Dr. Angela Nina Ann R. Ingle, Member of the Board of Trustees of Ateneo de Davao University, speaks during the morning Commencement Exercises, 1 April 2017 at the Martin Hall. Photo from ICOMMP.
Good morning, graduates of Ateneo de Davao University, your families and friends, University awardees and guests, and fellow members of the University Community.
I’m very grateful for the privilege to be with you today. This event is especially meaningful for me as a fellow alumna of the Ateneo de Davao. Here’s a piece of material evidence ‑ my Ateneo de Davao high school blouse, which I wore before you graduates were born. It is signed by my classmates and batchmates. We continue to connect with and to support one another. I hope you continue to stay in touch over the years and decades ahead.
I can still remember the life transition that you graduates are in now. For most of your lives, you have been journeying together with your classmates in school. As college students you had limited choices – of majors, electives, topics for projects, and school organizations. Now you are about to have many more choices. These can lead to exciting opportunities for you to contribute to your families, to communities, and to the wider society.
You face questions. What kind of jobs to apply for? Will you work with people you already know? – perhaps in the family business, or a place where you did an internship? Will you stay in Davao or consider other locations? You may still be deciding which options to explore at this stage of your life.
I want to share a message from Pope Francis that uses the metaphor of walking for our life journey:
Walking is an art; if we are always in a hurry we tire and cannot reach the destination of our journey. Yet if we stop and do not move, we also fail to reach our destination. Walking is precisely the art of looking to the horizon, thinking about where I want to go, and also coping with the weariness that comes from walking.
The way is often hard‑going, it is not easy. There are days of darkness, days of failure, and some days of falling. Yet always keep this in your thoughts: do not be afraid of failure, do not be afraid of falling. In the art of walking it is not falling that matters, but not “staying fallen”. Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on.
But it is terrible to walk alone, terrible and tedious. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us, it helps us to arrive precisely at the destination where we must arrive.
“Walking in community”. What a beautiful and vivid image. Not an abstract concept, but “walking with friends, with those who love us”.
I’ve been “walking in community” in a powerful way with volunteer groups for social causes including the prison ministry. I want to share my experience with you because volunteering is a choice available to all of us that can transform our lives and the lives of others. We may apply for jobs and not be offered them, but if we are willing to give of our time and presence we will be welcomed by a volunteer group.
Last year I was invited to a meeting of people concerned about the killings associated with the administration’s approach to the problem of illegal drugs. I welcomed the invitation because I was alarmed by the numerous killings, whether by law enforcers or by unidentified individuals. I was distressed by the statements of more than a few that it was better if drug addicts and drug pushers were dead.
We started meeting regularly and organized a series of activities to help promote a culture of life and human dignity. We call our group Katilingbanong Pagtambayayong, which means Collaborative Community.
My participation in Katilingbanong Pagtambayayong led me to the Davao City Jail in Ma‑a. I had a simple objective: I wanted to learn more about illegal drugs from people with first‑hand knowledge. I ended up gaining companions on my life journey, including the late Irene Sagrado Tabada who headed the Archdiocesan Commission on Prison Welfare. Irene Tabada saw each inmate, each person, as a child of God. While working full‑time in government service, Irene had been volunteering in the prison ministry for 13 years right up to her untimely demise a few days before last Christmas.
I am so grateful that I was able to join Irene on her Sunday morning visits to the main jail, where about 3,000 inmates are housed in 40 cells. Three‑fourths of jail inmates are detainees being tried on drug‑related charges. Selling any amount of any illegal drug is currently punishable by life imprisonment; proposed legislation would have the death penalty apply. Crimes punishable by life imprisonment are generally non‑bailable, so those accused are detained in jail while their trials progress
Irene coordinated jail visits by parish and school groups where visitors could hear testimonies by inmates and share their reflections. On one occasion, a member of a youth parish group said she was looking for her father among the inmates. The last time she had seen him was when he was arrested when she was 9 years old. Her story brought tears to our eyes. But there was not to be a moving reunion – after inquiries it was learned that her father had been released on bail years ago.
Dr. Angela Nina Ann R. Ingle, Member of the Board of Trustees Ateneo de Davao University, addresses the 1570 graduates of Ateneo de Davao. Photo by Igy Castrillo.
Another program of the Archdiocesan Commission on Prison Welfare, or ACPW, is called “Wish Ko Lang”. Inmates write letters about what they would like to receive at Christmas. Community groups receive and respond to their Christmas wishes. One inmate hoped for a visit from his family. Another for a toy for his child. One simply asked for three red apples to celebrate Christmas.
At the core of the prison ministry is listening to people’s stories. One inspiring story for me is that of Ramon, who was a 2nd year college student when he was arrested for possessing and selling drugs. Although he was detained for 8 years before his case was dismissed, Ramon says he doesn’t regret going to jail because it was there that he felt God’s embrace. Now 29, Ramon is active in church activities and in the prison ministry while working part‑time and studying with the help of his family.
Not all released inmates have such family support, and the stigma against former inmates is widespread and affects their chances of living a normal and productive life upon release. How do we restore a culture of life and human dignity not just in the jail but in the wider community? Restorative and transformative justice is part of the solution. Restorative and transformative justice focuses on repairing harm that has been done and on healing relationships. These principles resonate with the importance in Filipino culture of good personal relationships. Our Jess and Trining de la Paz awardee, the late former Judge Adoracion “Dory” Avisado, was a strong advocate and champion of restorative and transformative justice.
As I “walk in community” with those in the jail ministry and the social justice movement I am inspired by the many people I meet who are committed to making a difference ‑ including jail personnel, lawyers and legal staff in the Hall of Justice, social workers, and members of self‑help groups for addiction. Other organizations are also working to find solutions to the problem of illegal drugs, including the Sagop Kinabuhi Program of the Archdiocese of Davao and the recently‑launched Center Against Illegal Drugs of the Ateneo de Davao University, which has a 24‑hour hotline that drug addicts and their families can call.
I’ve been surprised by the joy and meaning I have found in volunteering with others. I feel that volunteering complements my professional work and allows me to discover and express different aspects of myself. In my professional capacity, I am Dr. Ingle, a conservation biologist knowledgeable on Philippine bats and an educator. I work primarily with other biologists, conservationists, and educators. As a volunteer, I am Ate Nina, a member of a community of people of diverse backgrounds, ages, and interests but with whom there is deep camaraderie in serving and discerning together. In both my professional and volunteer engagements, I am “walking in community”.
Through these experiences I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of the familiar passage from the gospel of Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
As you go out into the “real world”, you may sometimes feel overwhelmed by deep‑seated maladies in society. There are the problems of illegal drugs, overcrowded jails and an overextended justice system. More broadly, there is widespread poverty and degradation of the beautiful and unique Philippine environment. We can feel discouraged and lose hope.
Like I did by volunteering with the Archdiocesan Commission on Prison Welfare and by being a founding member of Katilingbanong Pagtambayayong, I encourage you to join or even form communities with shared goals of service. These communities give us the opportunity to get to know others, and perhaps more importantly, to know ourselves better and to discover the destination of our journey.
I challenge you to get involved. A start is learning about civic groups and asking to join an activity. If you can commit for a year, consider the volunteer programs of Ateneo de Davao. Madaris Volunteer Teachers serve in Islamic schools in Bangsamoro areas. Cardoner Volunteers serve in Lake Sebu, Bukidnon, Bangsamoro, and in Myanmar. Recruitment for both programs is still on‑going.
And I invite you to come to jail with us on Sunday mornings or other days of the week. There are many ways of being of service in the jail including being instructors and tutors for the inmate education program. Even our presence there effects a transformation in ourselves and in others.
I want to end with a call from Pope Francis with words that will resonate with you Ateneans:
“Take part in various activities that accustom you to not retreating into yourselves or into your own small world, but rather to being open to others, especially the poorest and neediest. They accustom you to working hard to improve the world in which we live. Be men and women with others and for others: true champions at the service of others.”
Congratulations and all best wishes for your exciting journey ahead!
Watch the video of the 2017 Commencement Speech by Dr. Ingle below.