Here comes the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School

House of Representatives

RA 10965

Expected to open next year in Laoag City, particularly in Brgy. Vira—a hilly village where large Fariñas estates are located—is the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School.  President Rodrigo in December signed Republic Act No. 10965, the law mandating its creation.

People had mixed feelings about this news. While the creation of a new, modern, well-funded science high school in Ilocos Norte is a welcome development, not a few are baffled with its name.

The most vocal critic is Board Member Vicentito Lazo who repeatedly pointed out in the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that “a street, plaza, or government building could be named after a person only after 10 years after his death except when that person had attained highly exceptional achievements or when the cause of death is due to patriotism or in the service of men.” The new science high school is named after Congressman and Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas’ son JR who perished in a vehicular accident in 2015.

I would not deal with JR’s worthiness for such an honor or whether other great men and women better deserve the distinction, lest I be accused of disrespecting the dead, something I am not inclined to do. The Fariñas family, through the good congressman known for being a devoted father, have all the right to honor their departed loved one by any means allowed by law. And the law creating this science high school is by no means a weak piece of legislation.

After all, it was the Majority Floor Leader together with no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez who introduced House Bill No. 5235 entitled, “An Act Establishing a National Science High School in the City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte to be known as Laoag City National Science High School and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” Note here the originally proposed name of the school.

After going through the process in the Lower House, in August last year it was sent to the Senate, requesting for concurrence. After being read on First Reading, it was referred to the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Senator Francis Escudero and the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.

The joint committee recommended the bill’s approval without amendment and was thus presented on December 6 to the plenary for Second Reading through its sponsor, Senator Escudero. It must be noted that on that day, the senator made an omninus  sponsorship speech for 17 bills that seek to establish, separate, convert, and/or rename one elementary school and 16 secondary schools—including the Laoag City National Science High School.

In his explanatory note, Escudero posited that “Laoag City, being the capital of the Province of Ilocos Norte, deserves to have its own science high school to cater the needs of its growing number of elementary school graduates every academic year. The establishment of the Laoag City National Science High School aims to offer courses that focus on the fields of science, technology and mathematics. These courses will enable its students to be equipped with the proper training and adequate education for a science-oriented career. Thus, the Laoag City National Science High School will not only provide free and quality education but will also facilitate better opportunities for the future of the city’s youth.”

Normally, senators are given time to review proposed bills before the period of interpellation, but considering that the 17 bills are of local application and that local legislators, in this case the members of Congress who sponsored the bills, are “better informed and better equipped to make a judgment on these proposed bills,” the senators proceeded with the interpellation.

But no one stood during the interpellation and no amendments were proposed for any of the 17 bills… save for one. Senator Franklin Drilon made a manifestation proposing that the Laoag City National Science High School be named instead as Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School. This proposal was accepted by the Sponsor, and there being no objection, the Body approved the amendment to House Bill No. 5235. It was approved on Second Reading that day, and was subsequently approved on Third (and final) Reading on Dec. 11 through a unanimous vote.

On Dec. 13, HB 5235 was sent to the Office of the President of the Philippines. A few days after, Dec. 19, it was approved and signed into law by President Duterte, and became Republic Act No. 10965.

What I wanted to show here is that the law creating the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School clearly went through the process and had the overwhelming support of the legislature and the Philippine president.

Is it legal? Yes. Unless someone challenges R.A. 10965’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court where it is declared as unconstitutional, it is a law that must be enforced and respected. But will anyone challenge it before the High Court? And who?

I don’t think even Governor Imee Marcos will go at great lengths to challenge this in the Supreme Court. She is now busy in her senatorial run, and this is not the best time to be at loggerheads with Congressman Fariñas. The memories of the 7171 congressional probe are still fresh. In fact, the inquiry has not yet even been fully, finally terminated and thus remains a potent bargaining chip of Congressman Fariñas.

Granting that somebody brave would challenge the wisdom of the Legislature and the Executive Branches of Government and would actually file a case in the Supreme Court, such person would all be but a hopeless martyr, if not a fool, wasting time and resources, and not least because after the Sereno impeachment, who among the justices would wish upon themselves the ire of a major presidential ally such as Congressman Fariñas?

And so we can say now with certainty that the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School, barring any major political upheaval or popular dissent, will open next year. According to news reports, the initial science building will cost at least P110-M and will stand on a three-hectare government lot. Indeed, I have no doubts that Congressman Fariñas–especially because their family name, his beloved son’s name is at stake–will do everything within his vast powers to make it a good one, a great one, one hell of a model science high school in the country. And if this happens, the Ilocano learner will stand to benefit.

But this science high school, having been named the way it was named, will also be a publicly funded monument of a family’s love for a departed member. It will moreover be an unmistakeable proof of something we in this country already know and are doomed to endure for a longer time, perhaps for eternity unless we move towards political maturity: that politicians do things because they could.

When teachers lead the cheating

NAT jpgIn Philippine society, we look up to teachers as paragons of virtue. They lead us to the realm of wisdom, and let us distinguish right from wrong.

Teaching is arguably a most noble profession. I am sure you have heard of the story of various professionals, all of them Filipino, at the doorstep of heaven explaining to St. Peter why they deserve to enter paradise. “I served the people with all my heart,” a politician enthused. “I built roads, bridges, and buildings, including churches,” said an engineer. A doctor explained how she healed the sick while a lawyer detailed how he brought justice to the oppressed. Then a teacher came forward and proudly said, “Well, St. Peter, I taught them all.”

Impressive answer, indeed. I am not sure though whether heaven’s gatekeeper let the teacher in, for there’s a chance he may have wondered whether the chaos in Philippine society today—the massive corruption, the greed, the thoughtless bickering, and the lack of foresight, among others—are to be blamed on teachers. We already know how politicians betray us, how professionals like doctors and lawyers do not pay the right taxes, how engineers construct substandard structures, and how other professionals do society more harm than good.

This comes to mind after allegations of cheating in the National Achievement Tests hit the headlines earlier this year. Whistleblowers claimed that teachers themselves initiate, orchestrate, and execute the cheating in many creative ways. Cheating incidents have been investigated on by the NBI in some areas, although we know that these happen many place else, if not everywhere. Continue reading “When teachers lead the cheating”

An unusual US visa interview (or how the American consul talked to me in Ilokano)

US embassy

My paper abstract was accepted for presentation at an international conference in Hawaii on Nov. 14-16. And the next step was to get a US Visa. I was anxious. For who among us hasn’t heard of heartbreaking, if not horrific, experiences with consuls at the US embassy?

The whole process of applying for a visa, and the mere thought of it, seemed daunting to me: bank payment, online application, setting a schedule. My journey began with an online application that was, alas, delayed by a series of unfortunate events: unsuccessful attempts to schedule a group interview (there six seven of us from our university applying together), lack of common available time among us six, adjusted schedules because of flooding in Manila, and the university staff in charge of assisting us traveling abroad for two weeks. Meanwhile, plane fares were steadily going up as days passed.

Then the schedule came: September 6, 2013, 6:30 a.m. All of us got the same appointment, but we were to be interviewed as individuals, not as a group, which I thought was unfortunate because I heard group interviews have lower casualty rates. Anyway, I made sure I had all necessary documents that may be asked: passport, appointment letter, certificate of employment, bank certificate, samples of my published works, and a draft of my research paper.

A few days before the interview, I searched on the Internet articles about actual experiences of Filipinos during visa interviews. There are a lot of tips shared online, but, aside from coming in prepared and having documents that may be asked, the greatest advice I got was to be honest. Consuls are rigidly trained to detect lies, I read. And I learned too that they have eagle eyes for inconsistencies between what you wrote in the application form and what you say during the interview.

I don’t have a problem being honest and consistent, for I know myself quite well, and I am comfortable being me. My real fear was in being assigned either to a cruel consul or to a good one who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And so, the night before the interview, I prayed to God to give my consul a good night’s rest, and, hopefully, sweet dreams.

Continue reading “An unusual US visa interview (or how the American consul talked to me in Ilokano)”

Pastor Brian Shah airs side, assures public he is not anti-Ilocano

riknakem.jpgThis 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.

Reverend Brian Shah during the August 9 interview
Reverend Brian Shah during the August 9 interview

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.

English-speaking Policy

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.”

shah fb post

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.

Continue reading “Pastor Brian Shah airs side, assures public he is not anti-Ilocano”

Issue closed, announces school’s lawyer; Of course not, say parents of kids kicked out for speaking Ilocano

Not that fast.

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.

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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.

Reached by riknakem.net through phone, Pastor said she has not yet informed Umali that a formal complaint has been filed. Continue reading “Issue closed, announces school’s lawyer; Of course not, say parents of kids kicked out for speaking Ilocano”

For speaking Ilocano, 3 students expelled by Christian school

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“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.

riknakem.jpgLocated 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.

“Traumatic”

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.

“Crime”

“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.”

“Linguistic disrespect”

“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.

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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.

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Rev. Brian Shah  (photo from Facebook)
Rev. Brian Shah (photo from Facebook)
Rev. Brian Shah (photo from Facebook)
Rev. Brian Shah (photo from Facebook)

*****

You may also read…

the news written by Ira Pedrasa at abs-cbnnews.com  Students kicked out of high school for speaking Ilocano

news by Jee Y. Geronimo at rappler.com 3 students expelled for speaking Ilocano – in Ilocos Norte

Anton Nicolas’s reaction:  The Insolence of an Ungrateful Alien

A teacher’s strange frustration

It’s a crazy feeling.. when you trained a student well, saw in him a lot of potential, believed that he is well-empowered to make a difference out there where the real action is, and actually felt excited on what and how he can contribute to humanity… but you suddenly see him in the hallway applying to be, just like you, a teacher.. right away.. fresh from graduation.. the rented toga still bearing sweat marks.

But doesn’t the world outside have greater need for good men and women? Not that I am saying we don’t need brilliant persons to be teachers. Not that I am saying teaching is of little worth (of course, not!). And not that I am minding the career plans of others more than I should (or maybe, I am). It’s just that, except for education graduates who are really meant to teach, you have a lot of good career options out there if you are really brilliant. And, if you end up wanting to be a teacher just because you’ve got no good options, all the more you should not be a teacher.. for no way should losers teach our kids. And the worst kind of losers are those who have not even tried enough, or at all.

Better to see the world, battle in the jungle, get bruised and struggle, gain some texture, determine what among those we teachers have taught you are real and what are lies and exaggerations. Then, if you still want to be a teacher.. good!

No offense meant. I know some who were fresh graduates when they joined the academe, and they eventually became excellent teachers, real treasures. I have respect for them. Just some random musings of this teacher too eager to see the youth make their mark elsewhere only to see them again in the same spaces where we all dreamed together.

No typical nerd: Meet Dane Calica, summa cum laude

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He regularly plays DoTA, watches cartoons on television, spends long hours with his barkada, and nurtures a vibrant love life.

But Dane Mikhael S. Calica is no ordinary boy. He will lead the 1,926-strong Mariano Marcos State University Class of 2013 in the Commencement Exercises to be held, April 3, at the university’s Sunken Garden. Making history, he is only the second MMSU Summa Cum Laude since the university’s birth in 1978. The late Gemma Ulep, who finished accountancy in 1999, was first.

Calica obtained a General Weighted Average of 1.1994. His transcript of records, peppered mostly with 1.0s and 1.25’s, shows that his lowest grade was a 2.0 in Invetebrate Zoology from Prof. Wilnorie Rasay. He has 1.75 in three subjects: Entomology and Comparative Anatomy, also both under Mr. Rasay, and English 2 under Dr. Aurora Reyes.

In 2009, Calica graduated as first honorable mention at the Ilocos Norte National High School-Special Science Class. When this Laoag City native took the MMSU College Freshmen Admission Test, his score of 156 was highest among around 5,000 hopefuls from various provinces in Northern Luzon.

An advice

In his speech during the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Graduation Ball, March 21, Calica shared that an unsolicited advice given him early on helped define his college life. He was referring to this writer who did a story on the CFAT topnotcher. I was sure that Dane is intelligent but, because he shunned extra curricular activities in high school, the reason why he graduated only third in rank despite having the highest grade average, I had doubts as to whether he would fully enjoy what a university education has to offer. After the interview, I told Dane that there is so much to learn outside the four-cornered classroom and that he should aspire for a well-balanced college life. I also told him that our people expects him to do great things and so he should use his gifts well. He did not say anything. The incoming nursing freshman just let out a shy smile.

Continue reading “No typical nerd: Meet Dane Calica, summa cum laude”

Marianites who?

marianite picMARIANITES of Holy Cross, is a worldwide religious congregation based in New Orleans, USA. Founded in 1841, it runs a college with a gigantic statute of St. Mary in front of their campus main building.

The Marianite is the official monthly publication of the St. Mary on the Hill Parish in Augusta, Georgia, also in the United States. E-mailed to parishioners, it includes information about people, activities, and events in the parish and community.

Then there is the Marianite Church of unknown location. It is a breakaway Catholic group led by a matriarch.

Several other religious groups in the Philippines and elsewhere proudly call themselves ‘Marianites.’”

Here in Ilocos Norte, a growing number of student leaders and writers have called themselves Marianites. I assume it was derived from the first name of the father of President Ferdinand Marcos who built the Mariano Marcos State University.

MMSU President Miriam E. Pascua has never used the term though, save for one occasion—the 2012 Freshmen Orientation Program—where she addressed new students, “Welcome to MMSU, you are now, borrowing from Sirmata, ‘Marianites.’

Indeed, the term has been used by our campus journalists, even in front page news. Current Sirmata Chief Editor JV Toribio explains that in the absence of a style book, they have not officially agreed to use “Marianite” in their issues. He says that since his freshman year, and that was three years ago, “Na-inculcate na po sa’kin na ganun talaga tayo natatawag, kahit saan po naririnig ko ‘yun.”

While Toribio finds no problem in the term’s usage, he recognizes the need for “the consistency and genuineness in defining our identity.” Dr. Alegria T. Visaya, university and board secretary, has a similar thought: “If we want to build up our own identiy which will speak really about our unique characteristics as constituents of MMSU, we should pick out a word which will be exclusively for us.” She even floated the idea of initiating a contest for this purpose. Sports and Socio-cultural Director Arsenio Gallego and Student Services Director Henedine Aguinaldo also expressed reservations about the aptness of the term “Marianite.”

Even the alumni are shaking their heads. Dr. Joel Manuel, now a high school principal and arguably the most awarded Iluko writer the university has nurtured, has his own share of discomfort about the new term. “Madin sa, madi,” he said in an interview after receiving two first prizes—in poetry and short-story writing—in a prestigious literary competition concluded recently. So what then, Manuel wondered, should we call ourselves with?  “Marcosites,” he said in jest, sounds like “Muscovites,” which refers to residents of Moscow. During his time, they were simply called “MMSU students,” and he said there was no urge to coin a term. Continue reading “Marianites who?”

Habemus Summam! MMSU produces 2nd Summa Cum Laude

Habemus Summam pic
Dane Mikhael S. Calica

It’s official. The 1,926-strong Mariano Marcos State University Class of 2013 will be led by a Summa Cum Laude graduate.

With a General Weighted Average (GWA) of 1.1994, Dane Mikhael S. Calica of the College of Arts and Sciences’ BS Biology program, is only the university’s second recipient of the highest Latin honors, and the first in fourteen years.

A native of Laoag City, Calica is the eldest of three children of Gary, a seafarer, and Marilec, a full-time mom. He finished high school at the Ilocos Norte National High School – Special Science Class in 2009. Despite having the highest average in his batch, he graduated only as first honorable mention due to low points from extra co-curricular activities.

Topping the 2009 MMSU College Freshmen Admission Test taken by around 5,000 examinees from various provinces in Northern Luzon, he initially enrolled in BS Nursing but shifted to BS Biology after a semester. Although extra co-curricular involvement does not count in earning Latin honors, he served as president of the Biology Circle for two years, and as president of the CAS Student Council in his senior year.

Joining Calica in the elite honors roster are four magna cum laudes and 113 cum laudes.

I am currently writing a full feature on Dane who is not really your typical nerd. In the meantime, Here are some more “Summa” facts: Continue reading “Habemus Summam! MMSU produces 2nd Summa Cum Laude”

Going to the SPA and chilling out with young artists: a recital and exhibit at INNHS

Yesterday was toxic for me, having to shuttle from one place to another to speak in an event held in a vast hall teeming with dreamy eyed graduating students, do interviews and gather data for articles I am working on, and struggle to sit down, finally write, and beat deadlines.

And so, I decided to go to the SPA later that night. And no, not to a place of jacuzzi, rose petals, and scented air, but to a place even more refreshing and enlivening.

I have always been intrigued by the Special Program for the Arts (SPA) of the Ilocos Norte National High School. What do they do there? Are they a bunch of the stereotyped artistic weirdos? How artsy do they really get?

The school held its annual exhibit and recital last night, March 14. I was not personally invited, I just responded to a Facebook post informing everyone of the event. And, yes, it was a joy.

There was an indoor exhibit and a musical-theatrical recital at the school grounds.

I spent some time listening …to the inspiring talk of my friend Aian Raquel who I didn’t know was the event’s guest of honor and speaker, to a boy who made passionate love with his violin, choral presentations, a stage act, and then more. Organizers were offering me a good seat with the best view but I chose to stand at the back so I could gallivant at my wish.

Aian said something to this effect, and I am rephrasing here: “You are lucky to be educated formally in the arts… my initiation to the arts I, as a grade schooler, attained by watching beauty contests, concerts, and events held in Laoag and Batac, places away from where I lived: the island of Badoc… I was never really good at one particular art form. I am not a good singer, dancer, or writer… and some of my mentors and friends teased and chided me for being a ‘jack of all trades’, but one woman reassured me that I am on the right path. She referred to what I have been doing and which I should continue to hone, ‘art direction'”

That woman, dear karikna, is Imee Marcos.

20130314_220618 20130314_215622 20130314_215054
I spent more time inside the exhibit hall, marveling at multimedia arts, visual arts, and creative writing manuscripts. The kids were game enough to do “mini-recitals” inside the exhibit room, and just for me. I asked them about the stories their young, imaginative minds churned out. They seemed nervous at the prospect of storytelling in front of a shining, shimmering, widening forehead, but they carried on.

John Louis de la Cruz shared the plot of his still unproduced short film, “On a Sunday Afternoon”. The story is simple and the conflict may sound trivial, but who wants complications on a Sunday afternoon? It is about a boy who wanted to hang out with his friends.  But the friends were not replying to his text messages, and so he felt sad and was in a bad mood. Later in the evening, his friends paid him a surprise visit, and he was happy… and so is the ending of the story.

John Louis dela Cruz
John Louis dela Cruz

Chryztlerr Nicolas wrote the short story, “Marcus the Superhero,” which is about a man avenging his people from violence. Asked about his inspiration, the diminutive boy spoke of the crimes that befall us in real life.

Chryztlerr Nicolas
Chryztlerr Nicolas
It appealed to me as an art form: Chryztlerr's shoes
It appealed to me as art: Chryztlerr’s shoes

And this gallery brought me back to the BMX days of my happy, carefree childhood:

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innocence

Some students approached me for photographs and asked me to sign their book compilations which I would have borrowed and read at home if only I was not too shy to ask. I was glad to meet these young writers, my fellow writers, and, while there, as I was browsing through their works, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and wished that they would not give up on their literary aspirations.

Congratulations to the SPA program director Robert Caluya, INNHS principal Isabel Sison-Sandi and to all the mentors. I remember meeting last night for brief hellos Her Majesty the Beauty Queen Mahjang Pascual, Ms. Egdonna Legaspi, Mr. Sherween Cabrales (sans Sherberk), Mr. Johnstone Orteza Corpuz, NFA’s Marlon Martin, and INCAT’s Marlon Cubangbang, a fellow Y’er (YMCA member) back in high school.

Kudos to the young artists of Laoag City and Ilocos Norte. May our tribe increase in every way, all the way. And with these sexy bottles of beer, I say: Cheers!

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Tempest at Holy Spirit Laoag

In my senior year in high school, I ran for president of our student government. I knew I was qualified for the post and had all the best intentions. My mind brimming with ideas for programs and projects for my schoolmates, I really tried to campaign hard so I could win. I made very creative and informative flyers, did a room-to-room campaign, and smiled wider and more often than I usually would.

I lost by one vote.

The frustratingly close margin notwithstanding, I was a graceful loser. I conceded defeat, congratulated Henry Barroga—my opponent, winner by a single vote—and pledged him my support.

In high school, Henry smoked, drank frequently, had mediocre grades, and was more passionate as a lover than a leader. But his father, the highly respected Nol Datoc, who served as Laoag City Sangguniang Panlungsod secretary for a long time, talked to me, with his right arm on my teenaged shoulder. “My son is really a good boy deep inside, Herdy. Please help him become a good leader, too.”

I remained active in student organizations and collaborated with Henry on some projects. I still tried to make a difference in my own sphere of influence. I did not need to prove anything; I really just wanted to serve. At the end of the school year, I ended up being chosen over Henry for the prestigious Gerry Roxas Leadership Award.

I would see Henry again after many years. He is now successful in his career and has a happy family life. We had fun reminiscing the past. I was deeply moved by our mutual respect for each other.

Indeed, it is commendable to accept defeat in elections, especially in the Philippine context where most politicians proclaim only two things: either they won or they were cheated. Bowing to the electoral judgment of the majority is one important democratic principle we should thus seriously teach our children.

But what, dear karikna, if the elections were not clean, honest, and orderly? What if this democratic exercise itself casts doubt on the sovereign will?

These questions come to fore as there have been news reports circulating on the tempestuous student elections held last February 8 at the Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag. Continue reading “Tempest at Holy Spirit Laoag”

Two tips on how to plagiarize and (try to) get away with it

As a teacher and writer, one of my biggest pet peeves is plagiarism. Good thing I don’t teach in Iskul Bukol and I am too young to be teacher of Tito Sotto, Eat Bulaga host and Philippine senator, who offers the following advice on how to copy the work of others and not feel bad about it even when caught.

Tip # 1. Insult the person you copied your work from:

“Why would I quote from a blogger? She is just a blogger.”

Tip # 2. Translate somebody’s work, word for word, paragraph by paragraph, into another language and claim that it is no longer plagiarism.

Plagiarism? “Impossible. It’s a good thought and better in Tagalog.”

and, oh, there’s one more:

Tip # 3. Get a really imaginative Chief of Staff like Hector Villacorta who would say:

“Copying is a common practice. The Bible reached us today because the monks copied from the Greeks. Everything really started from a little copying.”

And, drumroll please…

“Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists.”

From the Filipino Freethinkers Facebook page

I can imagine Sotto saying, “Why would I quote from Robert Kennedy? He is just Robert Kennedy.”

UPDATE: Finally, if all these fail, pass a law criminalizing libel in the Internet, and send to jail all your cyber bashers.

The magic of Robert Caluya

It was one day when I decided to follow the example of Bruno Mars, the Filipino-American who performed “The Lazy Song” which goes, “Today I don’t feel like doing anything I just wanna lay in my bed…”

We spent weeks and months preparing for the September 1 launch of ilocostimes.net, and the days leading to the event had me deprived of sleep and the other pleasures I enjoy. At the La Tabacalera last Saturday, Sept. 1, when Governor Imee Marcos beamed a wide smile after her historic first to the website, and to a thunderous applause of an appreciative crowd composed of leaders from government, business, the academe, the media, and literary circles, I knew we have accomplished something. And I also knew I deserved to be completely lazy the next day.

I was in my bed comfortably doing Facebook yesterday, Sunday, trying to do nothing important, but while looking at pictures taken during the launch, a status update caught my interest and kept my mind working: Robert Caluya is writing a book. The musical genius who has led Ilocano students to international choral championships wants to pen a personal account of his twenty-five years as choral conductor. He has already written the first few pages.

I immediately “liked” his status update, but I felt it was not enough, so I also wrote a comment, “Superlike!” Continue reading “The magic of Robert Caluya”

Gloria attends pro-RH gathering in Laoag City

NO, she did not wear a neck brace, and, no, she was not out on bail. It was the better Gloria I have previously written about who joined Ilocanos, mostly young people, at the foot of Gilbert Bridge last August 6 for a candle lighting ceremony in support of the Reproductive Health Bill.

It was a crucial moment for the controversial piece of legislation which has stagnated in Congress in the last one and a half decades, no thanks to the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. (I have to say “hierarchy”, dear karikna as all national surveys say a great majority of Filipinos, the Catholic faithful included, strongly support the RH Bill.) Congress was to vote whether to proceed with the prolonged and circular debates or to terminate the interpellations and push for the bill’s second reading in the Lower House.

It was a crucial moment, and the significance of the activity was not lost on Gloria Portela Valencia, 55. Taking time off from her many chores as a house help in Laoag City, she joined well-meaning citizens, composed mostly of young people, in the silent activity for the RH Bill.

Frail and shy, Gloria came in a red shirt she usually wears when attending mass. She lit a candle, stood there, and joined the group in the brief gathering. But Brigette Mayor, a field reporter of GMA’s Balitang Ilocos noticed Gloria among the crowd and interviewed her. “Manang, apay supsuportam ti RH Bill?” asked the young journalist who may have been expecting a generic answer, but hit a pot of gold in her interviewee’s moving response.

“Agsaksakripisyoak ta kayatko laeng a magun-odda ti ar-arapaapenda ngem saan met ta sabali met ti napaspasamak. Nasakit unay ti nakemmo a nagannak ta kasta met ti nagbanagan dagiti annakko.” (I sacrificed because I wanted my children to realize their dreams, but something else happened. As a parent, I feel sad about what my children had to go through.)

Gloria hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman,” is a tobacco farmer who tills less than a hectare of land that is not theirs. The eldest among her siblings, she started working as a kasambahay at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of her growing family. She gave birth to six kids. Eight years ago, however, when two of her daughters started going to college, Manang Gloria decided to stage a comeback as a househelp so she can help send them to school.

A few years ago, Gloria’s world crumbled when she found out that one of her daughters, already in third year college, got pregnant by a married man. When that happened, she could not sleep at night though tired from the day’s work. She would stare blankly at nothingness, mulling why things went wrong. She did her part, she sacrificed, she prayed hard, but why? Two months after, as if her troubles were not enough, this mother discovered that her other daughter, also in her junior year in college, was pregnant, too. Both of her girls had to quit school to take care of their young, and Gloria was totally devastated.

Don’t get me wrong, dear karikna, Gloria loves her two granddaughters and are proud of them, but she knows that things could have been better. Her apukos could have been born at a better time and under appropriate circumstances. Continue reading “Gloria attends pro-RH gathering in Laoag City”

Pax you, fratmen

In San Beda College’s official seal, the Latin word ‘pax’ appears prominently. The word is also engraved in various campus structures as it is supposedly etched in the heart of Bedans who are, as our hymn goes, “men of prayer, work, and peace.”

But my dear Alma Mater shocked the nation last week with reasons other than peace. Marc Andrei Marcos, a freshman law student, died in initiation rites under the bloody hands of men he wanted to be his ‘brods’. The incident, which happened in a farm somewhere in Dasmariñas, Cavite, was believed to have been participated in by over thirty members of the Lex Leonum Fraternity. Marcos, black and blue in various parts of his body, was brought to the hospital not by his would-have-been brods, but by two farm helps.

What aggravates the nation’s grief and fury is that only five months ago, another Bedan law student, Marvin Reglos, suffered the same fate under the Lambda Rho Beta fraternity.

As expected, CHED chair Patricia Licuanan condemned “in the strongest terms” the death of Marcos. She reminded the college of its “heavy responsibilities and duties under RA 8049 or the Anti-Hazing Law.” Other schools, particularly the UP and the Ateneo, have also had similar episodes of fraternity violence, each time fueling public uproar but only to be forgotten after the issue subsides, no thanks to the Filipino’s short-term memory coupled with the ningas-cogon vice.

San Beda has responded by saying that it does not recognize fraternities, sororities or similar organizations. Since they are not recognized, the Benedictine-run institution said that it could not submit to CHED a “certified list of officers and members of such organizations.”

Meanwhile, administration lawmakers urged CHED to enforce a strict “no-hazing policy” in schools as the Filipino people mourn for the death of yet another young man who had a full and bright life ahead.

Before admission to San Beda, I had to sign a contract stating that I could be expelled if the college finds out I am a member of any fraternity. I really did not find any need to join one. Among most active student leaders in my batch, I did not lack belongingness nor self-esteem. But then I was in undergraduate San Beda. I knew our law school was different; joining fraternities there are more of norm than exception They hold activities in the open and display banners bearing their groups’ Latin names even in interschool activities like bar operations. Today, San Beda reportedly bans fraternities in law school though I doubt if administrators seriously believe it is possible.

Banning fraternities or hazing, however, is only a part of the solution. Making it less appealing is the more difficult task.

An aspiring lawyer perceives membership in a fraternity as ticket to legal success. The exclusivity and influence of a group proves beneficial not only in ensuring survival in law school but even more when one has become a lawyer who finds connections handy in cases he handles (e.g. when the judge is one’s brod). Having passed the initiation, after risking life and limb, the neophyte becomes a full-fledged member of the fraternity, part of the old boys’ network. “The pain lasts a few days, but the perks are forever,” this explains the resilience of hazing as a law-fraternity practice despite RA 8049.

In 2010, Jejomar Binay credited his vice presidential success to the support he got from the Alpha Phi Omega. In one episode of the impeachment trial of Renato Corona, widely watched by aspiring lawyers, fraternity prestige was proudly displayed by the senate president himself. When Rep. Raul Daza stood up to introduce himself as prosecutor, Presiding Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile formally acknowledged him, and fondly called him “brod.” Enrile then quickly turned to the senior defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, and likewise referred to him as “brod.” Broadly smiling, the venerable defense lawyer impishly nodded to the chair, and forthwith called out the other “brods” among the senator-judges – Senators Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon.

Public officials cannot in good conscience condemn fraternity violence while becoming poster boys, wittingly or otherwise, of these barbaric groups. We are in dire need of statesmen like former Senator Jovito Salonga who in 2007 resigned from his fraternity, Sigma Rho, which was implicated in the death by hazing of a UP student. Any politician who does a Salonga today deserves our vote.

Until then, ‘pax’ would remain as elusive as justice is in this country where lawyers turn liars propagating the fraternal mystique.

*****

The first opinion column I ever wrote, and that was in high school, was against fraternities very active then in Northern Christian College. It’s title: “Mga anak ng frating.”

Obviously, fratmen were unhappy with it, and even before the school paper was circulated, the picture in my column was defaced in almost every copy, with the permission of a security guard who turned out to be their supporter. Alarmed, people began warning me about possible danger. But I was not afraid.

Then one afternoon, in a street adjacent to the campus’ main building, four teenage boys suddenly circled me as I was walking home. With my head locked in the muscled arms of a gangster, my face was on the receiving end of powerful jabs. While I tasted blood dripping from my nose, I saw nothing but black, except stars and twittering birds circling my head (the kind of which I thought only appeared in cartoons). I was a helpless punching bag until members of the Samahang Ilocano came to the rescue. They shooed away my attackers.

I was thankful to S.I., of course. God knows what more injuries I could have sustained if they did not come. Yes, I was grateful, but only until I figured that the four action stars were their brods from INNHS, a nearby school. All of them arranged the plan so that I would have a debt of gratitude to them. Bravo.

A couple of months after, a riot erupted in the campus, killing one student and injuring a security guard. Only then did administrators ban fraternities on campus.

Bar none

What, dear karikna, was your childhood dream?

Did you want to become a doctor, lawyer, priest, artista, or president of the Philippines? What are you today? Have you become what you aspired for when you were innocent and courageous enough to wish for your star? Or did you have to settle for second choices?

Why you settled for second choices, if you did, could be because of various reasons: lack of money, parents who don’t understand, practicality, love, unexpected pregnancy, poor grades, health, or maybe even laziness. But is it ever too late to pursuit a dream?

As a child, I always wanted to be a journalist. For play time, I would sit in front of a cassette recorder and hold my own talk show or stage a radio drama. Inquisitive and analytical, I always searched for answers. At other times, I would gather my friends in our garage and teach them about just anything. In high school, as editor of the student paper, I was fearless. After writing against fraternities, I got my first stars, the type of stars that circle your head after a heavy beating. While my parents feared for me, I had no fear.

But I did not take up journalism, mass communication, or education in college. Instead, I enrolled in philosophy and human resource development. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I found it exciting. My parents, who did not go to college, never interfered in my choices and supported me all the way. I did well inside the classroom and did even better outside its walls.

I should be today in the human resources department of a top corporation, and indeed my first job was at Citibank in Libis, but I really just had to teach and write, for these are my two loves, two things thankfully I now get paid enough for, two aspirations that, in my kiddy years, I was willing to do for free.

*****

Yes, childhood dreams do come true.

And this is true for Brian Jay Corpuz, an instructor at the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) College of Industrial Technology, who hurdled the 2011 Bar Examinations conducted in November last year.

Though Corpuz always wanted to be a lawyer, a dream he, as a young leader, started nurturing at Davila Elementary School and the Ilocos Norte Agricultural College where he finished high school, he took a different route before realizing his legal aspirations. Owing to financial difficulty, he grabbed a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology for a three-year Diploma of Technology at MMSU. After graduating in 2001, he went on to take up Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology. Graduating magna cum laude, he was valedictorian of MMSU Class 2004.

Focused and well-driven, the 29-year old bar passer obtained his law degree from Northwestern University in 2010 and took review classes at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila, where the bar examination was held. Continue reading “Bar none”

Boy from P seeks advice

Boy from P (P stands for a town in Ilocos Norte) seems to me a shy guy.  Sometimes, I even perceive him as snobbish. But one busy night, when I was working long hours at home as usual, he popped in on Facebook, and to my surprise. Wish to share with you, dear karikna, the transcript of our conversation. But let me warn you that I am not a guidance counselor, and so my thoughts here must not be taken as professional opinion, hehe..

BfP:  sir.. puwede po bang humingi ng opinion or advice? haha!

HLY: sige, of course, except on hair growth.. Continue reading “Boy from P seeks advice”

A grade school reunion

It’s December 30 as I write this, and you would think that I have, as most of you have, gone to over a dozen get-togethers and parties this Holiday Season. You’re right.

And last night, I went to one of the most memorable. It was the first time I attended a reunion with my grade school classmates back at the old Divine Word College of Laoag located at the Cathedral compound.

After graduating from there in 1991, most of my classmates went to DWCL High School. I moved to another. This is the reason I did not get to meet them in a long time. They would constantly hold high school reunions that obviously I am not part of. But we thought this year, as a result of our scant conversations on Facebook, to meet up. The simple but meaningful gathering was graciously hosted by Laurel Paul Mariano who was recently promoted as a Full Lieutenant of the Philippine Navy. His spacious compound somewhere in Laoag’s Barangay Salet, which offered a view of the city’s skyline, was a perfect venue for the event which incidentally marked two decades from our grade school graduation.

There were ten warm bodies, which was not bad, as many of our classmates are either based in Metro Manila or overseas. The attendance sheet: Me, Paul, Bernard Manrique, Ashley dela Cruz, Michael Salud, Excellency Guiang, Laurel Paul Mariano, Juanito Compa, Jose Mari Mata, Angelito Masion, and Leslie Santella. Richie Cavinta, who stayed for one minute, excused himself to do an important task for the fiesta of San Nicolas Town where he works at the munisipio. But we went home at 1:00 a.m., and still no Richie. And no D.A. Bitancor either. D.A. promised to follow when we tried to fetch him at his convenience store. Still, I was really happy to see all of them. In fact, I may already have been bumping with some somewhere, but there are faces I needed a while to recognize.

I was excited to go, and it was not, of course, mainly because of SanMig Light which, by now, dear Karikna, you know that I love so much. In fact I could have, as Benard did, just drank water the whole night and still enjoy as much as I did. It was nice to revisit our childhood, remember our teachers (Is Ms. Menor still alive? Did you know that our old crush Ms. Fe Dancel is, to this day, still hot as hell? Where is Mrs. Pasalo?), the corporal punishment still prevalent at that time, our very physical games (Do children today still play bawang base?), the Christmas parties. (Because we had no girl classmates, we had to do the Nativity Scene with a boy Mama Mary. The Ilocos Sentinel publisher Excel Guiang, who now has two kids, was perennially our baby Jesus wrapped in white diapers.)

Ryan Cunanan must have a crocodile’s memory. He remembered two things which I already forgot. First, that I taught Karate to my classmates, and even administered exams for promotion to higher belts. (I really never knew Karate aside from watching my brothers who were doing Taekwondo). And second, that I played priest then and recited the mass for my classmates, complete with communion. (No, I did not collect offerings, the money for the bread and wine I bought from my own money.)

Ours was among the last all-boys batches at Divine, and Paul noted that it was quite a different experience from their high school coed reunions. Indeed, we openly talked about a wide range of topics, including masturbation, fist fights, and even youthful adventures with outlawed substances. I shared that I somehow regret not having tried Marijuana at all, and that I happen to be a strong advocate for the legalization of the weed. I conceded though that it seems too late and irresponsible to try now. When you are young, you somehow have a license to commit mistakes as you explore the world. The only rule is that you be careful so you can live to tell your stories, and the lessons you learned from them, to your children. Two of our batchmates did not have that luck; they went to the Great Beyond ahead of us. We remembered them fondly, though they were not exempted from our outrageous, many times irreverent, recollections of time gone by.

Today, all of us, including me I hope, are productive members of society and strongholds in our respective families. Psychologists contend that a human being’s personality is shaped mainly during childhood. Our school, teachers, and parents must have done something really, really good. And for this we are grateful no end. We thus raised our bottle’s of San MigLight, Excel’s glass of red wine, and Bernard’s pitcher of water to a wonderful childhood we hope we can soon again revisit.

Boy from Currimao tops fisheries exam

This young man makes me proud to be from Ilocos Norte.

Jerick Christian P. Dagdagan, a cum laude graduate of the BS in Fisheries program at the Mariano Marcos State University, landed at the top spot of the Fisheries Technologist Licensure Examination held last month.

It was not easy for Dagdagan. Unable to find a review center (MMSU and CLSU had none due to lack of registrants), he found himself doing self review. He said he just consulted his teachers at the MMSU College of Aquatic Sciences and Applied Technology when there were items he could not understand.

The difficulty is coupled by the fact that he did not immediately review after graduation. He finished his studies in 2010 but, due to financial constraints, opted to work immediately as a fisheries development advocate at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Regional Office in San Fernando, April to August.  He would later move to Davao to be assistant manager for technical operations at the Jorona Aquatic Resources and Training Corporation until April this year when he decided to prepare for the board examination.

Eldest of four children of Vicente, a security guard, and Mary Grace, a nurse at the Governor Roque B. Ablan Memorial Hospital, Dagdagan was the typical carefree teenager. In an interview, Dagdagan confessed to your karikna that taking up fisheries was only his last recourse. He would have taken up nursing or chemical engineering but, due to late enrolment, lost a slot in those programs. The reason: he was “nabarkada” and lost track of time. But at CASAT, Jeric did a turnaround. He is described by his teachers as brilliant and determined. He was active in school organizations and was sent to competitions, both academic and cultural. He was also the college’s bet in table tennis.

It is actually a double treat for the family living in Brgy. San Simeon in the coastal town of Currimao as Jerick’s brother Jake Valentin, who graduated last April, also passed the board exam.

The morale of this story: If you want to succeed, pagbabarkada is the key to success. Joke!

Jerick’s story is actually a lesson on the often unappreciated relationship between will and destiny.

Alumnus pained by DWCL ban

I have always known Jaime Lao as an admirable human being. While undergoing dialysis treatment twice or thrice a week, he managed to serve as president of the Central Student Council at Divine Word College of Laoag, and president, too, of the Rotaract Club. He was also Editor in Chief of the school paper. All these he did while striving to have his name consistently on two lists: the Dean’s List and the kidney transplant recipient list. The former, he achieved; the latter remains elusive.

I first met him in debate practices for an interschool competition their school eventually won… over us. He is a lighthearted fellow whose energy and optimism belie his medical condition. But the other night, Jaime, now a law student, gave me a call; his voice was obviously pained.

Read his own account, dear karikna, to learn why. Continue reading “Alumnus pained by DWCL ban”

Ianree kayganda

DEAR AIAN,

On June 1, you took your new job as provincial tourism officer of Ilocos Norte. You left a teaching career in the university to assume a responsibility where you feel you can be of better service to society.

I talked to you against it, first because you are a real gem in the academe, and second because I will miss working with you, but you seem resolute and eager, and so I fully support you and wish you well, as any real friend should.

You have always had my respect, and you know that. You know, too, that I believe you are one of the most creative minds in the province, er, in the country. You loved your job in the university, and your job loved you back. As a result, students under your tutelage won regional and national awards. With your theatrics, showmanship and exceptional talent, you have endeared yourself to your colleagues.

As you endeared yourself to me. Thank you for doing the cover and layout of “The He(a)rd Mentality”, a perfect testament to your Dionysian ecstasies. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an old maxim our book defies, for the cover you skillfully crafted gave perfect justice to my work’s content. You made me cry with your difficulty in beating deadlines, but that is not exactly unusual with real artists whose worlds defy both time and space. I am glad the end did justify the tearful means.

You are a real gem, Aian, but not all good people, of course, must hide inside academic walls and content themselves with passionate theorizing and making students believe in an idealized world. Leave that dreamy job to fools like me. Continue reading “Ianree kayganda”

200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean

The most difficult column I have written by far is that of Ilocos Norte-based call centers that sell—in  ways deceptive and malicious—porn sites, for I knew it would create a stir and would affect the livelihood of those involved in the trade. I would not have done the exposé, but no one else, not even colleagues in the media, seemed inclined to do it, so I performed my moral obligation as writer and well-meaning citizen. I wrote about the subject, but only after a great deal of thought and soul-searching, on top of my exhaustive research. It was in August last year.

An investigation was conducted by the police after the matter was tackled in the city council.  Radio and TV stations also picked up the issue, thus taking off a lot of weight from my shoulders. I could have written follow-up articles, I did not.  It was enough that I brought the issue out in the open.  And I was already receiving threats on my safety.

I never learned about the results of the investigation, but I did know that these businesses slowed down and that some agents lost their jobs as a result. For their part, parents who learned about these shady activities ordered their children to quit their jobs in these call centers. It saddened me, but such sadness was mitigated with a strong hope that these establishments will eventually handle only decent accounts and, ergo, provide only decent jobs to our people, especially the young.

On March 31, while I was in the circus of computing grades, distributing class cards, and being chased by those who got red marks,  I chanced at a mini job fair conducted by Kinetic Human Division at the MMSU Batac Campus. I was happy when I saw their staff interviewing our students. I learned that they offer a lot of job openings today, and that business is booming. 

I had no doubts whatsoever that they offer today only clean jobs, jobs that our students and graduates can be proud of, learn from, and earn enough from. I know that KHD, Laoag’s largest BPO (business process outsourcing) firm, has learned from past’s lessons and is training its sights on a future so bright.

I got the chance to talk to Ms. Ethel Saliendra, human resource officer of KHD, who initially looked startled to see me around. She requested for a talk with me though, and I took it as a good opportunity to explain to her why I wrote what I wrote last year. All is water under the bridge now, I said, and that I was happy to see that things are looking up. Continue reading “200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean”

Top athlete crosses finish line, cum laude

DEFYING STEREOTYPES on student athletes, this guy proves that there is as much gray matter between his ears as the muscles in his arms.

Arnel Jordan B. Doming has gathered 15 gold medals from various regional and national sports competitions he participated while in college. Last March 26 he received yet another. “It is the most precious one,” he says.

Domingo graduated cum laude with the degree bachelor in secondary education, major in mathematics.

Four years ago, Domingo’s future was unsure. Although he graduated as valedictorian both at the Bagbago-Puttao Elementary School in his hometown Solsona and at the Ablan Memorial Academy in the same town, he could not go to college because of financial limitations. Domingo’s father Erneso died when he was in fourth grade. His mother Lorna is a housekeeper. Continue reading “Top athlete crosses finish line, cum laude”

Congressional Forum unfolds

THE WILLIAMITE, official publication of Divine Word College of Laoag (DWCL), is holding a congressional forum for contenders in the first district on Feb. 24, Wednesday.  All five candidates—Kris Ablan, Rudy Fariñas, Atong Peralta, Chito Ruiz, and Teteng Sales are expected to participate in this event that will give student leaders, student journalists, professors from different universities in the province, representatives from various sectors, and the general public a chance to discuss salient issues with the contenders.

Only 500 persons can be accommodated at the venue, the newly-opened St. Joseph’s Audtorium at DWCL, so better to make seat reservations should you decide to come.  Contact Jaime Lao, The Williamite’s editor in chief at 09293051987.

Hope you could come, dear karikna, but, if you couldn’t, what questions would you have wanted to ask the candidates?

Politicos should learn from this labandera’s son

Supporters take dela Cruz to a 'victory ride'

HE HAD NO party, no posters, no leaflets, but Jonas Paul B. dela Cruz, a third year Civil engineering student, grabbed an overwhelming win over his three rivals in the Central Student Council (CSC) presidential race at MMSU.

Garnering around one half of the near seven thousand total votes cast in the CSC elections held Feb. 4, Dela Cruz reigned the tabulation boards in most precincts. Aside from his landslide victory at the College of Engineering, his home, where he obtained seventy six percent of the votes, he also won big in other colleges and units.

Seventy-five percent of the total population participated in the polls considered a breakthrough in the history of campus politics for having the most number of political parties and candidates vying for various posts.

Dela Cruz’ closest rival, Bryan A. Corpuz of The 2010 Party, got a 25-percent share of the votes. Gevy Ann R. Villanueva of Tindig MMSU and Reynald Theodore C. Teodoro of Anak ng MMSU had 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

Overwhelmed, Dela Cruz cannot believe the results. He relates that when he filed his candidacy as an independent, some people dismissed him as a nuisance candidate. He said he pursued his candidacy anyway because “students deserve an alternative to politics-as-usual.”

Dela Cruz instantly rose from obscurity to fame when he delivered very heartwarming speeches at campaign rallies. He began by talking about his life, which some listeners described as “pang-Maala-ala mo kaya,” referring to a popular true-to-life drama show on television. Continue reading “Politicos should learn from this labandera’s son”

The “sorry” we are yet to hear

DR. AURELIO SOLVER AGCAOILI, the University of Hawaii professor who publicly called the late President Manuel L. Quezon “stupid” three months ago, has not apologized for what many felt was an arrogant and irresponsible remark.

I have written about this a moon ago (Brilliant Agca, Stupid Quezon), so let me refresh your memory. Last July, Dr. Agcaoili, a well respected educator and multi-awarded writer, was one of the presenters in the first Mother Language Education (MLE) forum in Ilocos. Held at MMSU Laoag Campus, the activity was attended mostly by teachers from all levels. Students, creative writers, journalists, and politicians were also present.

A week after, Mark Limon, a teacher from the Department of Education, contributed to The Ilocos Times a news article headlined, “University of Hawaii prof calls Quezon stupid,” which prompted Agcaoili to write a lengthy Letter to the Editor which attacked, in a scathing manner, Limon’s grammatical flaws and minor factual errors. He even insulted the teacher, saying, “Maasiak kadagiti adalan daytoy a maestro a din sa met nakasursuro.”

Yet Agcaoili, who demanded a public apology from Limon, never clarified whether or not he called Manuel L. Quezon, a former president venerated by many Filipinos as hero, “stupid.”

Did he?  If he did, why? Continue reading “The “sorry” we are yet to hear”

Nasken nga Ilokano ti pagisuro

Iti agtultuloy a panagsuek ti kalidad ti edukasion iti pagilian ken iti umad-adu a sukisok a mangipakita a nasaysayaat ti panagadal dagiti ubing no maaramat ti nakayanakanda a pagsasao iti panagisuro kadakuada kadagiti umuna a tukad ti elementaria, impaulog ti Departamento ti Edukasion ti DepEd Order No. 74 Series 2009 a napauluan iti Institutionalizing Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education wenno Mother Language Education (MLE). Iti Kailokuan, maaramat ti Ilokano kadagiti umuna a tallo grado iti elementaria. Kalpasanna, in-inut a maiserrek ti Filipino ken Ingles kadagiti nangatngato a tukad.

Adtoy ti makuna ti maysa nga eksperto, ni Dr. Lily Ann C. Pedro, agdama a hepe ti Center for Teaching Excellence iti MMSU College of Teacher Education, maipanggep daytoy nga isyu. Continue reading “Nasken nga Ilokano ti pagisuro”

Honest janitor hailed in world wide web

pagtama2

I USED TO HAVE a great disdain for government employees. I always imagined them as inept, inefficient, corrupt, and good only in petty gossiping. Your karikna also considered them as insensitive, arrogant and proud, what with clerks acting like the proverbial “langaw na nakatungtong sa kalabaw.”

As fate would have it, however, I myself am now a civil servant, and, providentially, with an agency highly regarded for its exacting standards and well-earned feats. Thus, I now swallow, with little difficulty, some of my words, and acknowledge that there are actually honorable men and women in the service of the Filipino people.

Make no mistake, there are still many rotten tomatoes in the basket, but the refreshing virtue of a few overshadow the stench of many.

Leoncio A. Pagtama, 52, a janitor at the MMSU College of Engineering (CoE), is one of them good fellows, and he is increasingly gaining popularity in cyberspace due to his honest deeds.

Pagtama, who joined MMSU in 1983 as a casual employee, has, on several occasions, returned lost items ranging from wallets containing thousands of pesos to calculators and watches. Continue reading “Honest janitor hailed in world wide web”