WAVING FLAGS. Xavier Ateneo Junior and Senior High students wave their flags during the university’s Philippine Independence Day celebration.

Words and photos by Angelo Lorenzo

Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan celebrated the Philippine Independence on Friday, June 9 – three days prior to the 119th Anniversary on June 12 – as a commemoration of the country’s triumph for freedom and a recollection of its value amid the crisis of terrorism and the consequential declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.

Within the university gymnasium, Junior and Senior High School students, along with the faculty and administrators, waved the country’s flag as the hymns of Francisco Santiago and Ildefonso Santos’s Pilipinas Kong Mahal and George Canseco’s Ako ay Pilipino resonated in musical performances.

Wary of Martial Law

Succeeding the raising of the flag and the 21-gun salute led by Reserved Officers in Training Corps, XU president Fr Roberto C Yap SJ commenced the program by reading the Statement of Five Ateneo Presidents on the Marawi Situation and the Declaration of Martial Law along with his speech.

“The undersigned wholeheartedly support the members of the Armed Forces and the police who give their last full measure of devotion so that our country may be safe,” Yap remarked. While this nod is given by leaders of the Ateneo community, they also reiterated the reasons for civilians to be more vigilant and cautious of martial rule.

“We have more than a decade of reasons to be wary of Martial Law,” Yap continued. But despite the notoriety of the era when the country was under a similar rule, the said statement didn’t fail to explain why the terrorism that displaced thousands of civilians in Marawi City from their homes prompted President Duterte towards its declaration.

“A Martial Law limited in scope, enforced with discipline and restraint, with respect for the Constitution and the inviolability of human rights, can solve specific problems,” Yap added.

Freedom, however, can still be protected as the statement highlighted the current Constitution’s safeguards to curb the abuse of power and the call for those in authority to respect and follow them.

“We trust our President when he tells us that martial rule shall only be limited and temporary,” Yap said before concluding with the call for the community to pray for peace and justice in Marawi and Mindanao.

YELLOW RIBBONS. Students tie yellow ribbons on the branches of a decorative tree as a symbol of patriotism and nationalism.

Nationalistic commitment

In a juncture, students were encouraged to tie ribbons on the bare and intertwining branches of decorative trees as the music continued to resound throughout the gym.

Tying ribbons each representing the colors of the Philippine flag, the act is an artistic symbol of the commitment to nationalism according to Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts (XCCA) director Hobart Savior.

“It is also a symbol of patriotism for the attainment of peace,” said Savior, who also directed the event.

Terrorism, Savior reckoned, can be combated through artistic means. “I think we have the responsibility to mirror and hammer our understanding and consciousness for our own people and land, of our own context and situation.”

Designing the stage’s set whereupon performers in traditional garments (reflecting the diversity of Mindanao’s people) danced to folk songs amid a vast array of plants, Savior noted the green props with their roots protruding over their pots as representation of the “uprooted community” that had been displaced from their land due to the crisis.

“The design presents layers of understanding,” he said. As freedom is a right, he also enumerated several privileges that Filipinos should have apart from the independence gained by their noble heroes. “The masses achieve freedom with the provision of food security, justice, and social welfare, among the many rights they are bestowed.”

COMMEMORATION. Xavier Ateneo students observe the 119th Philippine Independence with a tribute to the victims of terrorism three days prior to its actual date.

Shared responsibility

For Senior High School Media and Information Literacy (MIL) instructor Jay Rhen Galagnara, the freedom to post on social media may have its costs. To practice freedom is also to be considerate of the responsibility that comes with it.

“As an MIL instructor,” he said, “I teach my students to practice [their] freedom of expression and speech by being responsible for what they post online.”

Galagnara further discourages his students to spread fake news which may trigger aggression and the perpetuation of false information, but encourages them to use media to sharpen their knowledge on local, national, and global issues.

Awareness, for XU - Junior High School prefect of student affairs Joseph Saga, is the key to fully grasp freedom and inspire others to practice theirs.

“Part of my duty is to make them aware,” Saga shared. “Activities like this give the opportunity for the faculty and students to be aware; to be culturally integrated is what we need to inculcate.”

Last month, a significant number of students, members of the faculty, administrators, as well as the university’s alumni volunteered in the Tabang Marawi (Help Marawi) relief operations which deployed more than 3,000 Halal-certified relief goods packed by volunteers in the campus to refugees in evacuation centers.

With the freedom to celebrate the nation’s independence is the opportunity to respond to the call to aid those deprived of this right due to socio-political conflict. As SHS Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) student Jay Edloy put it, “We know how much our freedom means to us and what it can mean for them.”∎