Fr. Roque Ferriols in the eyes of his students 2
Fr. Roque Ferriols was known for pioneering the use of Filipino language in Philosophy. Photo from Ateneo de Manila University website

No English, please: Why this beloved Jesuit priest insisted on teaching Philosophy in Filipino

According to his students, Fr. Roque Ferriols hated the “tamad na pag-iisip,” and philosophizing in a foreign tongue is a form of lazy thinking
RHIA GRANA | Aug 20 2021

Marc Pasco was going to be a lawyer. In fact, he had picked Legal Management as a pre-Law course in Ateneo. But somewhere along the way, he decided he wanted to steer clear of accounting subjects and decided to shift. 

He was choosing between Psychology or Philosophy. Having little knowledge of the latter, he asked the guidance counselor what he can expect in the course. “Magbabasa-basa,” he was told, “magmumuni-muni.” Convinced he could wing it, the happy-go-lucky Pasco enrolled in Philosophy. Little did he know the subject will take him seriously, and vice versa. In fact, he was going to be a Philosophy teacher himself. 

Pasco says he probably wouldn’t be what he is today if not for that one semester back in the year 2000 when he attended the class Sinaunang Griyego taught by a certain Fr. Roque Ferriols. It was his year of magical thinking. Ferriols was already some sort of a campus legend at that time. Not a few students would steal a peek at his lectures and dream of one day joining his class. 

Fr. Roque Ferriols
Fr. Ferriols giving a talk to younger faculty members in Ateneo. Pasco is seated fourth from left. Photo courtesy of Marc Pasco

Who was Fr. Ferriols? 

Fr. Ferriols was known for pioneering the use of Filipino language in Philosophy. He started this in 1969 “as part of a greater move towards Filipinization in the university.” The campus higher-ups were resistant in the beginning, even assigning odd hours to his classes. But that wasn’t enough to discourage the priest nor the students who wanted in on Ferriols’ lectures. His classes just kept growing. 

Ferriols was born in the North Sampalok of the early 20s. He joined the Jesuit congregation back in 1941 during the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines. After the war, he was sent to study theology in Woodstock, Maryland, and was ordained a priest in New York in 1954, after which he finished his doctorate at Fordham University. 

He was an advocate of “pagmumuni-muni" and fought the notion that pondering one’s situation is only for the serious thinkers and the privileged. “Sapagkat ang pilosopiya ay ginagawa” is an adage the Jesuit priest was well-known for. To him, philosophy is not just words that need to be memorized. It’s not just a list of quotable quotes formulated by ancient people who sit on pedestals. Philosophy is a lived experience. And that’s exactly what he wanted his students to learn. 


A necessary jolt 

Pasco admits he was not the nerd or studious type back in college. Instead of studying his lessons at the library during breaktime, he would usually be at the tambayan in front of the cafeteria playing tong-its with his barkada, or playing pool at a nearby billiard place, or at a computer shop watching his friends play Counterstrike. “I wasn’t a great student at that time. I was just there to graduate,” he recalls, laughing. 

But his first Philosophy class gave him a necessary jolt, thanks to Fr. Ferriols who was then already in his 70s. The class came as a shock to the young Pasco. For starters, the priest was teaching the subject in Filipino. “Halos wala akong naiintindihan sa pinag-uusapan sa unang buwan,” Pasco recalls to ANCX. Fr. Ferriols would discuss excerpts from a book inspired by his class entitled “Mga Sinaunang Griyego,” and he would introduce the ideas of pre-Socratic philosophers. 

The priest was adept in various languages and dialects, says Pasco, so he would translate the text written by the great philosophers from Greek or Latin directly to Filipino. “Puro ang kanyang pagsasalin. Dadaanan namin ang bawat kabanata, pagmumuni-munihan ang teksto na sinulat ng mga Griyego.” 

Most of the time, Fr. Ferriols—usually clad in a checkered polo, maong pants, and blue Islander slippers—would just be seated in front of the class. He would stand every now and then to write something on the board—usually a Greek word where the day’s lecture would revolve, and then he would philosophize about it in pure Filipino.

Parang ibang mundo to ah,” Pasco thought then, completely taken by surprise. “Parang mas mahahalaga ang pinag-uusapan dito kaysa accounting at ibang pinag-aralan ko sa Legal Management.”

Pasco could never forget how the professor defined truth—“katotohanan”—based on the teachings of the ancient Greeks. “Ang katotohanan, ito ay aletheia o unti-unting paglalantad ng isang karanasan o isang bagay,” he recalls Fr. Ferriols saying. “Ang katotohanan, hindi sya nandiyan para unawain mo ng buo. Ito ay kilos ng isang bagay mismo, ng karanasan mismo, na ikaw ay pilit na sumasabay.”

It was then that the Ferriols class started to draw him in. “Ang galing na pinag-uusapan namin ang katotohanan, tapos nararanasan ko dun sa klaseng yun kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng katotohanang iyon,” says Pasco. “Kasi ang paglalantad ng kahulugan ng pilosopiya sa akin ay hindi bigla. Unti-unti.” Suddenly, the student, the outsider looking in, had already become a participant in this world of philosophizing.

Fr. Roque Ferriols at Escaler Hall
Fr. Ferriols giving a plenary lecture at Escaler Hall in Ateneo. Photo courtesy of Marc Pasco

The metamorphosis 

Before long, Pasco realized the class was starting to change him. He began to take his readings seriously. “May metamorphosis na nangyari,” he says. “At nagsimula yun nung unti-unti akong na-inlove sa philosophy dahil sa kung paano siya ipinakilala sa akin ni Father.”

Father Ferriols was not one to explain or show everything to his students. He would only reveal or expound on a small portion of a lesson. The rest of it would be up to his students to discover and unravel.

Bishop Ambo David, another former student, now president of the CBCP, echoes the above observation in a tribute he posted on Facebook. “Hindi niya isusubo o basta na lang ipalulunok sa iyo; sa halip isasangkot ka sa sama-samang paghahagilap hanggang sa matumbok mo ang buod na saysay ng nasabing kataga. Makikita mong magliliwanag ang kanyang mukha kapag nasapol mo, hindi lang ang sinasabi kundi ang ibig sabihin ng mga konseptong masalimuot na maaari din namang bigkasin sa mas payak na paraan.”

The best thing Pasco learned beyond the content of the course, he says, is the patience to understand. “Hindi mo pwedeng madaliin ang pag-unawa, ang pagmumuni, ang pamimilosopiya. It has to be deliberate, it has to be to a certain extent methodical, it has to be step-by-step. Hindi mo sya pwedeng i-shortcut.”

Fr. Roque Ferriols with students
Fr. Roque Ferriols with Pasco's batchmates. Photo courtesy of Marc Pasco

No English please

Don’t dare answer Fr. Ferriols’ questions, or translate a subject matter in discussion, in English, especially Taglish. “Ayaw niya sa tamad na pag-iisip. Bago ka raw manghiram ng banyagang kataga sa Ingles o Espanyol, hanapan mo muna ng salita sa Tagalog, Kapampangan, Ilokano, o alinman sa mga katutubo nating mga wika,” writes Bishop Ambo. “Tandang-tanda ko pa kung paano magpanting ang kanyang mga tainga kapag narinig niya ang mga kapwa Atenistang sosyal na magsabing, ‘na-realize ko’, ‘naging aware ako’, ‘in-analyze ko’, ‘naging conscious ako’, atbp.”

“He was after purity of thought,” says Pasco. “Hindi pwede yung kung ano ang una mong naisip, yun ang sasabihin mo. Bago ka sumagot, isipin mo muna.”

Attending Ferriols’ class meant you better bring your A game. You didn't simply listen and take down notes. You had to be  on your toes. “Kailangan mo syang sabayan sa pag-iisip. Kasi kung hindi, hindi mo makikita ang sinasabi nya. Maiiwan ka. Kailangan gising ang isip, gising ang gunita,” says Pasco.

Kakaiba siya dahil niyugyog talaga niya ang aking pagmamalay,” says Bishop David. “Hindi lang niya itinuro sa akin ang kaisipan ng iba’t ibang mga pilosopo, tinuruan niya akong mag-pilosopiya, mag-isip at bumigkas ng ibinubunga ng aking pag-iisip sa aking sariling wika.”

Fr. Roque Ferriols
“Hindi lang niya itinuro sa akin ang kaisipan ng iba’t ibang mga pilosopo, tinuruan niya akong mag-pilosopiya, mag-isip at bumigkas ng ibinubunga ng aking pag-iisip sa aking sariling wika,” Bishop David says of his former teacher. Photo from Ateneo de Manila University website


While Fr. Ferriols was serious about philosophy, he also had a funny side. He would sometimes tell knock-knock jokes to the amusement of his class. But there would be times when his jokes were too deep, jokes that only he found funny. “Bigla syang titigil tapos ngingiti sya,” remembers Pasco. “Magtitinginan kaming magkakaklase na parang tinatanong ang isa’t isa, ‘dapat ba tayong tumawa?’”

In the 90s—Fr. Ferriols was just in his 60s then—his students observed he would often make references to pop culture and joke about them, clearly a conscious effort to connect with his much younger students.

Pasco recalls a time when he got a B for something he wrote for Fr. Ferriols’ class. It came with a handwritten note: “Maaari pang sisirin.” Eager to get further comments from his teacher, he decided to approach him and ask why he got a B. “Gusto ko siyempreng malaman how do I get an A.”

To his recollection, the teacher did not say anything of significance in his response. But the student was prompted to reread his work, and he eventually understood what Fr. Ferriols meant. “Oo nga, ang dami ko pang pwedeng sabihin at linawin.” 

Now that he’s a teacher, too, Pasco finds himself writing similar comments on his students’ papers. And like the Jesuit, he does not offer an explanation—he knows his students would understand if they take his class seriously.

When Pasco became a faculty member in Ateneo, there was a period when he would be tasked to fetch Fr. Ferriols and bring him to their departmental meetings held at the university’s Horacio dela Costa Hall. The priest was already in his 80s by this time. They would have small talks in the car, and in between the priest would often just be quiet.

Upon noticing the old man was using a Nokia 3210, Pasco asked him, “Father, pwede ko ba kayong itext minsan?” Incidentally, at that time, Pasco had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. “Pag nasa bahay ako at aatakihin ako ng anxiety minsan, tine-text ko lang sya. Padre, ipagdasal mo naman ako,” he would message the priest, without really expecting a reply. But the priest would text back. “May awa ang Diyos. Ipagdadasal kita.”

The gesture meant so much to Pasco. “Meron syang empathy sa taong may pinagdadaanan. Kasi sa buhay nya, madami na din syang pinagdaanan. Ang linya nya parati, may awa ang Diyos.”

Pasco says there is another very short word that would have a huge relevance in his life—"meron.” And Fr. Ferriols wrote an entire book about it. 

Ang salitang yun ang nagbukas sa kamalayan ko na laging may mas humihigit sa kung ano ang nasa abot tanaw, na laging meron pa bukod sa nakikita, bukod sa andiyan na, bukod sa madaling makuha,” Pasco says. For the young Philosophy teacher, it seems the meaning Ferriols has given that word is enough to keep him pushing for more for the rest of his life. “Hindi ka dapat huminto sa paghahanap, dahil hindi humihinto ang karanasan, ang mundo sa pagpapahiwatig, sa pagpapakita.”

[Fr. Roque Ferriols passed away at 12:24am on August 15, 2021, on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady—a day before his 97th birthday on August 16. His interment is scheduled on August 24.]