Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Too far

The morning of the Ateneo bonfire, I was on a Philippine Airlines plane bound for Bangkok on an ill-timed business trip. As we took off, I felt my stomach lurch, not from our ascent, but from the thought that once again, I wouldn't be there as my beloved alma mater celebrates a basketball championship. I'd never been so pained to leave the country.

Melodramatic much? Absolutely. But everyone who knows me understands how fiercely I love Ateneo, and how rabid a UAAP fan I am, so forgive me the theatrics. Throughout the flight to Bangkok, I willed myself to keep my mind off the bonfire, but Fate seemed intent on torturing me, because I was seated in the very first row of the plane, and well within earshot of the flight crew's animated conversation about-- of all things-- Ateneo's win over La Salle, and what my student Jo's dad (a fellow Atenean) dubbed as "L'Affaire Maierfinger". I felt like plugging my ears with my fingers. Enough already!! No wonder those who are neither Blue nor Green are so sick of the bombastically ballyhooed Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. Even when I'm outside Philippine territory I can't escape the hoopla.

I must confess I wasn't able to resist sending a text message to Yang that evening (
international roaming charges be damned), asking her how the bonfire was going and whether or not she had finally gotten her long-coveted photo op with Chris Tiu. I was in need of some sort of vicarious thrill at the very least. Unfortunately her quest for the Holy Grail of Blue Eagle meet-and-greets did not come to a glorious end that night, and later she'd succintly sum up the bonfire in one unappealing adjective: "Muddy." Apparently it had rained prior to the festivities, turning Bellarmine Field (Bel Field to us blue-bloods) into a merry but mucky venue for the 8,000+ people who showed up to celebrate the twin championships of the Blue Eagles and the Blue Eaglets. I felt a bit better about being spared a night of grimy toes, but then I found out about something that had happened at the bonfire that made me feel worse.

Some a-hole Ateneo alumnus came up with the brilliant idea to put wooden planks bearing the Green Archers' names on the bonfire pyre. My initial reaction to this relayed news was, "Oh shit" with what should have been a sense of foreboding had the stream of violent reactions from Taft not yet begun while I was in another country. And when I finally saw online photos of the pyre, I winced in almost physical loathing. What an insensitive, juvenile, abhorrent thing to do. And this coming mere days after the Blue backlash against Franz Pumaren's unsportsmanlike conduct after Game 2 of the Finals. Now we've given an already upset (and now further infuriated) La Salle community every reason and right to shove this ugly bonfire incident in our faces and demand to know if this is our idea of being gracious victors.

I wrote before in a blog post 3 seasons ago that when some Ateneans go down from the hill, they sink low. This bonfire blunder is another prime example of the sort of boorish behavior people associate with Atenean arrogance. This is precisely why whenever I don my Adidas Ateneo hoodie, I always get the feeling some people are giving me the evil eye as I walk by. Instead of being able to wear my school colors with pride, I sometimes have the urge to duck my head in apology and a hint of shame. I really don't deserve that, nor do many other Ateneans who, like me, found the bonfire stunt offensive and unconscionable. The genius who put those planks on the pyre should have been thrown on the pyre himself for besmirching the Ateneo name, as well as blemishing the hard-earned championship of the Blue Eagles.

ADMU president Fr. Ben Nebres has issued an apology to La Salle over the bonfire, and I join him in apologizing on behalf of all Ateneans who would never stoop so low. Sure, I enjoy taking potshots at our arch(er)rivals as much as anyone, but I know where to draw the line, and I know it has been crossed this time. And to those who attempt to justify the bonfire incident by pointing out La Salle's previous transgressions against Ateneo, please, don't even go there. You don't correct a wrong with another wrong. And since when has this been about payback? I thought the point was to be BETTER than the other side, not sink to their level. My brother (a proud Iskolar ng Bayan) was right in pointing out in his friend's blog that Ateneans and La Sallians should take a page from the Celebrate Humanity campaign of the Olympics:

You are my adversary,
but you are not my enemy.
For your resistance gives me strength,
your will gives me courage,
your spirit ennobles me.
And though I aim to defeat you,
should I succeed I will not humiliate you.
Instead I will honor you,
for without you, I am a lesser man.

We, both Blue and Green, would do well to bear in mind and take to heart that the spirit of our rivalry should be channeled to better ourselves, not reduce ourselves to a bunch of barbarians who don't know how to handle defeat and victory graciously. Only when we've learned to behave like men and women educated in respectable Catholic institutions who let principles, values and rational thought prevail over petty grudges and a decades-old basketball feud will we be able to walk around wearing our Ateneo and La Salle jackets free from censure, and free to be truly proud of our schools.


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