Refusing to Hate: Jose Abueva--Former President of the University of the Philippines
(From an essay series by Daisaku Ikeda in which he reflects on his encounters with various world figures.)
More than half a century ago, a 16-year-old boy was rowing a boat in search of his parents, who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese armed forces occupying the Philippines.
The boy's father, Teodoro Abueva, had refused to cooperate with the invaders of his homeland, and became a member of the anti-Japanese resistance. The boy's mother, Nena Veloso Abueva, was the head of the Women's Auxiliary Service in the resistance. Teodoro and Nena had three daughters and four sons. The boy in the boat was their second son, Jose.
The Japanese military had been hunting Teodoro for more than a year before they captured the Abueva family. They separated husband and wife and tortured them, and the children were forced to listen to their parents' agonizing screams. Then the soldiers took Teodoro and Nena away, freeing the children.
Later, as news of the American recapture of the Philippines spread, Jose, together with a cousin, set out in a boat in search of his parents.
It was to be a sad journey. They landed at the town where the family had been taken. Praying that by some miracle his parents might still be alive, Jose searched for a clue to their whereabouts. He heard rumors of people who had been killed and hurled down a cliff, and was advised to start his search there. As Jose came closer to the cliff, he heard more stories of resistance members being executed on a nearby hillside. But still he refused to believe his parents were dead.
He climbed the hill. The sun shone down fiercely from a cloudless sky. He walked into a clearing with some bushes beyond it. Suddenly, an acrid smell hit his nostrils as he came upon an executioner's handiwork. He saw a soiled white shirt with blue stripes and immediately recognized it as his father's. Then he saw a piece of his mother's brown dress. He also found fragments of rosaries and belts that he recognized as having belonged to them.
Despite the horror of the experience, Jose didn't cry. He was so emotionally and physically drained, tears would not come. When he noticed his surroundings, he was looking to the shining sea stretching toward Mindanao. Thoughts of what had happened to his parents flooded his mind. They were martyrs who had fought for their love of freedom and their love for their country. For that they had been tortured and killed, and this was the hill where their lives had ended in such a cruel sacrifice. He heard that the bodies had been left there for more than a week, exposed to the elements and wild animals.
Jose gathered his parents' remains and got back in the boat. The sea of his homeland was almost blindingly beautiful. This was in the autumn of 1944, and the Allied forces under General MacArthur had already landed on the Filipino island of Leyte on October 20. Jose's parents had been killed on October 23. For them, the liberation of the Philippines had literally come moments too late.
Jose Abueva, who later became president of the University of the Philippines, kindly wrote down for me his recollections of that time, under the title "Our Family Story of War and Peace, Love and Remembrance." He comments: "Although this story happened half a century ago, it is indelibly etched in my mind. I will never be able to forget."
But when Dr. Abueva spoke at Tokyo's Soka University in April 1990, he showed no trace of bitterness: "My parents were killed by Japanese soldiers. But none of us seven children bears any hatred toward Japan. I like the Japanese. And I believe the people of Japan and the Philippines share the same love of peace."
I was amazed: even through his extreme suffering, he has maintained his noble beliefs. Truly he is a greathearted person. What a contrast he presents to those who murdered innocent, decent people.
In sharing his recollections, Dr. Abueva also observed: "For many years Japanese leaders stubbornly refused to admit, and apologize for, the grievous wrongs they committed in the countries they invaded in World War II. Japanese history textbooks have purposely concealed the truth, or justified the wrongs. Fellow Asians were outraged by the insensitivity and dishonesty of the Japanese. How could they gloss over the sordid truth that so many had witnessed and endured, recorded and remembered?"
After the war, the orphaned Abueva children pulled together to take care of each other, growing into fine adults. Jose studied at the University of the Philippines and then the University of Michigan before eventually becoming a professor at his alma mater in the Philippines.
"The great irony of my life," he remarks, "was my recruitment to serve as head of the United Nations University at its headquarters in Tokyo." For nearly eight years he lived with his wife and family in the country that had murdered his parents. All that time, he was an ambassador of friendship, with a heart as boundless as the sea.
When he came back to the Philippines, he helped Corazon Aquino in peace talks between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In 1987, he was elected president of the University of the Philippines. "Throughout history there have been many leaders of war," he declared with great passion, "but there have been few leaders of peace. I am determined to help change this."
The University of the Philippines is the country's top school, and its graduates are destined to become leaders in all fields of society. But Abueva was concerned that the students should also be aware of their duty to society, and have the willingness and enthusiasm to lead the way in finding solutions to the problems that confront their country. It is his firm belief that a university must, above all, deepen students' quality as leaders for the service of their people and country.
Dr. Abueva told me that when he became university president, what had saddened him most was the decline in enrollment of students from poorer families. To rectify the situation, he instituted a policy by which students of wealthy families paid higher tuition fees to subsidize those of poor students.
As president, he put special emphasis on the creation of a "House of Peace" for international exchange: perhaps a crystallization of a youthful vow to work for peace. He has even invited exchange students from Soka University to his private residence, and has always been extremely kind to them. He believes that building deeper relations between peoples is even more important than focusing on relations between governments. In particular, he sees youth and cultural exchanges as vital currents in the great flowing river of peace that he is determined to create.
During Dr. Abueva's distinguished career in education, he has served in posts around the world, including Nepal, Thailand, the United States and Japan. His fond memories of his loving parents have sustained him wherever he has gone. Whatever he has achieved in his life, it started with his climb up that hill on that fateful day. He has been utterly devoted to peace, determined to keep others from experiencing the kind of tragedy that he did.
[Courtesy, October 2000 SGI Quarterly]