on such professors would be tantamount to faintheartedness and even betrayal of the bishops and the Church.
Ultimately what the Varsitarian editorial was merely citing was the scandalous behavior of certain Catholic professors and school administrators who seemed oblivious to the dire consequences of their behavior to the community of faith. It was also directed as much to UST faculty members as to their counterparts in Ateneo and La Salle. Despite its brash, vehemently polemical, and perhaps, yes, unchristian language, the editorial sought out to remind educators and planners that they have certain duties and obligations to fulfill in the interest of the Christian communion. The editorial didn’t hold its punches because brutal candor was needed.
The scandal in the Church is often committed by its members. In this case, it is by faculty members and administrators whose behavior is a scandal to their pupils. It is the scandal that Christ warned against: “And whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he were cast into the sea. (Mark 9:42; Douay-Rheims Bible).