FULL TEXT | 65 Years of Amplifying Voices from Below: Student Involvement in Discourse, Dissent, and Democracy

Dec. 20, 2020

Opening remarks by Gwyneth Marie Vasquez, editor-in-chief of Atenews, the official student publication of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), for the Atenews 65th Anniversary online forum on December 19, 2020.

(Abbreviated version)

To our guest speakers, Atenews alumni who are joining us here in the Zoom (meeting) or through (Facebook) live, Atenews moderators from the previous years and the present, Fr. Erwin Torres, Dr. Victoria Pre, Dr. Cheryl, guests from other student publications and organizations from across Mindanao and the Philippines, my fellow residents in the Atenews, good afternoon.

The late Evella Bontia, who was Editor-in-Chief of Atenews, once wrote in 1971 about “The Atenean in a Changing Society.” It was the year before the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, declared martial law, the year before Atenews became one of the victims of a nationwide crackdown on press freedom and experienced its first closure in history. And yet it was also the year that student activism was starting to gain a foothold in Davao City, although with the exception of the ‘average Atenean’. Bontia said and I quote, “In the light of all the developments around the country–amidst the turbulent upheavals of Philippine society, mores, institutions, and values–the average Atenean is hopelessly outmoded, apathetic and sheltered.”

The circumstances of Bontia’s time and our socio-political situation today is not vastly different. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only disrupted our normal routines as campus journalists, student leaders, and advocates; it has also brought further damage to our already-crippled democratic institutions. On top of President Duterte’s brutal and senseless war on drugs, the inhumane persecution of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders through red-tagging, arrests, and killings are the Philippine government’s failure to effectively respond to the pandemic and the disasters that have pommeled the archipelago, including the most recent tropical depression Vicky that has submerged villages in my hometown of Agusan. This negligence from the government has ignited legitimate protests from various sectors, including the youth; only to be answered with apathy from their fellow youth or worse, with violence from the men and women in uniform.

It is in this context that the organizers of Atenews’s 65th Commemoration decided to focus on empowering students to be involved in our struggle for justice and democracy. For 65 years, the Atenews has sought to defend and be a voice for the marginalized. It has survived the horrors of martial law, the turbulent post-EDSA administrations, the suppression of a free and independent press in our own University; it will not falter now in the midst of a global pandemic.

This afternoon, we will be hearing from three exemplary speakers for the online forum, “65 Years of Amplifying Voices from Below: Student Involvement in Discourse, Dissent, and Democracy.” Mr. Jason Gutierrez, a journalist covering conflict (zones), will share the relevance of student involvement in defending press freedom. Building up on his talk will be Tulunan Vice Mayor Maureene Villamor, who will be discussing students’ rights in social movements and mobilizations. Finally, this series will not be complete without a call to action. Former Atenews Editor-in-Chief Reymond Pepito will be shedding light on the strategies that we can employ to ensure that we will be able to get our message across successfully. We are also honored to have Mr. Gus Miclat from the Initiatives for International Dialogue to moderate our discussion.

Half a century since Evella Bontia published that painfully honest description of the Atenean, it is almost absurd that we find ourselves confronted with the same issue today when the lessons of history could have already taught us that half-hearted involvement gets us nowhere. Perhaps, appropriately, this is a challenge to everyone to move beyond the comforts of online forums like this one. While discussions within our circles can be good starting points for future action, this is but the tip of the iceberg of involvement. Eventually, our commitment as Ateneans, Atenews staff, student journalists and leaders, to serve the marginalized will require that we live these peoples’ struggles with them. Otherwise, how can we effectively give voices to them when we do not understand their culture and thus, cannot see things from their perspectives?

For me, this is a question that we have to ponder both during and after the forum. My sincerest appreciation to the organizers of this event who have sacrificed the supposedly restful month of December for the preparations needed; the members of the alumni who have been so approachable despite their busy schedules, and all of the participants who are with us today to celebrate this milestone. Indeed, the 65 years of Atenews is a celebration it shares with the people it has served and served with. Together, we will end the silence of the gagged!

Thank you and good afternoon.

(Notes: Evella Bontia was Atenews EIC in 1971-72. She is one of the Martial Law martyrs recently honored in the Bantayog ng Bayani in 2015. Gus Miclat was Atenews EIC in 1977-78. Maureen Villamor is an Ateneo de Davao alumna and president of Samahan Central Board in 2012-13.)

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