Rev. Fr. Filemon “Deng” de la Cruz, OP, Provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, and the community of Bahay Dominiko; Fr. Clarence Victor Marquez OP OP, Chair of the Board of Education of the DPPI Schools and Rector of Letran Manila; Fr. Victor Calvo, Prior of Letran Manila, Promoter of Justice and Peace of the Province; our Administrators, Faculty, Employees, Alumni, Students, and dear Parents; Fr. Ferdie Bautista, OP, Pro-Vice Rector of UST-Angelicum; Fr. Patrick Hiwatig, EVP of Letran Bataan, Fr. Ogie Quirao, Prior of Sto. Domingo and the Dominican Fathers; and my community headed by our Prior, Fr. Giuseppe Arsciwals, OP, Good morning!
I don’t count my life in terms of years and wrinkles and the color of my hair, or whether I faced more defeats than triumphs. Rather, I count my worth in the laughter and happiness I inwardly and outwardly exude. Life is exceedingly fun, and we cannot fully appreciate and take a final firm grip on it, for it is something that mysteriously summons when you’d think you have it all. Just like being put in a position, there will be a proper time, and with surprises, there will always be more.
We know that the fusion of power and responsibility is something serious. Thanks to Spiderman for reminding everyone this lesson, and that those given the seat should carefully wield it. Otherwise, everything crumbles. I have great respect for those who get elected to a position of power, as it is an acknowledgement of their vocation or call, of the trust and confidence laid down on them, and on the belief of a potential good leadership. On the other hand, I think it is a bit odd that someone would even dream of wielding the power because he is catapulted to the top, given and yielded the crown of importance. In such slant, when being important is the significant matter, one either gets things done with much stress and pressure or he drowns in the waves of failures. That is why when a brother priest asked me whether I ever dreamed of getting elected, or has it ever entered my mind, the crazy, spontaneous and honest me blurted out: “the hell no” and we both laughed.
Nobody rules from an armchair. You rule where the action is, where you smell and feel and listen, taste the bruises, slide in the mud. And that is leadership! It is lonely at the top, and the higher you climb the smaller is the ambit or scope of influence and power. And that is why I am where I am now, grounded where I need to be. Nothing and nobody is late or early in the call for leadership. I remember, I was elected as Prior of the Convent in Letran Manila in 2004, and it so happened that I was the secretary of the election and had to report the results. When the friars at Bahay Dominiko, the seat of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, asked me who got elected, I said in a timid tone: “I was.” The immediate response was “di nga?” I had the loudest laugh of my life, as I was bannering the envelop with the results. Well, my friar-friends obliged me with their congratulatory laughter. I was just glad that in my extended seven-year term as prior of the brethren, nobody died, as the world continued to spin its wonders.
I accepted the mandate here because I believe in Letran Calamba and its people. I started serving here as a young priest in AY’s 1985-86 and 86-87, and knew then, this will become Big. Time has cascaded to us the colorful past of this institution, the sorrows and pains, the setbacks, and on the one hand, the loyalties, joys, strengths, milestones. Tirelessly, those who walked the corridors of Letran, you and I, would always envision giant leaps for the future. And we only have to waken, shake and roll from its slumber, this Sleeping Giant called Letran. Let the shout come from all of us, let the roar be heard!
As I trace my life’s footsteps, all I see is laughter, joy, fun. It never stops. Joy is an ever present now. That even when I roar, growl and rumble, I roar with joy. That is why in my term as your Rector I won’t be stopped from enjoying it. I won’t be stopped because I am not afraid to fail. I am not afraid because there are lots of you who will catch me if I fall. I am not afraid because you will be there to converse with me, laugh with me, lick and taste the wounds, slide in the mud. I am not afraid of failures, because I know that they are just pauses for greater conquests. Besides, you’ll be there with me in this glorious journey. And because you are there to walk with me, or even sometimes to take the lead, ours is not a fearful journey of staring at impending downfalls, but of leveling always our communal gaze and courage on a carefully focused push. Walk with me therefore in bravely repositioning and reclaiming the role of Letran Calamba as the pioneer premier sectarian private school in the South, proud of her tradition, strong in her faith. To achieve this we won’t be dreaming of moving the stars to align for Letran, instead together we align our energies, our resources, our roots, and the One Letran soul towards this one cohesive direction. Thanks to the previous administrations, that set the foundations, started the dream for our present journey, and paved the way for us to aim for more, based on countless successes and sorry messes and misses. So let us begin anew in reclaiming that privileged role of Letran. Let us cheer together, roar, growl and rumble a One Arriba Letran with the following:
I am silent for the time being about other salient points, not because they are not that important, instead, be assured that they are kept dearly, in creative fermentation, in my heart.
Being a Pandemic Rector, as somebody puts it, is a challenge and a blessing. I can have all the excuses not to deliver, perform, explore, and simply throw the fearful word Covid at all directions and still receive a faulted absolution. I may simply take simple steps to survive and let things pass, or throw the yoke off my shoulders, close my eyes at difficulties, imagine a field of roses, when at every corner of my heart I would feel a shriveling dry and sapless reality. Thus, I won’t walk dead. My years of experience serving three Letran schools has opened my eyes more, my spirit stronger. With the pandemic, I am more resolved, as with all hungry humanity to move on. Every dawn that I drag my four hundred and forty steps from my room to the Chapel for the morning Eucharist, I do what is most important, gratefully breathe Life. So, do I humbly pray that God may continuously breathe on me, that the rest of my day be ever fruitful and gloriously happy.
May I invite you then to journey with me and face the challenges ahead. Students, faculty, employees, parents, alumni, administrators, and friends, we are all in this together and we shall not be cowered, we shall not be stopped from embracing this difficult path.
I always remember Fr. Patricio Apa, the first head of this institution as Director, and my senior by six or seven years. He would always jab and poke on us newcomers in basketball, or during meals, or recreation time in our seminary days. A few days before he passed away, I visited him in the ICU at UST. He smiled seeing me, asking me about the latest news in the convent where we were both assigned. His smile turned to laughter as I started and continued talking, humoring him and laughing with him about funny, ugly things happening around me, until the nurse cautioned me, pointing at the breathing indicator apparatus turning heavy red. He was beaming as he was in pain, signaling me to stop. Had he been here, he’d probably joke: “Napoleon, you again laughed your way to the top.”
Indulge my irreverence, as my reply would make the saintly man die again believing and yet laughing more: “Precisely I am a Napoleon who would stop at nothing. If the young have their dreams I have this immense ambition, for the energy of the young never escaped me and the wisdom of the old always shadows me.” “It’s more fun in Letran”. Siempre Arriba!