Deccember 2, 2021
H.E. Most Rev. Florentino G. Lavarias, D.D.
Archbishop of San Fernando, H.E. Most Rev. Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D.
Archbishop-Emeritus of San Fernando,
Members of the BOT of the HAU, headed by chair Sr. Josefina Nepomuceno, OSB,
OIC President, Leopoldo Jaime N. Valdes, faculty members, students, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you Holy Angel University for counting me in as your alumnus by conferring on me the title Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa. I do not know if I deserve the title at all. You even went out of your way to announce it through a nearly full-page ad in the PDI last Sunday, to my great surprise. How very kind of you.
It was Dr Luis Calingo who kept following up on me through Messenger for the finalization of the date for these conferment rites which have been postponed for obvious reasons. I think he did not stop pestering Robby Tantingco until the date was finally set. That was before he got infected with covid. I was so shaken by the news of his passing because we were exchanging messages until the day he got intubated. My last message to him was, “Let the Holy Spirit do the breathing for you, Dr. Chito. I will be with you in prayer.” I think he is present here with us today. (I hope you don’t mind if I pause for a moment of silence to pray for his eternal repose.)
Today, December 1st is also the death anniversary of my mother, the late Bienvenida Siongco David, who died on December 1, 2000, 21 years ago now. I dedicate this recognition to her. She is the woman I wrote about on my FB page, after someone in power called me a PI in Tagalog. For the life of me, I cannot understand why some people have to insult a dead mother just because they are upset with one of her sons for reasons known only to them. Mothers don’t deserve it. Most specially if the mother who is being bad mouthed gave birth to thirteen children and raised every one of them into a decent human being and a responsible citizen of this country.
You probably know already that we just lost one of our siblings very recently, Atty. Dante David. He would have been here with us this morning if he had not been claimed by Covid19 as another one of its casualties. I also want him and my late father Pedro David, who were both lawyers, to be remembered, as I receive this distinction. My late father was a committed public servant up to the very end of his life—as a public prosecutor, first in San Fernando, Pampanga, and later in the City Prosecutor’s office on the Manila City Hall. He died at the young age of 59 on January 6, 1980, 41 years ago.
Today I am also reminded that I am stepping on a ground that is hallowed by the memory of another family, and the legacy of their esteemed parents, Juan and Teresa Nepomuceno—two people who are very much a part of the history of Angeles City. I will always look back with joy to those memorable nine years of my life and ministry as auxiliary bishop of San Fernando, when I was given the privilege of serving as parish priest for the faithful of this city at Holy Rosary Parish, the next-door neighbor of HAU. I take pride of the fact that HAU became a very dynamic partner of the Holy Rosary Parish back in those days. I hope it has stayed on that way.
Perhaps because I had Imang Tess Wilkerson as head of our Parish Finance Council, there was hardly any parish program in which we did not partner with Holy Angel University. I try to convince myself that HAU supported almost all our pastoral and social advocacies back then, because they were really convinced about them, not just because Imang Tess pressured them to. Or should I say it was BOTH?
I remember how we partnered in our programs for the promotion of good governance, for example. We even invited the late Jesse Robredo to speak to us right in this hall on the concept of transformational leadership. That was just a few months before the tragic accident that claimed his life and left his wife a widow and his children orphans. (Whoever thought that a widow challenging a Marcos in 1986 would repeat itself in 2021? )
We also partnered a lot in our endeavors for the protection and conservation of the cultural heritage of the Church in Pampanga. Oh we got a lot of help from HAU for the publication of two of our heritage books, one on Apung Mamacalulu and another on the Pisamban Maragul. We also partnered in our ecological advocacies—such as the promotion of awareness in ecological solid waste management, preserving the watersheds of Sapang-Bato, and saving the Sapang Balen from turning into a dumpsite for trash. I remember how young students and teachers joined us in cleaning up the Sapang Balen.
When we felt the need to promote the ministry of counselling people with mental health issues, HAU provided us all the help that we needed for the training of our KAAGAPAY volunteers. And when we promoted the reading and the study of the Sacred Scriptures, HAU set a good example in promoting our biblical pastoral program, organizing the whole academic community into cell groups which we called BFAST (Bible for Faith and Action Sharing Teams.) This is one academic community that does not apologize for its symbiotic relationship with the Church, despite its being open to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue with other communities of faith. It is a relationship that has been mutually beneficial for both the Church and the University. It has fostered both the faith-life of the academic community and the intellectual life of the faith-community.
If the feisty Benedictine daughter of the original Nepomuceno couple had not been more assertive than her Jesuit brother, Fr. Relly, I suppose this school would have become the Ateneo de Pampanga by now. But no, it had to be kept as Holy Angel University because it has become inseparable from the life of this famous city of angels.
Through the years I have witnessed how this school has metamorphosed into a true university, an academic community that unfailingly raises the self-esteem of its students and gives them the confidence to grow into active participants in nation building. This is the only school I know that came up with a program that makes sure that no student should be left behind for any reason whatsoever.
At the heart of this university is the famous center that has guarded the heritage of the Kapampangans, the CKS (Center for Kapampangan Studies). It has generated such precious publications as the Singsing, translations of original Spanish publications like Bergano’s Arte de la Lengua, his Kapampangan Grammar and Dictionary, and countless volumes of monographs on topics that have nurtured in Kapampangans a deep sense of history and a love for our cultural heritage, thanks to the leadership of the brilliant Robby Tantingco.
The CKS has since served as the heart and soul of HAU, and its publications have made HAU known to many other universities in the country and in Asia. In my homily for the first Sunday of Advent, which, I noted, Robby Tantingco shared in his FB page, I mentioned that Advent invites the whole Church to engage in the annual ritual of looking back and looking forward. LOOKING BACK to the first coming of the Lord, and LOOKING FORWARD to his return, what we call his second coming. And that we do so in the present time— meaning, in the here and now. I said Advent is really about developing a good sense of HISTORY.
I also mentioned that some people have the mistaken notion that history is just about retelling the past. In Tagalog the word for retelling is SALAYSAY. No, history is more than retelling. It is more about giving meaning or making sense of the past in the present so that we can look forward to a future. Making sense in Tagalog is “pagbibigay-saysay”. Saysay is the root word for KASAYSAYAN or history in Tagalog. It means “meaning”. It is what history is all about for us.
There is no sense in looking back to the past, except to understand who we are in the present, why we are who we are, why we behave the way we do. There is something very wrong about the attitude of escapism that is becoming prevalent today, especially among fellow Filipinos who are seduced by troll propaganda in the social media, those who say “The past is past. Let us just forget it and move on or move forward.” It is a good idea but it is wrong. Who wants to get stuck in the past anyway? It is precisely because we do not want our past mistakes to keep repeating themselves that we need to refresh the past properly in our memory. Otherwise, the ghost of the past can continue to haunt us in the present. We remain in that dark and perpetual state of victimhood that deprives us of a future, because we do not know how to review the past in a manner that lights up our path in the present for the future.
We often hear the saying repeated to us as a warning, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I think you have already heard me propose a more grim formulation of that statement, “Those who do not learn from history are simply doomed. Period.” (Or those who do not remember will eventually dismember, meaning, fall apart.)
I am inclined to believe that one of the greatest contributions of Christianity to humankind is precisely our sense of history. That is why do a safekeeping of documents in our archives. It is part of our compulsion to preserve both our tangible and intangible heritage in the Church. Without a sense of history we cannot even develop a good sense of identity. Did you know that the HAU is the only other institution that keeps a microfilm copy of all the baptismal records of the parishes of Pampanga in their first four hunderd years of existence?
You know what makes me happy to receive this title you call DOCTOR OF HUMANITIES? It balances the other doctorate that I got from the Church the moment I was ordained a bishop: DOCTOR OF DIVINITIES. Because of Jesus Christ whom Christianity confesses as both TRULY HUMAN and TRULY DIVINE, I now go by the presupposition that, thanks to Jesus, God has made it possible for us to access DIVINITY through the very crassness of our HUMANITY. Not the humanity of Adam which has given “humanity” the negative connotation of being fallen, weak and sinful. I speak rather of the new humanity as lived by Jesus of Nazareth, which restores God’s image and likeness in us, the humanity that is redeemed, dignified, renewed, and raised from the dead. No longer the humanity that is too easily seduced by power, prestige and wealth, but the humanity that reflects divinity by learning to love unconditionally. If there is one Tagalog song that I wish to rewrite, it is the song SAPAGKAT KAMI’Y TAO LAMANG. It makes being human sound so bad. It makes it even worse when it says, GANYAN TAYONG LAHAT, O KAY SAKLAP NG BUHAY. Ay eku pu maniwala kanita, eke kapilanman awsan MASAKLAP in bie ning tau. Mayap at masanting ing kekatang pangatau. Mayap ing magpakatau nung ing piyalimbawanan tamu king pamagpakatau yapin ng Anak ning Dios a mikatawan-tao ban itas ne dangalan ing tau anting anak ning Diyos. *
*In Tagalog: Ay hindi po, hinding-hindi ko tatawaging masaklap ang buhay. Maganda ang mabuhay bilang tao. Maganda ang magpakatao kung ang huwaran natin ng pagkatao ay ang Anak ng Diyos na Nagkatawang-tao upang iangat ang bawat tao bilang Anak ng Diyos. Dakal pung salamat, HAU.