IF THE University administration would have its way, it would apply a practical solution to a practical problem: it would phase out the Philosophy department of the UST Central Seminary (USTCS) due to the dwindling number of students. But the illustrious alumni of the oldest school of Philosophy in Asia would not hear of it. They believe the department, which houses young student-residents who are in one of UST’s Centers of Excellence, deserves another lease on life.

And the administration obviously did not lend a deaf ear to the alumni’s pleas. Although already inclined towards phasing out the Seminary’s Philosophy department, Fr. Rector Tamerlane Lana, O.P. ordered a re-evaluation of the plan. A committee backtracked on the plan and decided against it. Instead, the Seminary would just impose more stringent admission requirements.

Fr. Lana headed the committee. Other members were Seminary Rector Fr. Honorato Castigador, Seminary Vice-Rector and bursar Fr. Roberto Pinto, O.P., pastoral director Fr. Ramon Salibay, O.P., Faculty of Philosophy Dean John Funelas, O.P., Faculty of Sacred Theology Dean Fr. Fausto Gomez, O.P., Faculty of Canon Law Dean Javier Gonzales, O.P., and spiritual directors Pedro Tejero, O.P., Fr. Vicente Cahilig, O.P., Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P., Fr. Isaiah Tiongco, O.P., Fr. Granwel Pitapit, and Fr. Joseph Jao.

Fr. Lana explained that only those who have undergone a pre-college or pre-seminary program and are recommended by their bishops will be admitted to the Philosophy department.

An applicant must have completed regular high school or taken a civil college program. He must undergo a pre-college program before admission. If a candidate has taken his high school in a minor seminary, he must at least undergo some form of regency approved by his bishop.

Former Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P. agrees with the decision.

“I’m amenable (to their decision),” Fr. De la Rosa said. “I am even amenable to the idea that (USTCS) should gradually be transformed into a seminary only for those taking up Theology courses. “

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Fr. De la Rosa explained that the minor seminary sends people as young as 12-year-old to enter the seminary and “enclose” themselves without knowing the “world.” Giving these young boys an opportunity to do so would help them decide whether they would really want to pursue priesthood or not,” he said.

“I believe that the adolescent period of so many young people right now—young men, especially—are quite prolonged, so why not allow them to live outside during their Philosophy years so they can mingle with people?” he added. “And then when they had made their decision to finally push through with their priesthood, that’s the time they can enter the seminary and enroll in Theology courses.”

UST officials initially planned to phase out the Philosophy department because of the diminishing number of Philosophy applicants, the unsuitable assimilation of young student-residents with the older Theology students, and the urban distractions around UST that hinder the effective formation of young seminarians.

As of now, there are 45 resident seminarians taking up Philosophy—four freshmen, 14 sophomores, 14 juniors, 10 seniors, and three irregular students.

“There are actually no more applicants because it is now a fact that only a few bishops are sending their bright and promising seminarians to the USTCS,” Fr. Lana said.

Fr. Lana added that some bishops even prohibit their seminarians from applying in USTCS and instead send them to regional or college seminaries to study Philosophy. Apparently, the bishops fear that these future priests might not be able to easily interact with the “locally formed” priests if their formation were outside the dioceses.

There are even some instances, according to Fr. Lana, when Thomasian priests are isolated from the circle of the locally formed priests.

In addition, representatives from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines previously advised Fr. Lana during their 1992 and 1993 visitations against mixing the Philosophy and Theology students due to their different age levels and degrees of maturity.

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Separate formation houses for the two departments were proposed, but Fr. Lana said that the University could not provide these at present because of the lack of resources.

“Granting that a separate formation house for Philosophy be established, its future is still doubtful because of the declining number of those who apply or are admitted to the seminary as Philosophy students,” he said.

Furthermore, it was observed that the students merely use the USTCS as a stepping-stone for admission to other civil courses in the University, or as a passport for employment. Surveys show that few Philosophy students proceed to study Theology while there are fewer who finish the course and are ordained as priests.

“I am inclined to think that this phenomenon shows that the Seminary can no longer provide the right atmosphere and condition necessary for the formation of these young people,” Fr. Lana said. “USTCS is located at the heart of Manila where the growing modernity and complexity of life could easily distract the young seminarians who are struggling to cope with the demands of their teenage life.”

Fr. Lana said the Council of Regents and the USTCS staff headed by Fr. Castigador shared his observations.

“As a matter of policy, only candidates with a civil and ecclesiastical degree in Philosophy, or those who have undergone the diocesan pre-college program, shall be accepted as resident seminarians in the UST Central Seminary,” Fr. Castigador said.

Fr. Lana explained that this proposal implied that USTCS would only admit residents who would undergo theological training and those who would pursue higher ecclesiastical degrees in Philosophy and Theology.

Admissions in the Faculty of Philosophy, however, will not be affected. Fr. Lana told the Varsitarian that the faculty, being one of the Centers of Excellence of the University, would still cater to lay students, the religious, and all non-residents who are interested in studying Philosophy.

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Opposition

The proposal to phase out the Philosophy department was met by stiff opposition when Fr. Lana first announced it during the Central Seminary’s 75th anniversary celebration last November. Alumni protested and asked for a reconsideration.

“Please reconsider,” said Tuguegarao Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan, an alumnus. “If the Philosophy (department) dies, you, Fr. Tamerlane, will be considered a murderer.” The remark elicited applause from the other alumni.

Another alumnus, Capiz Archbishop Onesimo Gordoncillo, argued that the Philosophy department must stay because it is a center of Thomistic studies in the country.

“I believe that the Philosophy department is such a great tradition that we cannot simply dismiss it all of a sudden, simply because we want to cater to other needs or concerns,” Fr. Gordoncillo wrote the Rector.

Ranilo Hermida, an alumnus and currently a Philosophy professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said that while “the diagnosis of some of the problems of the Central Seminary is accurate . . .the prescription for the cure is not appropriate.”

Hermida also feared that the formation of future priests—and philosophy professors—might suffer from “inbreeding” as a consequence of the phaseout.

“We need priests whose philosophical formation possesses a wider perspective, one that is afforded by a national seminary like USTCS,” Hermida said.

In the Philippiniana Sacra article, “The Colegio de Santo Tomas, Forerunner of the UST Central Seminary,” church historian Fr. Fidel Villarroel, O.P. said that the USTCS Philosophy department could be traced to the origins of the University itself. The original UST was a seminary-college for students studying Philosophy and Theology—the only courses offered at that time.

Now that the USTCS Philosophy department has been retained, much is expected of it as the University gears up for its quadricentennial in 2011.

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