UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT LARGER THAN LIFE

Since assuming the role of university president in 19922, Fr. Ben has led the Ateneo de Manila University to greater heights through his inspiring and innovative leadership. He has positioned the university not only as a leader in the academic world but more important, in shaping the future of the country. It was during his term that institutions such as the Ateneo School of Government and the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health were established. These two institutions which directly address the key social problems in governance and public health in our country, concretize the Ateneo vision of forming “person for others”.

When one goes inside the sprawling Ateneo campus Loyola Heights, one will not miss the Church of the Gesu – a sanctuary for many Ateneans who long for spiritual nourishment. This, along with many other flagship frastructure such as the Ateneo Professional Schools campus in Rockwell, Makati City and the new university dormitories were done towards making the university one of the best in Asia.

In this age of globalization, his leadership has helped Ateneo position itself as an international university which prides itself in having almost 100 college/university partners all over the world. More importat, Fr. Ben continues to introduce innovations towards improving the basic education unit of Ateneo. One of these innovations is benchmarking Ateneo’s performance with Singapore schools which are considered among the best in Asia. By bringing in the best practices learned from the Singapore schools, Fr. Ben hopes to make Ateneo’s basic education system not only the best in the Philippines but also in Asia.

I believe that the true worth of an academic institution is based not solely on the kind of high-paying jobs their members receive. In a country where more than half of the population live in poverty, the worth of a university is measured by the impact it has made towards changing the lives of the poor and powerless. Thus, it is not surprising that Fr. Ben has dedicated much of his time in improving the public school system and in helping provide shelter for many homeless Filipino families through the programs of Gawad Kalinga.

During his talks, he often cites the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen as saying that the only way for third world countries to move out of poverty is to improve its public education and public health systems. He has taken these words to heart and in the last ten years, Fr. Ben has been instrumental in the establishment of several successful non-profit organizations that have helped rebuild and improve our public education system.

One of these organizations is Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines which I co-founded with Fr. Ben and Dr. Milwida Guevara in 2002. Pathways aim to help academically gifted but financially disadvantaged students enter college and finish their education. I was 23 years old when I started Pathways and it was the constant guidance and mentoring of Fr. Ben that helped me run the organization towards helping hundreds of public school students all over the country have a better opportunity of attaining a brighter future.

Even before being involved in Pathways, Fr. Ben had already worked with Ateneo academic luminaries such as DR. Ma. Assunta Cuyegkeng, Dr. Celeste Gonzales, Dr. Marlu vilchez, Dr. Cathy Victro-Yu and Dr. Darwin Yu to establish the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED), an institution that trains and empowers different stakeholders in the field of public education to improve the performance of public elementary school students.

Since its establishments in 1998, ACED has trained thousands of public school teachers and principals from all over the Philippines. One of the more inspiring success stories of ACED happened recently when one of its pilot schools, Payatas B Elementary School, went from being in the bottom 10 of Quezon City public schools to being in the top 20 in just a year. According to Fr. Ben, this big leap can be attributed to the concerted efforts of members of the community – the parents, teachers, and the barangay leaders.

Fr. Ben continues to go beyond himself by lending his time, talents, and wisdom to two other public education reform organizations namely, Synergeia Foundation, where he sits as chairman of the board, and the Acts of Hope for the Nation (AHON) Foundation where he is a founding board member.

As I grew up, my heroes evolved from superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, and Batman to basketball superstars such as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and kobe Bryant to national leaders such as Ninoy and Cory Aquino, Jesse Robredo, Grace Padaca, and “Among” Ed Panlilio. I realized that all of them have one thing in common: they are all ordinary people like you and me that have decided to go beyond themselves to promote and fight for something good which is often larger than life.

Heroes are people we look up to as bearers of hope in times of trouble and despair. When all else is lost, we look up to these extraordinary people to inspire us to believe that anything is possible if only we believe in ourselves.

Fr. Ben decided that he wanted to make it his mission to build the nation, and despite the many challenges that he has faced through the years, he has emerged victorious. The Ateneo community and the Filipino people are truly blessed to have a modern-day Filipino hero in Fr. Ben.

 

Harvey Keh (BS Psy ‘2000) is the director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo School of Government. He is a co-founder and the executive director of Ahon Foundation.
Source: “Ateneans Inspiring Ateneans” 1859-2009 by Ateneo de Manila University Press.