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What complicates the XU sale issue?

Antonio J. Montalván II .

ENOUGH has been said on the XU Ateneo’s sale of its Divisoria and Manresa campuses from the three serials I had previously written. Yet questions continue to arise, some bordering on the appalling.

Faculty members have approached with queries despite the historical basis narrated in Part 1 that the ultimate decision-maker is Father General Arturo Sosa. “Is it true that it is a done deal?” And this: “Is it true that money has already changed hands and the campuses are now considered sold?” The questions come from faculty with PhDs – supposed to be insiders, and thus should have been privy to the so-called consultations. What is going on?

That is the dangerous inadequacy I had pointed out in Part 3 – only a very pre-selected few were privy to the consultations. Can you imagine tenured faculty left out of the loop? This is seriously antithetical to Jesuit discernment.

The sordid question necessarily begs now — who else will be excluded from the tyranny of by-invitations-only consultations? Somebody will have to do damage control. Of the four living ex-presidents (Ernesto Javier, Bienvenido Nebres, Antonio Samson, Jose Ramon Villarin), at least one has confided that all four are against it. I maintain that his second-hand news is yet unconfirmed and hence will refrain from saying it is written in stone, but the ex-president source had clearly expressed his negativity to the sale. When asked how Rome will handle the issue, he offered a simple postulate: if Father General sees unaddressed serious opposition, Rome will just sit on the request and it will die a natural death.

As we write, some high school alumni have confirmed they have already conveyed their positions to Father General. The world is small. Online communication is rapid; it takes only a Tweet. Father General is on Twitter. The Board of Trustees does not appear to have the pulse of the ground, much less of the digital universe. And the age of the digital universe does not alter the equation that XU Ateneo IS a pastoral university that must, in no uncertain terms, listen to the community it serves. That is the meaning of “stakeholders,” hence the counsel of Father General – this is not only for the Jesuits to decide. The forethought of his pastoral guidance is weighty.

Non-alumni in social media also participate. “If the campus is a heritage site, then sell it to government.” That is ignorance of the law, however. Republic Act 10066 precisely confers conservator status even on private entities. Saving heritage is not the work of government alone. Privately owned built structures that qualify as heritage or mar the vista corridor of a heritage landmark can be severely sanctioned. For instance, a cease and desist order issued by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts halted the construction of the DM Consunji-owned Torre de Manila, creating colossal losses for the contractor.

Many alumni (I, for one) do not oppose the idea of building a new 21st Century campus in Manresa – sans selling valuable heritage. It goes without saying that Mindanao demographics have grown by leaps and bounds since 1933 that to serve more as envisioned by Archbishop Santiago Hayes is certainly consistent with his vision. But the Divisoria and Manresa campuses have each reached the 50-year heritage criteria set by law. It can be confronted with a cease and desist order even if both are not marked by historical markers because the law confers presumed heritage status based solely on the age of 50 years.

After contemplating these angles, I have reached that conclusion especially because the plan involves unbelievably demolishing sound buildings, not Quonset huts or skeletal ruins. XU Ateneo and Cebu Landmasters would not wish to be embroiled in a cease and desist order, which, as I reckon from fellow alumni, many are ready to file once a done deal is announced. And the losses will not be drops in the bucket for both sides. Litigation can take years. It will be ugly public relations for both.

Again, the transfer of Ateneo de Manila to Loyola Heights in 1952 – take note of the year, is not the precedent. Let me sound like a broken record — Padre Faura was officially closed in 1976 and only then was it sold to commercial development. The two are independent events. And by the way, Jose Rizal was not a student at Padre Faura but in Intramuros when it was still the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. Fire destroyed the Intramuros Ateneo in 1932, prompting its transfer to Ermita, a good 46 years after Rizal’s death.

A site is historical even without a national hero setting foot on it (LOL!). What was in that Padre Faura campus before 1932? From 1886 onwards it was the site of the Ateneo-founded Observatorio de Manila (the forerunner of the government’s weather bureau). The street came to be known as Calle Observatorio, later renamed by the city of Manila as Padre Faura, after the great Jesuit scientist Federico Faura who invented the typhoon barometer that came to be known worldwide as the Faura Aneroid. Age alone is a factor that makes a site historical. The law is not read as an essay of personal opinion or a photo album of memories.

I have been informed alumni groups are now conducting their own consultations with the aim of consolidating a position paper to be sent to Father General. Why this counter approach? “There is difficulty in consolidating different sectors’ positions because of XU Ateneo’s selective consultations, which appeared only as an afterthought after Cebu Landmasters took the liberty of presenting its plans (which ironically was the source of the “done deal” news) and thus had caught many by surprise,” said a source privy to the independent consultations. These independent consultations would want very much to reach a position that is the product of “the usual Jesuit way of proceeding – see, judge, discern, respond.”

I reiterate to the XU Ateneo Board of Trustees – begin OPEN and INCLUSIVE consultations and dialogues. Do not fear criticism. The Ignatian approach does not. Why would you?


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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