Philosophy Department launches Tagpo, Values Research Center

March 22, 2018

Day 1

“Thank you for being here today.”
These were the words with which Dr. Jesus Principe, main convenor of the event, welcomed attendees of the first day of inaugural colloquia launching Tagpo. “Nasa parehong lugar tayo sa sandaling ito,” he continued. “On many other occasions, we are with other people in the same place and yet, nothing happens. For us today – here, together, present to each other – what might happen? Pakikipagkapwa kaya? Pagsasagutan ng diwa? Pagtatagpo?”
And thus, it was. Made possible through a grant from the Commission on Higher Education, Tagpo is envisioned “as a center to foster and facilitate research on values in Philippine contexts.” The first session, held on February 10, 2018 at the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo, gathered academics and graduate students in a day of pakikipagtagpo.
“The idea behind Tagpo,” said Dr. Principe in his introductory remarks, “is simple: to come together, to be present to each other, and to explore and celebrate together what we value.” The launch is designed to be in three parts: colloquia, conversation, and conference. “We start respectfully and gratefully by acknowledging and learning from pioneering work that had already been done,” moving onto informal dialogue between different sectors in society in March, and concluding in a conference collating research and findings in May.
In its first session, fittingly named “Kahalagahan,” esteemed scholars — National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, professor and Balagtasan advocate Michael Coroza, pop culture essayist Soledad Reyes, and philosopher Manuel Dy, Jr. — spoke about their work in their respective fields.
Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, in his talk called “Tungo sa Pagtuklas,” relayed the story of how he wrote his first essay in Filipino and how he became a politicised writer in, also, Filipino. “Wala akong pakialam noon sa pulitika,” he said, adding that even then, he had felt as though there was something missing in his life. And that which was lacking would then come by way of a casual question posed by writer Rony V. Diaz on his dissertation topic—originally on Indian fiction in English. Asked the Palanca awardee, “Bakit hindi Philippine literature?” And the rest, perhaps, is history.
Dr. Michael Coroza, whose session “Hulog, Hulugan, Kahulugan: Panimulang Pagpansin sa Kabuluhan ng Ibig Sabihin” was interspersed with stunning verses in song, discussed the importance of the meanings of words, in our archipelago’s local vernacular especially. He emphasised the value of determining the etymology of words—how different hulog ng langit can be from pagkahulog ng loob—and reiterates Joey Ayala’s suggestion of replacing “mamatay” with “magmahal” in our National Anthem.  
In her talk entitled “Isang Pagsasalo-Salo sa Dulang ng mga Salita,” Dr. Soledad Reyes spoke about growing up as a reader of Liwayway and Philippines Free Press and finding her niche in studying Philippine popular culture, Tagalog novels, and komiks. She discussed how valuable our own literature is; how valuable it is especially when it is in our own language—the rendering of a story in Filipino, in Tagalog, is what makes it distinctly ours.
Finally, Dr. Manuel Dy, Jr. in “Halagahan: Isang Paglalakbay Mula sa Kosmolohiko Patungo sa Kosmopolitanismo,” anchored his address in the ideas of the late Ramon Reyes on vital and reflective thought and posed the question of whether there exists a uniquely Filipino kind of philosophy as well as what makes us different from other Asian natures.
The period of pakikipagtagpo, however, did not end there—after the last question and answer portion of the day, participants were still encouraged to continue the activity that the past few hours have been dedicated to.
And after that, until they meet again.  

Day 2

Last February 10, 2018, Tagpo was officially launched by way of an inaugural colloquium attended by academics, graduate students, and renowned scholars from the field of humanities. On February 24, 2018, the second part, titled “Currents: Research on Values in a Changing World” was held at the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. This set of talks focused on issues concerning the social sciences, particularly governance, sociology & anthropology, and social development, with presentations led by Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, Anna Marie Karaos, Mary Racelis, and Mark Lawrence Cruz.
A quick recapitulation of the previous colloquium’s events was given to the participants by Dr. Jesus Principe, lead convenor of Tagpo. In his opening remarks, he announced the upcoming conversations to be held between scholars and different sectors of our society—including the LGBT community, fisher folk from Binangonan, Rizal, and barangay captains from various towns—all in the hopes of answering the question, “What do Filipinos value most?”.
In his talk “What Drives Us, What We Value Most, What We Can Learn from our Neighbors,” Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, former President of the Ateneo and a key leader of Gawad Kalinga, shared his experience working with the organisation. “I am not interested in research,” he said, “but more about seeing what works.” He talked about something that was made incredibly clear to him through his time spent with the GK communities: how important faith and family are to Filipinos and how our values are deeply shaped by them. We are similar to our East Asian neighbours this way; our society is very communal, as opposed to individualistic, which is descriptive of Western societies. The challenge to us, however, comes in the hybridity in our culture – we have, according to Fr. Nebres, a deep sense of self but this is articulated in an individualistic way.
Dr. Anna Marie Karaos, Associate Director of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues (JJCICS), discussed the link between civic engagement and democracy in the Philippines. She argued that active citizenship is at the core of democracy, a political system that pointless unless it is implemented and practised properly. According to the results of a Civil Society Index survey in 2011 about membership in social and political organisations, Filipinos were most active in religious organisations, and only a small percentage took an active part in political groups. In surveys conducted by the World Values Survey from the late 1990s to 2012, it was found that people who self-identified as middle class had been growing in number, and that interest in politics in general has increased. The class category that had gone up the highest had been the lower class—they had grown increasingly politicised in the span of a decade.
However, this interest did not necessarily translate into public engagement, as the percentage of Filipinos who had participated in some form of political action (such as signing a petition or partaking in a peaceful rally) was still low. The survey also found that there is the tendency for people to favour autocratic rule while also supporting a democratic political system at the same time. But in the end, Dr. Karaos concluded that citizens can take part in intermediate organisations, as they can provide a space for discourse and can become a venue for civic action.
Dr. Mary Racelis, former Director of the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) and Senior Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, gave a lecture on “Studying Values in a Changing Society from the 20th to 21st Centuries.” Speaking candidly about her own work as a woman in the field of socio-anthropology in the 1960s and up to now, she outlined the history of the institution from its beginnings as it faced criticism from philosophers and theologians this side of Katipunan as well as scholars from the University of the Philippines. She recognized that in the 1970s, there was a decline in values research, but noticed a resurgence of it in the 21st century. Poverty continues, and the challenge is how to address it through empirical methods.
Mark Lawrence Cruz of the Philosophy Deparment of the Ateneo ended this series of talks with his address, “Flipping the Pyramid: Listening, Learning, and Being Led by the Poor.” Also an active volunteer of Gawad Kalinga, Mr. Cruz talked about his involvement in the community of Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija and how a real encounter leaves one disturbed. In his years of working with Gawad Kalinga, what he has learned from the poor is how much they value the power of presence and how much second opportunities matter to them.
To illustrate these points, he shared the success stories of some of the students in Gabaldon Elementary School. One of them was of Micelim Geloso, a girl who was caught stealing bananas. She is now a social entrepreneur whose product, ‘Friendchips’ banana chips, is now on its way to being enjoyed by passengers of Philippine Airlines. Mr. Cruz also introduced the concept of the flipped pyramid, which according to him represents the radical instability of our circumstances. It is based on the social class pyramid, where at the bottommost part lies the lower class who take up the most space and the elite and the privileged make up a measly percentage of society. In daring to flip it, “it is a reminder,” Mr. Cruz said, “to let the minority rich carry the weight and burden of the poor majority.” It is a call, ultimately, to end poverty.
At the close of the colloquium, Dr. Principe remarked that from the lively discourse and debate that had transpired that day, as well as the interesting and thought-provoking points brought up, “marami pang dahilan para magtagpo.”