Father Jack Carroll, SJ

Fr. John Joseph Carroll, SJ. Photo by Gerald Nicolas.

Fr. Jack Carroll, SJ was also published by The Manila Times on 17 January 2024.

WHEN I resigned after more than a year working as a research associate at the Institute on Church and Social Issues (ICSI) in 1995, the late Fr. John "Jack" J. Carroll, SJ, who was the executive director, gave me a piece of cloth as a sendoff gift. He said he wanted me to be the best-dressed guy in Eastern Samar (I was about to join the staff of the Office of the Governor in Eastern Samar as executive assistant).


My first "public" assignment at the provincial capitol was to lead the recitation of "Panunumpa sa Watawat ng Pilipinas" (Oath to the Flag of the Philippines) during the flag-raising ceremony one Monday morning.


I had no problem committing to memory each line of the "panunumpa," and with over a hundred provincial officials and employees following my vocal prompts, viz:


"Ako ay Pilipino/Buong katapatang nanunumpa/Sa watawat ng Pilipinas/At sa bansang kanyang sinasagisag/Na may dangal, katarungan at Kalayaan/Na pinakikilos ng sambayanang Maka-Diyos/Maka-tao/Makakalikasan at Makabansa."


The problem was that somewhere at the end, there was nothing but complete silence after I added a couple of waraynon words to the Tagalog text. After "Makabansa," I said something like "tangkod" (honest) and "maduroto" (hard worker).


I reckoned that "maka-Diyos" (pro-God) was enough. Being godly makes one makatao (pro-people), makakalikasan (pro-environment), makabansa (patriotic) and all, but since these other virtues had found their way to the language of the oath, adding something to the mix should not hurt. Or so I thought.


When then Gov. Lutz Barbo, my new boss, took the microphone to address the Monday morning audience (he always did this whenever he was around — for a variety of reasons: to motivate his people, to break some news if there was any, to convey messages of particular interest to the provincial government, or to otherwise just wish everyone a fulfilling week ahead), he complained how one could freely mangle an oath to the flag which to him was sacrosanct. I was out of line, and only a boundless amount of tact must have kept him from calling me irreverent.


Well, I had donned for the occasion a new custom-tailored pair of trousers from the clothing material that Father Jack had given me. Perhaps I felt dapper wearing it, or maybe I was taking myself too seriously as a former Jesuit mentee. A colleague at ICSI — renamed "John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues" in 2007 — once said she learned her irreverence from the Jesuits.


Father Jack was an American Jesuit priest who did most of his ministry in the Philippines. He was a sociology professor at the Ateneo de Manila University for more than four decades; counting among his former students are hundreds of past and present movers and leaders in both the public and private sectors. He used to be invited by newly elected members of the Philippine Senate as a resource speaker in orientation workshops where he would joke that "he wished they would do these learning events at Payatas, Quezon City" (instead of some five-star hotel).


The pieces he wrote for academic journals and newspaper columns on social and political issues were sometimes radical, rebellious, provocative and irreverent, but always scholarly and impeccably grounded. He was, in the words of fellow sociology professor (University of the Philippines) and writer Randy David, "an intellectual warrior in a battle zone, and offers no apologies for going beyond mere observation and academic analysis."


In the April-June 1999 issue of the UP Public Policy Journal, he prefaced his article titled "The Philippines: Forgiving or Forgetting" with an indictment of electoral politics: "As other countries struggle to prosecute the torturers and collaborators of their authoritarian regimes, the Philippines deals with the issue by electing them to office." He was referring to efforts made by countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Guatemala and Chile, among others, to make their rulers account for the atrocities they committed against their own citizens in comparison to what happened to the Philippines in the years that followed the end — supposedly — of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. Also (this was in 1999), he lamented that "the policemen and soldiers who carried out the torture and salvaging are still among us, some surely still in uniform."


In a book titled "Engaging Society: The Sociologist in a War Zone," he outlined two worldviews that underpin the theory of change in society — one recognizes that society is built on consensus or shared values, the other sees it as founded on power and coercion.


People believe in a common set of values and understanding in a consensus theory. Their institutions operate based on those shared values. In Father Jack's words, "power is the servant of society and its values."


The UP Public Policy article warns that the failure to account for transgressions of those values, as people should when their constitutionally guaranteed human rights are violated, "reflects the weakness of the 'common conscience,' a weak sense of the nation and of the common good. Unless the nation rises up to vindicate and reaffirm those values, it may be condemned to wander forever in the wilderness of valueless power play among the elite."


On the other hand, "coercion theory sees society and the inequalities it has created as resulting from the power relationships among individuals and sectors that have developed over time. The values in society defend, if not preserve, the interests of the elite and reinforce systems and structures of inequality. In contrast to the consensus theory, the coercion theory considers 'values as the servants of power.'"


The intellectual warrior did not shoot arrows from nowhere. For decades, he worked with the poor, saying Mass in Filipino with his flock, who derived their livelihood from the dump in Payatas, Quezon City. He also ran a feeding and scholarship program with them.


For over 60 years, he lived a fruitful life in the Philippines, long enough to be able to say (I would assume with sadness in his heart) that in this part of the world, "power has much more to do with who gets what than do society's values or the common good."


(We recite a common oath to the flag but with not much conviction like what Governor Barbo would need us to have.)


Father Jack underwent heart surgery in his early 80s, but even with a bum heart, he continued to teach graduate courses at the Ateneo. He succumbed to complications from pneumonia at age 90 in 2014. Yesterday, Jan. 16, 2024, was his 100th birth anniversary.

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