Yael Buencamino, in her former designation as the assistant curator of Ateneo Art Gallery.
Trouble at Areté
SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana (The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The resignation of Buencamino is seen as a suitable conclusion to what could have been a teachable moment with regard to how an academic institution responds to what society deems as undesirable individuals.

Many have already weighed in on the recent snafu that rocked Ateneo de Manila University when Irene Marcos-Araneta was spotted attending an installation opening at Ignacio B. Gimenez Amphitheater, the open-space venue of the university’s creativity and innovation hub, Areté, a fortnight ago. Wearing a sun hat, the third child of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos was snapped in a photograph merrily inspecting the work, “Everywhere, There You Are,” by Ling Quisumbing Ramilo and Wawi Navarroza, whose deep orange ribbons looked like raging flames from a distance.

That photograph — and what ensued soon after — was incendiary. On April 8, a day after the event, the Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola, the university’s official student body, met with administrators and Areté’s executive director Yael Buencamino for a dialogue. Within the same day, the council released a statement in its Facebook account, condemning, in no uncertain terms, “the invitation and participation of Irene Marcos Araneta in Areté’s amphitheater launch.”

The presence of a Marcos at the event, Sanggunian argued, was “a grave insult and vehement mockery to martial law survivors and martyrs” and that the Areté’s invitation appeared as “a form of shameless compliance to the very movement that the Ateneo vehemently opposes, the erasure of martial law crimes from history and from the present discourse during the campaign period of the 2019 Senatorial Elections.” In the same statement, the student body demanded an apology and an explanation from the administration on why such an invitation was extended in the first place.

Irene Marcos-Araneta attends an installation opening at Ignacio B. Gimenez Amphitheater, the open-space venue of the Ateneo De Manila University’s creativity and innovation hub, Areté — an incident that would rock the entire campus. Photo from Panday Sining Katipunan.

On Friday, April 12, Ateneo’s highest official, the university president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ published a response, acknowledging that the invitation was a misstep. “The University recognizes that her (Irene Marcos-Araneta’s) presence, even in a personal capacity, has cast doubts regarding its solidarity with the victims of the martial law regime,” he wrote. In the same paragraph, Fr. Villarin offered “our deepest apologies for the hurt this has brought.”

What would be talked about in the coming days was Fr. Villarin’s acceptance of Buencamino’s resignation, which was articulated in the memo. “In the spirit of transparency, Ms. Yael Buencamino has voluntarily offered to resign as executive director of Areté. I have accepted her resignation as executive director, even as I acknowledge with gratitude her exemplary performance in shepherding Areté during this nascent stage of its development.”

Buencamino, who has worked for the university for 12 years in various capacities — as an academician, as the assistant curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery, and as the executive director of Areté, her highest post to date — readily admitted to having invited Irene Marcos as a guest. The invitation to the event was that of relative to another: she is the niece of Marcos by virtue of her uncle, Greggy, being married to Irene Marcos.

While the invitation to Irene may be seen as worthy of public indignation, the university has no clear-cut policy with regard to the appearance of Marcoses at any of its public events on campus grounds. Prior to the Areté art event, Irene had attended a book launch and an urban planning conference at Ateneo without anyone seeming to have been held accountable for issuing those invitations.

It’s unfortunate that the resignation of Buencamino is seen as a suitable conclusion to what could have been a teachable moment with regard to how an academic institution responds to what society deems as undesirable individuals. The dissent generated from the appearance of a Marcos could have propelled a discourse on visibility-as-representation and on how the Marcoses, despite the dominant narrative that surrounds their family, have made a successful comeback and encroachment on public life, with one of the children set to enter the august hall of the Senate if the recent surveys are any barometer.

The Ignacio B. Gimenez Amphitheater whose outdoor installation program launch was attended by Irene Marcos-Araneta

While she is linked to the Marcoses by way of affinity, throughout her stay in the university, Buencamino has shown professionalism, objectivity, and fair-mindedness in the programs of Areté. Under her tenure as executive director, Dekada 70 and Desaparasidos, two plays that depicted the atrocities committed under martial law, were staged. As assistant curator of Ateneo Art Gallery, she oversaw exhibitions that directly confronted the terrible inheritance of the Marcos dictatorship. The group exhibition “Ligalig: Art in a Time of Turmoil” and Leslie de Chavez’ “Stirring the Ashes” come to mind.

Ateneo has yet to provide a transition plan with regard to Areté’s leadership. For now, it has to reckon with, if not directly answer, uncomfortable questions that have risen in the wake of the fiasco: Will the Marcos family, once and for all, be declared persona non grata? How will such a pronouncement extend to cronies, henchmen, and sycophants who abetted and benefited from martial law and Marcos’ dictatorial government? What will its stance be with regard to bequests and donations from patrons with checkered past? How will the university respond to individuals spewing atrocious beliefs and hateful rhetoric on campus grounds proposed within the ambit of free speech? Yes, one should be against forgetting, but one also needs to hold guard against the small injustices that infringe on everyday life — pernicious even if invisible.

ATENEO ART GALLERY IRENE MARCOS-ARANETA YAEL BUENCAMINO
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