Saturday, December 22, 2007

Death of an intellectual

The Philippine Daily Inquirer news-eulogy on Adrian E. Cristobal Sr. didn’t mention that he kept friends.

By this, I mean Adrian, when he was alive, really remained steady with a coterie of friends that, like constellations gravitating around a planet, were drawn to Adrian’s light which shone like a sun’s.

I cannot claim to be one those, for the simple reason of age: his friends were his contemporaries and I knew him only when I was in my late twenties, (I was then an aide to the late Blas F. Ople, Adrian’s kumpadre, and one of his closest friends). Yet, I was drawn to him because I’m a fanatic of good writers, Ople and Adrian being two of the most serious writers I have ever encountered, walked with, and learned from.

Serious writers, much more, deep thinkers, are rare. And Adrian belonged to this rarefied race of artisans. This is not to be explained, for serious writers and deep thinkers prefer that their craft explain them. It is their work’s impact on society that serves as their badges, their identikit, and while alive, Adrian prominently wore his despite the difficulties of political labels that hounded him to the very end.

As a public intellectual, Adrian abhorred, despised, mediocrity and shallow thought, and thus spared no one from his acerbic tongue and the satiric tip of his pen. He was always quick on the draw when shooting down mundane ideas, but quicker in encouraging sincere discussion of issues affecting our common life. He was always engaged.

“O, buhay ka pa!” was his greeting when we last met at a birthday lunch of a writer, but I knew it was more of a compliment than a cynical jab at a willing apostle. There, I saw in his eyes his own sense of his mortality: he was already feeble in his steps.

I remember most vividly his exchanges with Ople about the burning issues of the day, exchanges which, to me, were on the highest level of serious thought that only public intellectuals were capable of. Adrian’s deep knowledge of public policy, foreign affairs, and history complemented Ople’s experience and learning as a writer and as a senator. His sagacity of mind and keen perception of historical currents would have made him an ideal public official, if there is such, but then again, he would have dismissed the idea, given at that time the degenerate culture of government.

As a member of the publications committee of the National Centennial Commission from 1997 to 1998, Adrian edited Siglo, the committee’s short-lived journal. Adrian himself predicted the journal’s “limited tenure” but he did not despair, saying Siglo would serve as a ‘vehicle’ for the most significant thinking on the themes and issues of the Philippine Revolution and Independence.

Revolution. Independence. These are two issues that Adrian took to heart in many of his writings. His favorite revolutionary persona was Andres Bonifacio, about whom he wrote a scholarly tome, “The Tragedy of the Revolution”, and an essay, “In Search of the Hero.”

In the latter, he tore to pieces the canon of some historians to “deconstruct” Bonifacio by saying their “historicizing” is a “mere elegant substitute for gossip.” He reserved his venom for the American historian who wrote that Bonifacio was an invention. He said the historian is a psychologist who has not gone to school. The poor American did not bother a reply. The wounds inflicted by Adrian’s pen must have incapacitated him.

Only 75 when he died yesterday, Adrian has joined his compatriot-writers and public intellectuals, like Ople, Salvador P. Lopez, Fred Mangahas, E. Aguilar Cruz, Nick Joaquin, I. P. Soliongco, and Guillermo de Vega in the great beyond. There, they could resume their debate and intellectual meditation, while we, the living, can remain reeling and stammering in our intellectual poverty because one by one, the few genius and really articulate public minds are slowly deserting us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Education Agenda (Last Part)

The Need to Plan

During the past few years as a private citizen, we have been engaging the political leaders of our province, and even some of our national leaders, to incorporate this Education Agenda in our provincial and national programs. We are doing this with diligence and without fanfare because we know we are competing against many provincial and national priorities for limited provincial and state resources.

But for us to succeed in getting national attention, we must have first the intellectual honesty to understand the education needs of Sibalenhons. We need to scan the environment for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are necessary elements in education planning.

How many teachers, for example, need to be trained and in what field? What are, for instance the most common causes that lead pupils and students to leave school? Why do some graduates find it difficult to get employed? What are the facilities we are most in need of? Is undernourishment a cause of underperformance in school? Do we have classroom, books, and desk shortages? Can our local government afford to pay incentives to our teachers? These are questions that we must have ready answers to be able to plan ahead.

It is therefore with a sense of optimism that I commend the leadership of the Concepcion National High School for organizing this event, and congratulate all of you for your happy participation.

By holding this Summit, the CNHS, as a public education institution, is playing its expected role of molding and shaping the young minds of Sibalenhons in preparation for the Knowledge Century. The CNHS, by its mandate, has been a visible presence in Sibale’s public affairs, even as it continues to make a mark through its graduates.

It can do more, however, to help in Sibale’s development efforts. For example, it should conceive training programs for out-of-school youths to enable them to acquire basic occupational skills, such as carpentry, welding, plumbing, masonry, practical electricity, and other blue-collar skills which today are in demand in the labor market. It can organize weekend literacy classes for women, story-telling for children, and even conduct livelihood programs, such as fish– and meat processing, for those who are interested in entrepreneurial activities.

These activities, while no longer confined in the four corners of the classroom, are education-related and will go a long way in empowering the Sibalenhon to prepare for the future. The CNHS can partner with the barangays, even with some private NGOs and civic organizations in carrying out such initiatives.

In my own, despite my very limited time, I can offer my expertise as a facilitator in communication training, value orientation, and institution building, which are all essential element of any education empowerment initiative. All I need to see is sincere commitment to pursue such a program.

The realization of our education goals needs a lot of investment in time and money. But more than the financial resources, we need communal unity, focus, and patience, with large doses of cooperation.

It can be done. To believe otherwise is defeatist and is not the Sibalenhon way.

If it will inspire you, a recent experience is instructive. Last week, Sibalenhons from all over Batangas, Cavite, Metro Manila, and Laguna celebrated our town fiesta in Lipa because we cannot come home on December 8. This has become a tradition and has been done the last few years. Naturally, we had a basketball tournament, in which my team, the Batlaw sa Lim-aw, fought for the Ragipon Cup. My team was underrated. It was a rag-tag team, composed of Sibalenhons whose egos are bigger in relation to their skills. No one has believed, except ourselves, that we will win the championship. We did it on sheer calm, focus, unity, and cooperation. Ranged against an unbeaten team with superior skills and over-confidence, we won on account of our organized, systematic, and single-minded effort to achieve our mission.

We, too, as leaders in education can achieve our mission. We can make a difference by making education an agenda and a priority.

The reward that we will reap, by investing in the education of all Sibalenhon citizens, would be enormously gratifying: it will ensure a brighter and more secure future than we could ever imagine. It will enable our children to get to where they want to be, in a position in life higher than where they had started. It will enable them to compete for the best jobs, to position themselves in business and society, and to realize their dreams of self-fulfillment and comfort.

I wish to end my remarks by quoting a paragraph from a poem I had written about a boy studying in Manila who wrote her mother for money. It goes this way:

Kada gani, Nanay, Tatay
Ako’y naghihingyo
Todohi pa baga ka inro pag-ampo
Kaling inro anak miskan asa mayado
Ako’y nag-aaray, nagpapaka-pakando

Finally, I hope we will have a productive Summit. I also hope that this Summit will be a uniting exercise, with the outcome becoming one more step forward toward a progressive Sibale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 3)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)

2. We must have decent and complete elementary education facilities.

We should start by having enough classrooms, desks,

books, and laboratory equipment. Our elementary schools must have toilets with running water. We should fence-in our campuses. We should have books at a ratio of one-is-to-one. We should have community libraries. And if we can, with enough political will and through the judicious use of scarce money resources, we should expand the pre-school feeding program to the elementary schools.

3. Our teachers should be well-trained and well-equipped.

The most important component of basic education is the teacher. We should attract the best and brightest elementary school teachers, whether Sibalenhon or not, to our schools. But it would be best if the teachers are Sibalenhons themselves. However, the important thing is that they should excel in their profession.

The municipal government, again, with enough political will and through the wise use of limited financial resources, should help implement a training program for our elementary teachers. It is not enough that our teachers graduate with teaching degrees and pass the teachers’ licensure examinations. They must continue to learn and imbibe the latest knowledge and techniques and acquire modern teaching skills. They must have their windows open to the global resource pool of knowledge and must breathe the winds of change.

The municipal government must reward our teachers. Incentives other than supplemental pay from municipal resources will not only motivate and inspire them but also lead them to excellence.

I propose that during this Summit, the operational mechanisms of activating and strengthening our local school board be thoroughly discussed and the modes of cooperation between the teachers, the parents, the students, and the local officials be finalized. The board should always meet in dialogue and act in a concerted fashion.

4. We should invest in ICT for our schools.

The power and wonder and efficacy of information and telecommunications technology are already here, in our midst, for us to use, benefit from, and harness. There is no excuse for our children in the elementary and high schools not to learn to use the computer, much less to have one which they can utilize. We must invest in computers. I realize that the Department of Education has limited resources, but we must ask for it. There is no harm in trying, but there is in failure to ask.

Every elementary school in our island must have at least one computer, complete with a printer, the basic computing software, and hooked to the World Wide Web via satellite. The municipal government should allocate the resources for this to materialize, and if it doesn’t have enough money, raise it from outside sources as soon as possible. It is a mortal omission and monumental neglect on the part of the municipal government not to have an Internet connection even for itself.

It is surprising that while almost everyone in Romblon is dreaming to be hooked to the grid of the global information highway, our municipal government has not exercised the will to acquire even decent PCs for its offices. Office computing is now a necessity, not a luxury. The municipal government must allocate money to train its employees on information technology. Training is an investment that has its own rewards.

5. We must have a trade or vocational school.

It is a fact that not all of Sibalenhon high school graduates have the intellectual capacity or the financial capability to go to college. There are many Sibalenhon school leavers or drop outs and out-of-school youth. It is time that we study the possibility of putting up a community technical-vocational school to accommodate the drop-outs and OSYs so they, too, can be prepared for the Knowledge Century. The financial and technical requirements of such a technical-vocational institution could be immense but it can be done, if we have the will to summon communal unity and cooperation toward this endeavor.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 2)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)

Battle for hearts and mind

It is in this context that education becomes relevant.

Education will define the future as it defines the present.

It is the single most-important key to a better life, the possession that assures one who has it to be able to get to a level or situation better than where he or she started out in life. Education is an equalizer, enabling a poor boy or girl to be at par with, if not better than, a rich peer.

We know whereof we speak. We are witness to education’s liberating—both intellectual and physical—values. Without education, we would have not been equipped to articulate the dreams and visions and aspirations of our fellow Romblomanons. Without education, it would not have been possible for us to engage the leaders of the province and the larger Philippine society on questions that impact on the Filipinos’ daily lives. Without education, we would have been forever imprisoned in the limiting environment of an island—our island.

It was education that made it possible for us to explore the universal apart from the particular, to consider the particular as an essential element of the universal, and to raise the curtain to view the global stage as another arena for competition, a venue for expressing ourselves and subjecting ideas to experiment for their utility and acceptance. In short, it was education that opened for us the doors to discovery and empowerment: to be able to compete.

And it is education that will be the key to winning the battle for the hearts and minds of our people in the 21st century. It is education that will redeem us from poverty; that will open us the doors to exciting opportunities, to a better life, to a status equal to those who have it or gained it ahead of us; to a level higher than where we started out in life.

It is education that will empower us to realize our highest potential. It is education that will enable us to compete with the rest of the world and excel and be the best that we can be. For Sibalenhons all have the equal opportunity under our democratic space to realize their God-given potential.

What do we do?

Having laid down the powers of the force that is education, I now pose the question to you, our leaders: what do we do now?

What do we do to empower ourselves to compete, to realize our highest potential, to enable ourselves to rise from the limiting environment of the island, to secure our position in the Knowledge Century, and to propel all Sibalenhons to a level of socio-economic and political existence higher than where we are now? What do we do to enable us to play a greater role in the provincial, national, and global stage?

We must invest in education. This is the answer to all the above questions. As leaders, we must devote our energies, resources, and efforts to giving every Sibalenhon the best education there is, from pre-school to intermediate to secondary to technical-vocational to tertiary up to where their capacity to learn and acquire knowledge will bring them.

We suggest that as leaders, wherever in the political spectrum we belong, we should pledge to work to make the education of every Sibalenhon our highest priority, and exercise our powers and devote the resources within our disposal to ensure that Sibalenhon education will be the best in Romblon, if not in the whole Philippines.

To realize this vision-mission-goal of providing every Sibalenhon the best education, we propose the adoption of an Education Agenda consisting of the elements spelt out below.

An Education Agenda

1. All of Sibale’s nine (9) barangays should have complete free pre-school facilities.

We should start the basic education of our people at a young age. There is no excuse why we should not give them pre-school education when everyone else is doing it. The formative years of a child are the years when his or her mind is like a sponge, absorbent and open to accepting all knowledge which he or she could use later in life.

By having a complete and free pre-school system, with well-equipped facilities, tools, and well-trained teachers, we could jumpstart the education of our children in a right note and ensure that when they enter the formal school system, they would have developed the self-confidence and right mental attitude toward formal education.

We should incorporate in the pre-school system a child feeding program and allocate financial resources for it. (To be continued)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 1)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)


Shortly before the May 14, 2007 election, I wrote an open letter to all Sibalenhon leaders on the topic of education. I intended to distribute the letter during the campaign as my modest contribution, first, to helping raise the quality of the election campaign by bringing to the fore issues that really matter in our lives, and second, to encourage all candidates to espouse education as part of their respective platforms.

Third, I wrote the letter to help educate our voters so they will demand from the candidates meaningful and valuable action and performance rather than money and material favors. It was, many of you will agree, a quixotic task given the prevalent culture in our politics where votes are freely exchanged as a commodity rather than as a mandate from the governed.

Finally, I sought to put in perspective a theme which is very close to my heart. Education is always a hot-button issue in our country and bringing it to the consciousness of the Sibalenhon is to me a personal duty.

Unfortunately, that paper, “An Education Agenda”, never got into circulation, even when my daughter Lara, who is in Grade Six, had already laid it out for mass production. The untimely and sudden death of a sister, plus the fact that I was away in Bicol during the rest of the summer, precluded all plans to visit Sibale and distribute the paper.

The invitation by the Concepcion National High School to deliver a keynote address to this Education Summit was an opportunity to revisit my thoughts on the subject. It has to be revised, of course, to capture the essence of this occasion, but the main points I have raised and discussed in “An Education Agenda” remain valid and relevant.

Thus, I would like to express my gratitude for this opportunity. Now, the paper finally has an audience.

You will note that I chose “Education Agenda” as the title of this paper. This is deliberate and with a purpose. I want the subject of education to become an agenda—not only during this Summit, but beyond—to make it visible. I believe education is one of the most important concerns that you—our leaders and movers and shakers—must face, confront, and do something about if you take seriously your prominent status in Sibalenhon society. I will spell out shortly my reasons for saying so.

The Knowledge Century

Our present era is characterized by revolutionary changes and challenges in almost every aspect of human survival, notably in the fields of commerce, communications, science, and technology. The fast pace of societal transformation—including the transformation of island communities like Sibale—brought about by these changes have swept us off our feet, threatening those who cannot respond and adapt to be left behind in abject ignorance and grinding poverty. As a people, we cannot anymore afford this lot amid the world’s growing prosperity.

Our present era has resulted in new modes and ways of doing things. The old ways are passé. New trends are unfolding before our very eyes. The future is pointing to the same direction of continuing changes and challenges.

Whereas the present is a battle for economic clout—which means that those who have the wealth, those who possess material resources, get ahead in life—the 21st century (our century, as African Nobel Prize laureate in literature Nadine Gordimer has written) is no longer a drama between those who have material possessions and those who have none.

The not-so-distant tomorrow is a skills-and-knowledge-based future. It will be a Knowledge Century and the competition will be between ideas, knowledge, and skills, and between technical competence and capability. The Knowledge Century is unraveling now. It is here.

And as it comes, survival and progress are fought along the terms and conditions of those who have the agility to use and harness newfound ideas, knowledge, and skills. In very simple but graphic terms, it is a battle between those who still use the abacus and those who fiddle with computers; between those who still believe in using semaphore to communicate and those who use ‘text’ and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) to deliver messages; a battle between those who still hoist the “yadag” and wait for “tiral” and those who ride airplanes and hydrofoil ships to get to their destinations.

This is the face of the future that our municipality confronts now. Change and innovation stare us in the face and the question is: Shall we blink? (To be continued)