That, dear karikna, was the cry of hundreds of Ilocanos who joined the anti-pork barrel gathering held at the Aurora Freedom Park last Monday, Aug. 26. Dubbed as the Pork O’Clock March, the gathering drew representatives from various sectors to peacefully but loudly express indignation against mammoth government corruption. Incidentally, this rally for the abolition of the pork barrel was staged near the monument marking the abolition of the tobacco monopoly in 1882.
Like the Million People March in Luneta and other protest activities around the country, the Laoag event did not have any organizers, only facilitators. I and a couple of other writers met Friday, three days before the event, to talk about how the Ilocano voice can be heard in what was already looming as a nationwide day of protest. We in this part of the country are often perceived as passive on issues, but no, not this time, we said. We know that Ilocanos are as furious as the rest of our countrymen, only that there is no avenue where we could express our collective fury. Continue reading “Notes from Aurora Park”
(Statement issued on August 16 by The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio c/o Nakem Conferences International)
RESPONSE TO THE PUBLIC APOLOGY OF REV. DR. BRIAN SHAH
In his public apology, the Rev. Brian Shah conveys that he had already apologized to the parents of Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio, the three students he unjustly and unduly excluded from the Saviour’s Christian Academy (SCA) for violating its English-only policy.
While the apology may read sincere, it fell short of the more important aspect of a decent apology, i.e. the full recognition of all his misdeeds.
Firstly, Rev. Shah totally disregarded the school manual when he imposed exclusion on the 3 students for violating SCA’s English-only school policy the penalty of which calls for a mere reprimand according to the School Manual. That is gross abuse of discretion. For excluding the three students, Rev. Shah violated Sec. 135 of DepEd Order No. 88 s. 2010 which stipulates that “No disciplinary action shall be applied upon any pupil or student except for cause…AND after due process shall have been observed” and Sec. 136c which requires that “A summary investigation shall have been conducted.” Section 137 on Summary Proceedings stipulates that “Subject to compliance with the requirements of due process and school regulations the procedure for disciplinary action against a student shall be summary in nature. The student shall be assisted in the proceedings by his/her parent(s) and/or by counsel.” We believe Rev. Shah violated certain provisions of these sections of DO. No. 88 s. 2010.
Secondly, consider that Kleinee Bautista, one of the 3 students, recounted to Herdy La. Yumul, a reputable blogger, Ilocos Times columnist and professor at Mariano Marcos State University, that when Rev. Brian Shah confronted him (Bautista) on July 31, 2013, Shah was to have said in a raised voice: “You are not respecting my school!” Bautista then claims that Rev. Shah gestured as if he was going to smash his cell phone on the boy saying, “You want me to throw my cell phone at you, you bitch?” Whereupon, Shah advised Bautista to transfer out of Saviour’s Christian Academy effective July 31, 2013, ostensibly for violating the English-only school policy without giving the boy any other option or the benefit of due process. When the parents attempted to reach out to him, Rev. Shah refused to see them.
Thirdly, recall that the Rev. Brian Shah posted the following on his Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/osfi.acad) on July 30, 2013, a day before advising the students to transfer to another school effective July 31, 2013, for violating SCA’s English-only policy: “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.” For this reason, it is our contention that Rev. Shah’s actions against Kleinee Bautista on July 31, 2013 were premeditated.
Fourthly, Rev. Shah’s claims that the school policies of SCA, a part of which he knowingly violated, were crafted with the “best interests of our students in mind” and that their English-only policy is intended to make the students “competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of the Motherland” are contradictory and a display of profound ignorance of the linguistic rights of students. We believe it would be in the best interest of students if their freedom of expression is fully protected, especially in schools where the medium of instruction is in English and where students’ “competitiveness in the global village”, we fear, may have been compromised at an early age.
Fifthly, that the issue has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” is an attempt at dilution and diversion. Rev. Shah must be told that the Ilocos Region is an exemplar of the Department of Education’s mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) efforts and good practices for good measure. It is supreme irony that he claims to carry out initiatives to support the poor, the oppressed and marginalized while institutionalizing marginalization and oppression right in his own backyard, on the grounds of Saviour’s Christian Academy.
Last but not least, given our growing awareness of ethnic diversity and the importance of our indigenous languages as a result of recent DepEd directives to institutionalize the use of the mother tongue or dominant local/regional language or L1 as medium of instruction from kindergarten to grade 3 and the use of L1 as auxiliary medium of instruction to English and Filipino as the primary MOI from Grade 4 all the way through high school, the fact that parents and students are still overwhelmingly interested in the acquisition of English language skills to enable students after they graduate or drop out of school to qualify for local jobs in the public and private sectors and also to enable them to qualify competitively for jobs in the global community is comment on just how durable the English language is in the Philippines rather than a rallying point for language restrictions, such as English-only school policies. Besides, the imposition of restrictive English-only policies with penalties being dangled over the heads of students for violating them has the deleterious, sometimes irreversible effect of sowing in the students’ psyche low esteem or disrespect for their own mother tongue, low esteem for themselves, and low, if any, regard for their indigenous cultural heritage.
Wherefore, we respectfully call on the Commission on Human Rights and other relevant agencies to investigate and determine if a criminal case is to be brought against the Rev. Brian Shah in light of the verbal abuse and intimidating gestures allegedly committed by him based on the accounts of Kleinee Bautista and for violating the linguistic rights of SCA students. In the event Rev. Shah is found culpable for violation of any provision of DepEd Order 88 s. 2010 and other pertinent laws and regulations, we hereby strongly recommend that the Rev. Brian Shah be ordered to immediately relinquish control of Saviour’s Christian School and transfer same to a more reasonable, level-headed and culturally sensitive administrator who is a firm believer in inclusive democracy and education.
The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio
With a deep sense of humility, allow me to express my sincerest apologies to everyone who has been caused pain and offense by the recent turn of events at Saviour’s Christian Academy. Personally, I have apologized to the families of the three students—Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio—during a dialogue held on August 8 at the office of the Department of Education – Divison of Laoag City.
As proper authorities are now looking into this controversy, I will refrain from discussing details of the issue, except to say that the policies we craft and implement in the school are well-intentioned and have the best interests of our students in mind. Through academic excellence and Christian formation, we have, in the past 24 years, laboured hard to help the youth become responsible and productive members of society, competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of their Motherland.
It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” where I am pictured as chief enemy. I came to the Philippines in 1987 and have, since then, served as pastor, friend, and family to countless Ilocanos from all walks of life. I could never thus intentionally and willfully do anything that will demean Ilocanos—they who have accepted me as one of their own. Moved by their unparalleled hospitality, I always try, in the best ways I can, to carry out initiatives supporting local communities, especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. As a missionary, I fully realize the importance of the vernacular in getting the message across, and so majority of our church services are conducted in Iluko. At SCA, we take pride in a vibrant multicultural environment that has attracted students coming from various ethnolinguistic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Again, I apologize to everyone who may have been offended by the issue even as I reassure the public that all steps will be taken to review our school policies and our student handbook to seamlessly comply with existing government regulations and to be further sensitive to the cultural sensibilities of our people. We acknowledge this humbling experience as a learning opportunity that will allow us to serve our students in better ways.
We welcome the rich public discourse this issue has generated, and hope that at the end of the day all these will translate to courses of action we can collectively take in the pursuit of a truly responsive and nationalist education agenda.
This year, 2013, has no doubt been a roller coaster ride for Rev. Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy in Laoag City. Just last February, he was awarded as one of the Most Outstanding Laoagueños. Today, he is an object of national wrath, and moves are underway to have him deported to his home Singapore.
Shah is currently embroiled in a controversy that has angered Filipinos here and overseas—the expulsion of 3 students from his school on the sole ground of speaking in Ilocano.
A blog post I made last Tuesday morning went viral in a few hours, and prompted the media to cover it. Various groups have issued statements of support for the three kids while an online petition for Shah’s ouster as school president and deportation from the country is gaining steam.
So far, most people know only three things about Reverend Brian Shah: president, pastor, and Singaporean.
And this is because he has denied all requests from us in the media to get their side. That, they say, was upon the advise of their lawyer who eventually spoke for SCA in media interviews. Thus, we know so little about Shah’s version of the story.
Last Friday, Shah, through an emissary, requested to talk to me so he can air his side. The interview happened yesterday, Aug. 9, in his office at the Saviour’s Christian Academy. It was a holiday so only Shah and his wife May who serves as the school’s administrator, were in the campus, aside from the security guards stationed at the gate.
I was a bit afraid to the do the interview but I went anyway. The couple welcomed me warmly. Pastor Shah sat down with me in his office, Ms. May would later join us after serving coffee.
The moment we sat, Shah looked at me, his eyes already wet. “It has been a very painful week for me, Herdy,” he said as his tears fell. I did not expect the scene; it was not the Pastor Brian Shah I imagined.
Almost sleepless the past days, Shah has been at the receiving end of phone calls from angry individuals and groups here and abroad. “The moment I say hello, they would start yelling foul words, and some would even threaten me with harm.”
I told him I would listen to anything he would like to share. The 59-year old pastor then began by recalling why he came here to Ilocos Norte. In the mid-80’s, he was a rising executive in a multinational company in Singapore, and has been offered the a tempting offer to head marketing operations in Southeast Asia. However, he felt God’s strong calling for the missions, and decided to come here to the Philippines instead.
In 1987, he was initially assigned in Dilavo, a fishing village in Pasuquin, one of Ilocos Norte’s poorest towns. There, he immersed with the villagers. He said worked with them and embraced the people’s way of life.
The following year, they moved to Laoag City to start their ministry and built the Church of Our Saviour in a rented space at A. Castro Avenue. They constructed a small chapel and, behind it, a small preschool. It was, in fact, a makeshift structure that people referred to as “Kusina School.” For four years it was for free. Later on, rich students were asked to pay so they can subsidize the poor.
Through the years, they established other centers: an orphanage in Abra, a shelter for sexually abused children in San Nicolas, and a free medical and dental clinic. They have also been active in disaster relief operations.
In 2000, the school transferred to its current location in D. Samonte Street. The compound occupies almost a whole block and houses several buildings. Tuition fee per student now ranges between P22,000-P24,000, inclusive of books and other materials. But the couple have also sponsored scholarships for poor students, some of whom are now working as professionals. They currently have four scholars at SCA.
The English-speaking policy at SCA began around 10 years ago when Shah noticed that even Grade 5 pupils could not speak basic English. “How come our students are paying for their education, and yet they have not learned basic English?” he wondered. He said he wanted to equip students linguistic skills that will make them globally competitive. Shah said he has always emphasized to the students the value of excelling at what they do, and to dream big. “You should not only aspire to be a lawyer or a doctor, but a good lawyer or a good doctor.” He said he believes that proficiency in English would open up doors of opportunities for them.
Still, he said, he recognizes the importance of the vernacular, citing that in their Church, half of the worship services are in Ilocano while the other half are in English. He shared that SCA provides a vibrant multicultural environment. Of their 670-strong student population, 20 are Muslim while 10 are Hindu. Moreover, many of their teachers are Catholics and members of Iglesia ni Cristo. He also said that some of their teachers are homosexuals, and are not discriminated against. “What is important to us is their talent and their passion to help the kids.”
Moreover, Shah clarified that the school is fully compliant with the Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education, and that Ilocano is being used as medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2.
On the dismissals
Shah said he has received many complaints from Grade school pupils and their parents as to why high school students have been violating the language policy. “How come we in Grade school are speaking in English while many high school students continue to speak in Ilocano?” Shah quoted the pupils as saying.
He said the original punishment was to make the violator write a thousand times that he will not speak Ilocano. But Shah, a hands-on administrator, felt the need to be stricter in imposing the language rule. So, on July 30 in the afternoon, he went to all the classes in the high school level to warn them not to violate the English-speaking policy. “I have given you a lot of warnings in the past but you continue to violate. I am giving you this last warning. Please, I really want you to learn English, so please follow the rule.” Shah told the students.
However, just a few hours later, he received a report that the three kids (who, Shah says, were inseparable) spoke Ilocano. “I was upset,” he said, “and that to me was more of a defiance thing, and not much of an Ilocano thing. They were defying school authority.” That very afternoon, he told Samboy Respicio who he said, “is like a son to me,” and whose parents have been his co-pastors for 25 years, that he will be asked to transfer to another school.
That night, Shah posted on the school’s official Facebook page, “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.”
The next day, Shah informed the other two students, Kleinee Bautista and Carl Abadilla, about his decision, that they will be advised to transfer to another school. Shah denies having gestured like he was about to hit one of the expelled boys. He also denies having said a foul word. “But I admit that I raised my voice because I was overcome by my emotions,” he said.
In an interview with GMA Ilocos news, Atty. Jaime Agtang, counsel for Saviour’s Christian Academy, said the issue—that of 3 Grade 8 students kicked out of school for speaking Ilocano—is closed. However, parents of one of the kids have denied this.
“How can it be closed when they have not even acted on our formal complaint?” wonders Lamar Abadilla, mother of Carl. She said they filed on Thursday (Aug. 8) at the Department of Education Division of Laoag City a letter of complaint addressed to Superintendent Araceli C. Pastor. The six-page complaint presented the details of the case, and sought for administrative sanctions on Shah. The parents are also demanding for a public apology.
Meanwhile, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Legal and Legislatve Affairs Tonisito Umali is keeping a close eye on the issue. In a television interview yesterday, he categorically stated that speaking in the vernacular is not a valid ground for expelling students. “Mali po talaga yun. Walang batang dapat patalsikin dahil nagsalita lang naman ng Ilokano kahit may English-speaking policy,” he told ABS-CBN’s Anthony Taberna. Moreover, Umali said expulsion of a student is a penalty that must be approved by the Office of Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
“You are not respecting my school!” yelled the school president. Then, gesturing like he was going to smash his mobile phone unto the boy, he exclaimed, “You want me throw my cell phone at you? You bit*h!”
This, a teary-eyed Kleinee Bautista recalls, is what happened when Reverend Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy, talked to him in his office Wednesday last week, July 31. Already devastated by the harsh words, the 13-year old boy’s world crumbled when the pastor-president handed a decision: he is dismissed from the school.
Kleinee’s offense? He, along with two other Grade 8 students, spoke Ilocano inside the campus.
Located in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, SCA has an English-speaking policy that bars everyone—parents, teachers and staff, and students—from speaking in Philippine languages, be it Filipino or Ilocano, within the campus. Their student handbook says speaking in the vernacular is punishable by a reprimand. The handbook also lays out the guidelines in dealing with alleged violations of school codes. The due process includes giving a warning first, and then a conference with parents.
Why and how Shah could get away with due process and arbitrarily ‘kick out’ students is something the family of Carl Abadilla, another dismissed student, could not understand. His mother sent two letters appealing for reconsideration, both of which Shah ignored.
The experience has been traumatic for both kids. Kleinee did not eat for days and could not sleep. Carl felt very hurt and “nawalan na ng gana.” At a young age, they bear the stigma of being kick-outs.
Kleinee has studied at Saviour’s school since prep. That school is the only one he has ever attended. It has really become his second home. Together with his friends, he has kept memories and shaped dreams in that school.
Meanwhile, Carl has been at Saviour’s for only a month and a half. A victim of bullying at St. Mary’s Seminary during his freshman year in high school, he transferred to SCA, expecting to find refuge. “Little did we know,” Carl’s mother said in an interview with The Ilocos Times, “that our child will be bullied by the school president himself.
Samboy, the third student who was kicked is the son of a pastor. Both his parents are working at SCA, and are under Shah, so they opted to just accept the decision silently. But one can imagine how difficult it is for the boy, too, to be kicked out from the very school served devotedly by his family.
Classes have been going on for two months, and it is difficult to find a school that will accept the “dismissed” students. Fortunately for Carl, Divine Word College of Laoag accepted him with wide open arms. As of this writing, Kleinee is still an out-of-school youth.
According to SCA teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity, the three students have been performing well in school and have exhibited proper behaviour until they were dismissed from the school for speaking Ilocano.
“Speaking Ilocano is a crime,” some students quote Shah as saying. “But does that make all Ilocano speakers criminals?” wonders Carl’s mother, a regional trial court employee.
The issue has come out on radio, but Shah has consistently veered away from media interviews. Asked for a reaction, he declined to comment by saying, “No thanks, I’m busy” before he hurriedly hung up the phone. Instead, it was Ms. Cristeta Pedro, SCA’s high school principal, who has spoken for the school. She stands by the school policy and justifies the punishment meted out on the students. What the parents of the kids lament, however, is that Pedro claims there was due process when the parents claim there was none. After some students reported hearing the three speaking in Ilocano, and Shah immediately dismissed them in the absence of a thorough investigation and trial and without conferring with the parents. Whether the supposed offense is commensurate to the punishment—that of being dismissed during the school year—is, to say the least, questionable to many.
In an interview with Mr. Michael Lomabao, who is currently the high school’s officer-in-charge (Ms. Pedro is on leave and is said to be in the United States), this is not the first time the school dismissed students for violating the language policy. Lomabao also confirmed the punishment specified in the handbook for the violators: a mere reprimand.
JF, an SCA alumna, attests to this. She shared, “We were talking casually in the canteen when Pastor Brian heard two of my friends speak in Filipino; they were almost kicked out by Pastor Brian. He was very angry.”
“This is a form of linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect,” opines Dr. Alegria Tan-Visaya, president of Nakem Conferences Philippines, and chief of the Ilocano-Amianan Studies Center at the Mariano Marcos State University.
This observation is shared by Eugene Carmelo Pedro, a Philippine languages activist and currently a law student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
“I admire that they want their students to be fluent in English in words and in thought, but I think their policy is foolish and dated,” says Eugene, who is not related to SCA’s high school principal. “Immersion is really one of the best ways to become fluent, but it doesn’t really work when the school shames students for speaking their native language,” he adds.
Even poor teachers are victims of Shah’s linguistic dictatorship. Teachers have been warned not to use Ilocano or Filipino in conversing with students in social networking sites (even if they are using the Internet in their own homes.). If Shah finds out, they were informed, the punishment is forfeiture of a month’s salary.
Indeed, one wonders, dear karikna, why all these had to happen at a time when today’s thrust of basic education is the strengthening of our mother tongue, a measure meant to fortify the linguistic foundations of a child.
Research done in various developed countries show that proficiency in one’s mother tongue or first language will increase one’s chances of being good at other languages, both local and foreign. In short when one is good in Ilocano, our first language—not only in conversational use but in formal reading, writing, and speaking—one is better prepared to learn Filipino, English, and other languages.
With this in mind, the Department of Education is now on its second year of implementing the MTBMLE or the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education. According to Mr. Lloyd Rosquita, education supervisor for private schools (DepEd Laoag City), although SCA is a private school, it is still under the supervision of DepEd. Moreover, SCA is also considered as a regular private school. Meaning, it is not an international school accorded more autonomy in terms of school curriculum and operations. SCA is thus not exempted from implementing MTBMLE.
And though Reverend Brian Shah and his wife May, the school administrator, are Singaporean nationals, they are not over and above our laws, especially not our Constitution.
Article XIV Section VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the Government to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”
Some parents, however, while feeling strongly about the issue, have expressed doubts if any case to be filed against the couple will prosper. They are perceived to be chummy with a top provincial politician and a top DepEd Laoag City official. They are believed to be “untouchable.” It doesn’t matter, say parents of the affected children. “We will still pursue justice for our kids.”
But of course, dear karikna. The parents should. No, we should. For these foreigners have obviously abused our hospitality. We welcomed them warmly. We allowed them to establish their church and school in our land. We have entrusted our children to them, and then this. This disrespect. This injustice. This unparalleled arrogance Shah fittingly exhibited at the best time possible: the eve of Agosto, the month of Philippine languages.
Though supposedly a modern-day Christian, Shah puts to shame the decrepit men-of-the-cloth in the middle ages. And this reflects in the way he manages the school. This reflects in the way he wants their students to learn English. This shows in his strong belief in a world where fear and punishment are more powerful than inspiration and role modeling.
You want students to be good in English? You show them how that language can be useful to them. You let them realize how it can help make them better persons. You inspire them to be as good as you are, or even better, in its use. That is a real educator’s way. That, I say, is a real Christian’s way, that of love and compassion. For all his language tyranny, it is common knowledge that Shah’s English is terribly painful to listen to. And it is not because he is Singaporean. It is simply because his English is terrible.
So how can Shah, this Singaporean, do such cruelty to those kids and their families who share the pain? Is it because he looks lowly at Ilocanos? Can you imagine a school in Singapore kicking out students simply because they speak Chinese? Not there. Not in Shah’s home country which has embraced a vibrant multiculturalism.
Supporters of the school can say that those who do not want SCA’s language policy should not enroll their children there. But that is not the point. For, by the same logic, I could say, if Shah hates the Ilocano language that much and treats its use inside his kingdom-of-a-campus as a crime, then he should not establish a school in Ilocos. He should instead do to his countrymen what he has the misplaced balls to do here. And let’s see if he can dare smash a cell phone on a Singaporean kid the way he tried to do so on one of our own here.
I am, dear karikna, grieving. Grieving for the kids. Grieving for the disrespect on our language. Grieving the fact that bit***s now come in the form of pastors and school presidents.