Who Is Padre Ferriols?

by Pamela Joy Mariano-Capistrano

Roque J. Ferriols, S.J.  (full name: Roque Angel Jamias Ferriols)  |  Roque Ferriols, S.J. has left his mark on several generations of philosophy students from the Ateneo de Manila University. Fondly known as "Padre Roque" to later generations of students, Ferriols can be credited with almost single-handedly promoting the teaching of philosophy in Filipino. More important and more lasting, however, is his determination to impart the necessity of pagmumuni-muni--of genuine thinking on one's situation, to his students. He has taught--and still continues to teach--at the Ateneo de Manila for more than 40 years.

Born August 16, 1924 at the Philippine General Hospital, Ferriols grew up in North Sampaloc. At home, he recounts, the adults talked to each other in Spanish or Ilokano. To the children, him included, "they talked--condescendingly, I felt--in something they called Tagalog." Ferriols would later call this distinctive brand of Filipino 'North Sampalokese', to distinguish it from the Tagalog spoken by the elite whom he first encountered in school. He recounts, "Trying to make friends in the playground, I talked to my peers in something I thought was Tagalog and was laughed at. In North Sampaloc nobody felt superior to you if you spoke a different accent or mixed Ilocanisms with your Tagalog. Not three kilometers away, the little sons and daughters of the Tagalese were enforcing elitist norms."

In 1941, Ferriols joined the Jesuits. During the preliminary years of his formation, he distinguished himself as an exceptional scholar in Greek and Latin, while at the same time living through the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. After the war, he was sent to study theology in Woodstock, Maryland, as was the custom then for the Jesuits in the Philippines. Nearly fifteen years after entering the Society, in 1954, he was ordained a priest in New York. Ferriols, called to philosophy, finished his doctorate at Fordham University in New York with a dissertation entitled The Psychic Entity in Sri Aurobindo's "The Life Divine."

Upon his return to the Philippines, Ferriols first taught philosophy for three years at Berchmans College in Cebu, before returning to Ateneo de Manila--an Ateneo just beginning to settle into its new home in Loyola Heights. There, Ferriols, as chair of the Department of Philosophy, established the AB Philosophy program with the first Philosophy majors graduating in 1966--Salvador F. Bernal, the 2003 National Artist for Theater and Design, being its first departmental awardee.  Previously, philosophy in the Ateneo had been taught in the same scholastic tradition as in seminaries; this young department, on the other hand, was animated by the spirit of phenomenology that Ferriols encountered in his doctorate studies. His brand of philosophy was characterized by a return to “the things themselves,” to the lived experiences that become the trigger for philosophical reflection.

It was in 1969 that Ferriols began to teach Filipino, as part of a greater move towards Filipinization in the university--a move that was not at odds with phenomenology's emphasis on lived experience. At first, however, this method is not fully encouraged by the university's administration. After several attempts at preventing the classes from being held, Ferriols was finally allowed to teach the classes. He was given the oddest class hours, right at lunch time or before dinner—but this did not dissuade students from enrolling in his classes. Word then slowly but steadily spread among the students, and as each semester passed the classes grew in size. Today, nearly half of all philosophy classes taught by the Department of Philosophy are in Filipino.

Fpicture courtesy of The Guidonerriols' efforts at promoting the study of philosophy in Filipino also led him to translate, edit, and write various books. Among those published are Mga Sinaunang Griyego, a translation of selected texts from the Pre-Socratics to Aristotle; Magpakatao, a collection he edited, containing translations of texts exploring the theme of being human; and his original writings Pambungad sa Metapisika and Pilosopiya ng Relihiyon. These four books earned him National Book Awards from the Manila Critics' Circle. In 1989, the Ateneo de Manila University conferred him with the Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi.

In "A Memoir of Six Years," his chronicle of his first six years of teaching philosophy in Filipino, he writes, "In six years, one comes to know that, for human thinking, North Sampalokese is better than Plato's Greek." And this seems to be the spirit that has animated Ferriols all these years--the desire to propagate real thinking and to do away with the misconception that thinking is the ivory tower of the elite--a spirit that his students hope to keep alive.


*BW photo courtesy of The Guidon