The Philosophy of Ateneo NSTP

I hate NSTP.

There are many stories as to which I have heard how sophomore students have expressed their greatest dismay and “concerns” in the National Service Training Program or commonly called NSTP by the Office of Social Concern and Involvement (OSCI). Students have been robbed of their Saturday and Friday nights (to which the students highly dedicated their time “socializing” with other peers). This would symbolically halt our freedom when we have entered college as freshmen who, compared to high school, have more time do something else.

5 school days are stressful enough, but the idea of having another whole (or half) day in school is probably more than we can fathom. Even if there is a great irony in how class hours have been reduced from 8 straight hours in high school to 4 hours with breaks in between in college, Saturday classes have indeed succumbed the time for resetting the whole week and having newfound will to continue the next one (I am not saying this on behalf of every college student but anyone can relate to the context).

An Atenean cannot say that he/she has fully survived the fruitful and challenging years of the Ateneo education without undergoing the dreaded program of NSTP (or the Ateneo ROTC for those who took it). First, students have to add another day to wake up early and what’s more is that it’s a Saturday morning. In my case, I wake up at around 6 in the morning in order to be in time for an 8 AM NSTP class (as if 5 days are not enough) for I live in a land far away.

My course, political science, is part of the Integrated Ateneo Formation (InAF) Program, which is different from other NSTP programs since the students are integrated into communities or places that are relevant to their course. We had half-day, whole day, and overnight trips to Sitio San Ysiro in Antipolo and unique NSTP formation sessions every time. This could be the equivalent of Immersion program during the fourth year. It was a new level for us, plus the obstacles that NSTP poses.

The Integrated Ateneo Formation (InAF) Program took a backseat when the CHED memo was released that postpones any school related trips. After the memo was released, our number was reduced into 7 for our last overnight trip. It was a relief for many of our classmates, but they have to undergo long series of TALAB-like talks and formation sessions. It was not an escape from the normal NSTP, but maybe the long-awaited break from these long immersion trips.

 

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Sakay sa tuktok pabalik. Enjoying the cool breeze on the way home (Taken October 22, 2016).

 

There may be more stories to tell and add from the long list of experiences on why at the very mention of the word NSTP, many students flinch or are ready to burst out hours of complaints and rants about the program.

Now, where does philosophy come in? It may be strange to just blurt out philosophical terms and ideas just to connect what I have learned from Doc Leo’s class which is why I chose to show the program in the eyes of Emmanuel Levinas, the philosopher of the Other. (For those of you who are not familiar with the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, I suggest you read “Philosophically speaking: What it means to be human” by Dr. Leovino Ma. Garcia)

It would be rash to say that because students are complaining of robbed Saturdays and 6 days a week class means that it has been a product or a manifestation of totality. It would be a reaction perhaps to the change in one’s schedule but maybe these things are a prelude to having an “infinity” in the program (sounds like a sci-fi movie) which more or less are being misunderstood by many.

One can divide people, or in this case students, into two types. One does something for the sake of doing it, for self-serving reasons, and the one who does something because the act of service motivates one to do so.

Let us focus on the first one. We cannot blame students for doing NSTP for the sake of seeing a “P” in their IPS (Individual Program of Study). They are paying the fees for the program and it is in their discretion on how they would use it. Students would enter the conference hall or their areas with blank faces and machine-like movements all for the purpose of doing the task assigned and hopefully end the class without any trouble. They just comply with the requirements and (hopefully) after a year, they would pass the subject.

Another case of student would be those who attend NSTP sessions and lectures to enhance their knowledge about their course. Thanks to Ateneo’s course integration into NSTP, experience to this program is highly valued and would be great to put on the resume (of course, it would be a great addition to one’s CV). What is great about this kind of student is that there is a deepening of knowledge for the student. The student has this genuine plan to know more about the community or area he/she is in. However, just like the others, this student has immersed oneself only for his own benefit. The student’s knowledge has deepened but only for his/her own benefit and not for the betterment of the people he/she interacted with.

You may find yourself some similarities with those of which I describe and again, I do not blame you. Although, this would perhaps be a sign of Levinas’ description of “totality”. These students have started with having themselves at the center, and when confronted with the “other”, they may have interacted with them, but has retreated back to themselves. The overwhelming sense of familiarity and perhaps a maintained status quo – where everything is in its rightful place in their own perspectives seem to be a nice thing to grow up to. NSTP is, in its utilitarian sense, is just a program all Ateneans have to undergo through.

Now, let us give light to the other type of student that is motivated by service and the act of carrying it out selflessly. I would not go through the varying shades of a service-oriented student but rather focus on the idea of one.

The first time we had our first NSTP session, there are mixed feelings about it but more on the bad side. Having to sacrifice Saturdays and go to this class without a choice is one thing, but pouring out oneself on NSTP is another. For example, whenever a student goes to an area to teach kids about computer literacy or explain how planes work, and he/she enjoys doing it not for the sole purpose of having an “A” for the class. That there is something much deeper on encountering the curious faces of the children, and that is service not for oneself, but towards other.

There is a great difference as to how service for the other changes the perspective of a student, especially on this program. Whilst inarguably Ateneo is separated from the outside world through its walls (figuratively) and the confinement and illusion of a safe space, the NSTP program serves as a bridge to offer its students the encounter of the other in their own context. The children’s stories and faces, the complaints of oppression of the marginalized sectors of our community, and the people affected by the disparity caused by social structures changes a person more than a class that deals with theories and abstract concepts.

I am not discrediting subjects here especially Philo 101, but more of emphasizing its importance in a practical class like NSTP. In this kind of service-oriented program perhaps we can see how students “decentered” themselves by acknowledging the presence of the “other” and how we are to be responsible for them. I am not talking about a single immersion wherein at the synthesis session, one talks about how he/she is moved by their situation and that we should pity them. I am talking about how the “I” can continually be responsible for the other without choosing who to interact with or who to talk with. We do not only acknowledge that their lives are “different” from ours, but rather on the reason that they have separate lives of their own. As persons in a privileged position, we are accountable for them, without waiting for anything in return. Just like the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Prayer for Generosity), the “other” is like the Lord in which we “give but not count the cost…and labor but not seek reward”.

Having described a range of students, you might ask me on where would I position myself. I still feel that here is a little part of me that still hates NSTP (although I am done with it already), a part that tries to cling back to the “I” while having an experience of the “other”. However, I feel that deep inside, there is a certain recognition of the responsibility on which I shall continue to recognize with compassion.

 

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Taken at our last Immersion trip in Sitio San Ysiro, Antipolo last April 23. (Aquino, 2017)

 

In the end, I guess NSTP is not only an OSCI program where we are being conscious of our cuts and its 10-hour limits but also a philosophy in itself. And that perhaps is the beauty of NSTP, of having an Ateneo education, that we are given time to know and understand things and theories in various platforms and disciplines, but at the same time we are also given the time to put them into action as our motto speaks how we are formed towards being “men and women for others”.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, a priest in the 1900s who served to be the voice of Salvadoran people when all forms of expression were crushed by repression, was assassinated while celebrating Mass inside a small chapel in a cancer hospital. A prayer was composed for the celebration of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero which speaks greatly of how we are responsible for all; not only those in the present but also to those in the future. That we are “prophets of a future not our own”.

A Future not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent

enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of

saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master

builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

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