The Unforgiven

My August 4, 2015 column.

Like all other promising young high school graduates, Krisel Mallari could have the whole world ahead of her.  She dreams of becoming an accountant someday, and she has enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas where classes are supposed to start this week.   However, whether Mallari gets to enter UST, or attend college for that matter, remains uncertain.  It all depends if UST accepts the certificate of good moral character that has been issued grudgingly by the administrators of the Santo Nino Parochial School in Quezon City, the school where she finished high school as a salutatorian, mainly to comply with an order issued by the Court of Appeals.  The SNPS has refused to give Mallari a certificate of good moral character because she delivered a speech during her graduation that accused the school of unfair practices in deciding who should become valedictorian of the class.  The video of her speech (and the attempt to stop her from finishing it) became viral.
There are always at least two sides to any story so I will refrain from commenting on the merits of either Mallari’s complaints against SNPS or the wisdom of the school’s actions.  The various subplots and the personal accounts and opinions of those who claim to have inside knowledge of the controversy are available in the Internet for those who want the juicy details.  There are issues, however, that seem to be glossed over. 
Mallari is a minor and while it is her name and her face that is out there, no one is talking about the roles that her parents and authority figures are playing in the whole controversy.  It seems inconceivable that that decision to read a different speech during her graduation and the series of decisions she made thereafter were done solely by her.  Yes, there are many people who were scandalized by Mallari’s conduct during her graduation and they want her punished.  But there are also those who actually think she should be congratulated for standing up for herself and for taking a position, regardless of how unpopular that stand may have been. 
If Mallari made a mistake, what should be the extent of the punishment?  What considerations should be made on account of her? What about her parents and authority figures? A good moral certification is required for admission to any college or university.  Denying her the certification is tantamount to denying her the right to pursue college education and, consequently, her future.  And then there’s the question about whether that one act – that controversial speech during her graduation – should define Mallari’s whole character and fate. 
It is obvious that the animosity has reached such a point that people are burning bridges and making condemnations.  SNPS claims to be merely fighting for its rights and protecting its image and its students.  Mallari is fighting for her future.   Surely both are aware that there can be no winner in this contest and that the only way they can be redeemed in the eyes of the public is for them to find ways to forgive each other and to put the acrimony behind them?
It seems to me that SNPS has washed its hands completely of any moral responsibility it had or has in molding Mallari’s character. A teacher’s job is never done, they say.  Shouldn’t they also take responsibility for Mallari’s actions?  But at the core of the issue is the essence and nobility of the teaching profession; I’ve always believed teachers and educational institutions, particularly Catholic institutions, should be exemplars of values such as compassion, commitment, wisdom, loyalty, and yes, forgiveness.   In this particular instance, there are quite a number of parables from the Bible that come to mind including that of the lost sheep.  SNPS needs to seriously think about how being unforgiving reflects on the real essence of their school. 
But Mallari also needs to show humility and, yes, loyalty.  Her parents and authority figures must remind her that being rash and vigilant needs to be tempered with respect and tolerance.  She may have only been standing up for her rights, but she also hurt the school, her teachers, her classmates and schoolmates in the process. 
It is however amusing that this whole controversy was revived by the need for a certification whose reliability and relevance is questionable.  Whether Mallari has good moral character or not cannot be determined by a piece of paper and UST cannot pretend to be oblivious to the controversy.  At the end of the day, UST needs to make a decision based on its appreciation of the facts, not on the basis of one document.


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