Why Senator Miriam chose MMSU

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Last month, nag-usap-usap kami ng aking staff saan kami mag-inaugurate o mag-launch ng aming presidential at vice-presidential. Some suggested the North, some the South because I come from the Visayas, some wanted the rally or whatever event might happen inside Metro Manila, some outside Metro Manila. Pero bandang huli, dahil marami na masyado ang nagsasalita, ka’ko, dalhin niyo ako sa campus where I have always been most comfortable with an audience, but only a campus consisting of ordinary students. I want a campus with a high IQ.

(Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago at Mariano Marcos State University, Batac City, Feb. 9, 2016)

 

And, of course, the obligatory pick-up lines here:

=) =) =)

 

“Bigti na, friend!”

Each time I lectured in that classroom, I would stare at an empty chair, asking myself if there was something I could have done to save a life.

He was a freshman engineering student from a small town. His classmates said they never noticed anything wrong with him. His parents likewise observed no unusual behavior exhibited by their only child. Everything seemed normal and usual with this boy’s life until he was seen hanging on a nylon rope fastened on a wooden beam.

As a teacher, it was my first encounter with suicide by a student. And it was not to be the last.

By all indicators, suicide cases are on the rise in the Philippines. According to the National Statistics Office, the suicide rate from 1984 to 2005 went up by 1,522% among men (from 0.46 to seven out of every 200,000); and up by 833% among women (from 0.24 to two for every 200,000).

Noticeably, there is an increasing trend of suicide among the youth, particularly in the age group 5 to 14 and 15 to 24. Most of them kill themselves by strangulation. Other means are suffocation, poisoning, and exposure to chemicals and noxious substances. The common causes are depression, love problems, academics, low income, unemployment, and medical conditions.

It is easy to blame suicide victims for being weak. Others may even criticize them for being selfish—thinking only of themselves, and not of those they will leave behind. But what really runs in the mind of a person determined to take his life?

I have some idea, for I too seriously had thoughts of ending my life when I was a teenager. It was the end of my third year in college, and I was at the height of popularity in school. That semester, I was sent to international competitions, became the most awarded student leader, and was recognized as one of the top students. Everyone was so proud of me. People shook my hand to congratulate me for my achievements. I was, to many, a model student.

But something terrible happened, suddenly. I received a failing grade in one of my major subjects. It was unexpected and I was sure I did not deserve it. The professor claimed absolute right to manipulate how grades were to be computed. It was very clear to me that it was unfair.

My world crumbled. Because of the failing mark, I was sure that I would lose my scholarship, and would miss my chance to graduate with honors. Word about my failure spread quickly around the campus, and those who were just congratulating me a few days back began looking at me with pity, if not ridicule. I was up in the clouds one moment, and down to a very dark space the next.

Night and day, I locked up in my room, stared at the ceiling, deeply convinced that life was no longer worth living. I tried to justify suicide with philosophical musings. I also thought of the professor who gave me a failing grade, and imagined how guilty he would feel about my death.

Decided to commit suicide after five days of isolation, I went to Binondo to buy the most toxic substance I could ingest (a powerful pesticide whose mere vapor could make my lungs collapse). Before going home, I dropped by a Chinese restaurant for a last meal. When I arrived at the dorm, I lay down in bed again, stared blankly at the ceiling, and imagined my impending death one last time.

My suicide plan did not materialize, and, obviously, I have lived to tell this story. Three things kept the poison bottle unopened: thoughts of my family, the graphic images of hell on my mind, but what really saved me was a persistent knock on my door by a dormmate. He sensed that something was wrong, and urged me to talk about it. He convinced me not to push through with my plan.

In the next days, I decided to pick up the pieces and live with courage. I filed an appeal for my scholarship, and, after a long process, San Beda (which was apparently more compassionate than Kristel Tejada’s UP) decided not to revoke it. As it turned out, there was no explicit rule that barred those who had failing grades from receiving academic awards. And so I graduated with honors, although they had to change the rules after I graduated, making me the school’s one and only honor graduate with a 5.0 on his transcript.

A few years after graduation, I visited my alma mater and accidentally crossed paths with my professor—that professor who led me to the brink of suicide. He said he was impressed with one of my articles published in a national newspaper, and that he required his students to read my work. He said he heard that I was offered a job in Malacañang, and that he was proud of me. This picture of my professor smiling at me and tapping my shoulder in a show of approval was the exact opposite of what I imagined on my could-have-been death bed: a professor crying in guilt in front of my coffin.

Of course, not only young people commit suicide. Military generals. Politicians. Politician’s wives. Actors. Models. Teachers. Lawyers. Farmers. We hear of them claiming their lives, and the worse part is that we are getting used to it, or, at least, have become insensitive to the suffering of others. Suicide may be a very personal thing and one could even strongly argue that society must respect an individual’s choice to end his life. But what about those who only need a listening ear and some words of hope to make them realize, the way I realized then, that life can still be beautiful?

In social networking sites, the expressions “bigti na” (#bigtina) has become popular. It is offered as an advice, though made in jest, to people who have problems. There are several Facebook “Bigti na” pages, followed by tens of thousands, created for those who are romantically problematic. Thousands of “Magpakamatay ka na lang” memes have also been going around the web.

It is appalling that, to date, there seems to be an absence of a government-sponsored program to avert suicide cases in our country which surprisingly has, according to the World Health Organization, the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. But it is more appalling that a growing number of our people are making fun of a phenomenon that has caused unspeakable pain to many. Amidst mindless laughter, we might be missing out on the soft voices of suffering around us. Or we might be pushing to total silence those who desperately need to be heard.

Bigti na, friend? That joke is neither friendly nor funny.

pakamatay na cuntapay pakamatay bigti na friend pakamatay bigti na skeleton pakamatay ipis

*****

The Office of Student Affairs ofDe La Salle University has published a suicide first aide guide which helps one notice possible brewing suicide attempts by people around us. It is a helpful guide that could help you save a life. (http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/offices/osa/occs/suicide-1st-aide-guide.pdf)

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.

Hear! Shame!

OKAY, I AM swamped with a lot of work this week so I do not have much time to write the usual full-blown essay.  Allow me though to share tidbits of my rikna and nakem in previous days. Under “Hear! Hear!” are things that made me smile, events that firmed up my belief in the future of our nation and of humanity at large. “Shame! Shame!” are those which furthered my hair loss and, consequently, the widening of my shining and shimmering forehead.

*****

Hear! Hear! Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo saying, in reply to a question I asked during a presson, that he is strongly for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan council, which I consider as a sticky phlegm on the nation’s throat .

Shame! Shame! I think his position is compromised as he is only for the abolition of SK Kagawads, not of SK Chairmen. While he also proposed that the age requirement be raised, e.g. 25, this does not respond to the problems of corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, and everything trapo that has hounded the political structure.

*****

Hear! Hear! Secretary Jesse Robredo sounding sincere in his efforts to bring integrity in governance.

Shame! Shame! Robredo sounding weak to me. I doubt if he can really handle the big-bellied spoiled brats in local governments and among the ranks of the police. His realm is no longer just the fine city of Naga, but crazy Philippines.   I honestly feel that he will not last another year in the DILG post. Continue reading “Hear! Shame!”

Nang pitong araw na hindi nag-smile ang araw

NAMISS natin sobra ang maliwanag na sinag ng haring araw.  Kung dati ay panay ang reklamo natin dahil sa init ng panahon, ngayo’y ating napagtanto na di hamak na mas mahirap ang basang-basa at madilim na buhay.

 Nakalulunos ang pinsalang idinulot nina Ondoy, Pepeng, at ang pampagulong si Quedan.  Ilang buhay ang nasawi, mga bahay na nagiba, ari-ariang tinangay ng agos, at mga kinabukasang nawala na parang bula.

 Gayunpaman, ang trahedyang ito ay patunay na naman ng pagkamasiyahin ng Pinoy, ng ating kakayanang bumangon mula sa anumang pagkakalugmok, ng ating magaan na disposisyon sa buhay. Napangingiti na lamang ako kapag nakikita ko ang mga biktima ng mga pagbaha na panay pa ang pagkaway at pakyut sa likod ng mga reporter sa telebisyon.

 Marami akong mga kaibigan sa NCR na labis na naapektuhan ni Ondoy. Habang naglilinis sa kung anuman ang natira sa kanilang mga putikang bahay ay panay pa ang hagikhikan. Itong si Dennis, ang kaibigan kong nasa Amerika, bagama’t nalulungkot at sinira ni Ondoy ang kanilang bahay, kagamitan, at pati na rin ang bahagi ng kanilang kabuhayan sa Cainta, ay labis ang pagpapasalamat at wala namang nasawi sa kanyang mga mahal sa buhay. Natatawa siya nang ikuwento sa akin na ayaw pa sanang umalis ng kanyang tatay sa kanilang tahanan bagama’t napakataas na ng baha, subali’t napilitan din itong lumikas nang lumulutang na ang hinihigan niyang kama. Continue reading “Nang pitong araw na hindi nag-smile ang araw”

Romantic first pot

Reacting to the article ‘Legalize Marijuana’, my friend Mars of Kalinga Province, sent me this piece detailing about his first encounter with marijuana. ***kilig mode***

The summer vacation before school began for our fourth year in high school… Hector (a childhood friend) and I spent a lazy afternoon by the river. He was talking about the future – his future – and how impatient he was to get there.

I listened, like I always did. We were sitting on a rock, and our eyes were fixed on the rushing water below us, but I simply drowned out the sound of the shallow water as I concentrated on what Hector was saying.

I noticed that he was rather more focused that afternoon. Calm.

Then he reached into his pocket and brought out what then looked, for me, to be a crudely rolled cigarette. I asked what it was and he said “I smoked MJ for the first time this morning, and I thought I might share it with you… it felt good, and you might want to try it.”

I simply stared at the joint he was beginning to light with a match. Then, he brought the other end to his lips, palms forming an enclave around the stick. He inhaled. Deep. Eyes closed. Moments passed before he exhaled, and out went some smoke.

“That is, if you want to…” he said, as he opened his eyes and saw me watching intently.

Hector and I grew up together. We shared a lot of things, and he never even gave a damn that I was, well, “different.” Not wanting things to change (knowing that upon graduating from high school, we would grow apart as he would pursue a totally different field), I smiled at him, placed my hands over his, gently took the red-tipped joint from him, and recorded that day as the first time I smoked pot.

An hour later, we were still talking… with him gazing at the horizon… and me, studying the movements of the clouds above as I had my head resting on his lap.

Every time I transport myself back to that day and again feel what I felt then – river, rocks, clouds, future, Hector – I feel like I could write a book about just that episode.

Legalize Marijuana

michaelphelps

So, Michael Phelps, that guy who won eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, the most in human history, was caught on photo in an apparent act of smoking pot.

The photo (which I am not posting here out respect for him) was met by mixed reactions of disappointment, dismay, and puzzlement.  For why would a legendary athlete, who has the world on his hands and history on his side, resort to Marijuana?

Michael did not disown the picture and in an admirable fashion atypical of real drug users (like the Philippines’ Alabang Boys), he says: Continue reading “Legalize Marijuana”

Two Thousand and MINE

IT’S FIVE DAYS before the New Year, but, given the consuming revelry that goes with the holidays, chances are the reign of the Earth Ox would have dawned by the time you read this. I honestly hope, dear karikna, that you are holding this newspaper with all of your ten fingers intact and unbandaged.

When we were in high school, our teachers in English would greet us “Happy New Year” by requiring us to write formal compositions on topics like “How I spent My Christmas vacation” and “My New Year’s Resolutions”. (At siyempre, hindi pahuhuli ang mga guro sa Filipino. Sila man ay nagtatakda din ng mga komposisyon sa mga nabanggit na paksa.) With all due respect to Mrs. Editha Agdeppa and Gng. Rosita Felipe—my language teachers in high school, I never enjoyed writing those pieces. For one, I found them corny. Also, I thought the teacher had no business peering into my personal life and all the way into my inner psyche.

As fate would have it, however, I myself would become a teacher who loves to read his students’ self-reflexive essays. Also, as a mushy columnist, I have no qualms about sharing my stream of consciousness to the public. And yes, as you may have observed, I am occasionally corny, too. Oh, how things change.

Change, as the cliché goes, is constant. Sometimes predictable, many times not. If economic technocrats are to be believed, we will feel the full brunt of the global financial crisis this 2009. As today is difficult enough, it is both frightening and depressing to imagine what other plagues await us in the dim, dim tomorrow. More pain and suffering for Pinoys… Now, that’s predictable.

It should console us though that times of great struggle intensify man’s search for meaning, which should explain the marked increase in church attendance these days. I am sure Bishop Sergio Utleg is happy with this development, although I am not sure if the cash registers, er, collection bags, are smiling as well, given the impoverished parishioners’ perishing purses. (Huh, the underlined words make a good tongue-twister!)

In my case, karikna, I don’t resort to the religious opium. I spend part of my holidays thinking of what I still want to do. Note that this is not goal-setting, as I am never inclined to be hard on myself. A free spirit, my future is not carefully laid out, planned, and organized. This is not sweet lemoning either. Simply, what I do is just a dreamy inventory of reasons. For, as my favorite philosopher and soulmate Friedrich Nietzsche puts it, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.

So go my “why” lists, in random order:

Continue reading “Two Thousand and MINE”

Most Meaningful Christmas Greeting

My Uncle Erning, an Iglesia ni Cristo diakono, visited our home today. Conscious about being sensitive to the religious beliefs of others, I would usually say ‘Happy Holidays’–a greeting more safe. (For those who don’t know yet, INCs don’t celebrate Christmas.)

But when I kissed Uncle Erning’s hand, he smiled at me and greeted me with a voice most joyful and sincere: Merry Christmas, Anak.

So there. The warmest Christmas greeting I received came from a man who does not even believe in Christmas. Most INC members I know are very fiery in the expression of their beliefs. But there he was, my Uncle Erning, realizing that it was not about himself, but about our family’s happiness.

He greeted me… and it was not cliché.

Christmas accomplished.

What is happiness for you?


(These opinions were solicited through a survey board we posted outside our office.)

It is like a broadcast network where every data packet received matters – cmpcsi
It is when your fans ask for your autograph, then they hug and kiss you on your cheeks. -SG
Simply fulfilling your mission here on earth even when you experience ups and downs. -SG
When you forgive someone who hurt you. -Alessandra
When you reach self-actualization –xjoii 🙂
Food is my happiness -:)
No mangabak ti jueteng, aglalo no lima a limit -rayven
It is when other people are happy because of you -Erika Castro
Tong-its —?
When you reach success. Success is when you reach your highest potential with God in your heart. -Ryhenroke
Happiness is when you found your true love -Giselle
It is when you go to sleep, and still wish to wake up the next morning -abes 🙂
It is when my ex-boyfriend still cries for me -eigram
Ti ragsak ket imas, and vice versa
-gobilam
Happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everybody can see it, but only you can feel the warmth. -Cmsc
My Happyness is wrong spelling
-Bianca
Happiness is a matter, because it occupies space and it has weight in your heart and mind -lhairhobesboy
Which do you prefer? A very happy pig or a very lonely man? -crossbred pigman
Happiness is to be experienced, not to be intellectualized
-kaloy
It is the absence of loneliness and anger
-pilo
It is when I know I have loved and I am loved.
-eroschelle
It is brought about by vitamins. More energy mas happy.
-x
Happiness is being contented. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It just means you have learned to look past imperfections.
-anonymous
Ragsak kadi no nakaawatka iti regalo ken kwarta ngem… napukawmo daytoy kalpasan laeng ti maysa nga aldaw?
-drama boy
Happiness is having “uno” in all subjects -asa
Hapee is a toothpaste brand —Icalla

Feel free to add to the list..

“Heben” by bhonj

Rusngiit nga uray la gumigis
Arutittit nga sumaplit arigem palsiit
Ngem no talyawem iti aglawlawmo ikit
Awan sabali no di ni Johnny, inka masirit.

Kabayatan iti nagkaado a sagubanitna
Agsusukot, agtutupatop, agsasanga
Maalananto payla’t aggarakgak, agkatawa
Uray na la itangad-tangad, natnag gayam pustiso na.

Arak ti maysa nga inna pangliwliwa
Pammigat, pangngaldaw,pangrabii isu’t danumna
No kastigarem, pampaimas pangan kunaen na kenka
“Ket di mo paylang ilabay”, inka isungbat, ay sultakennaka.

Intunno makaadon, isaganam da bagin
Di mapugsatan ti sao, karyarenna amin
Dayta ni Johnny, katatao na’t managbabain
Ngem no makainom, Diyos ko, mangibabain.

Kiwar ditoy, pinggit dita, dayta’t inna iyul-ulo
Nalaing nga umanunsyo, uray pinagbulan ti baket a kubbo
Ipustananto pay amin a di mangan-ano
Ngem no naatap ni gasat, agtinnagton a tuyo tay adobo.

Awan la’t di awan, tila adda paylang inda masangsango
Siam ti nagsasaruno, adda pay ubba nga agsussuso
Di payen mapunas a buteg, agkaraiwara nga isbo
Ngem no simmangbay da rabiin, dayta manen Apo, otso-otso.

Kastoy ti kasasaad iti kaaduan a Pilipino
Nakakatkatawa a kunaem ngem isu’t pudno
Narway unay inda panagsarak ti rag-o
Sadanto laeng mautob iti nasayaat,
dimmagadanton ken dimmapo.

ARIEL “Bhonj_” AGNGARAYNGAY, is a native of Solsona, Ilocos Norte and a third-year Civil Engineering Student in MMSU.

Happiness is Man-made

(The following is Professor Rizal Javier’s take on happiness. Javier is an important figure in the local philosophy scene.)


HAPPINESS, according to one of the world’s greatest philosophers by the name of Aristotle, is a state of mind wherein one is at peace.

I agree with Aristotle and from him I think and believe that in order for man to be happy, man himself must find happiness first within himself and afterwards radiate it to others.

People very often, if not always, blame their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on this world are the people who get up, think and look for the circumstances they want in order to be happy and if they can’t find them, they have to make them. Do not wait for and expect anyone or anything to give you happiness. Create it. Make it. Simply do it. How?

Make yourself so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Speak of health, happiness, and prosperity to every person that you meet. Have all your friends become aware of the special qualities within them.

Look at the sunny side, although aware of the dark side, of everything and let your optimism or hopefulness work to make your dreams come true. Think, work for, and expect only the best. Be enthusiastic about the success of others as you do about your own. Cast into oblivion past mistakes and go on towards a greater future.

Always wear a cheerful countenance at all times, as a smile radiates warmth and love. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. And, finally, be too wise for worry, too tolerant for anger, and too courageous for fear.

I end this piece with a line from an old English prayer: Take time to laugh—it is the music of the soul.

Let us be happy.

Enay didit mhaaaaayyy weeeyyh: Sedate that Videoke Monster

LET ME BEGIN by saying that I love my neighbors and I love singing.

I love my neighbors not only because the bible mandates it but because I really have fantastic kapitbahayan. At age five, I, with little help from my childhood buddy Dondon, burned our house by playing with fire (literally, I assure you). Our neighbors were quick to help, and our house still stands to this day.

I love singing. Being Filipino—kin to great singers like Lea Salonga, Charisse Pempengco, and, uh-oh, Manny Pacquiao—this needs no explanation. My favorites are Tayong Dalawa and Pangako by Rey Valera, songs by APO, and, when I am sober no more, Lead Me Lord.

No celebration is complete without a videoke machine. In a party where there are friends, food, and alcohol, the revelry is sparked by the magic of a microphone. Well, it’s a bonus that there’s a bit of sexiness, too. (You know, those bikini-clad videoke models who give you a sinful stare.)

A blogger-friend blurts out, however, “Whoever invented the videoke machine must be crucified”, complaining of losing sleep because of the unbearably annoying noise the monster creates. “It has made the world a less peaceful place,” he adds, and I can’t help but agree. Continue reading “Enay didit mhaaaaayyy weeeyyh: Sedate that Videoke Monster”

Agunit and the farmer wannabe





(This is my first article in the Ilocos Times. While columnists are expected to be men of notable knowledge, allow me to begin by writing about something I have no expertise on. “Wisest is he who knows he does not know,” says the enigmatic philosopher Socrates, and I am in the mood to believe him.)

NEVER HAVE I FELT MORE IGNORANT in my life than when I went to a farm. Having grown up in urban areas, I have never stayed in an agricultural community. The perpetually neglected ornamental plants in my bedroom terrace would be first to attest that planting is not my cup of tea.

Last year, I left my job in Manila to teach here in the province. Unlike in the nation’s capital where I taught sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, most of my students here are children of farmers. Concerned that having kneel knowledge of agriculture made my teaching less relevant, I decided to embark on a self-imposed immersion in a farm. This happened when Albert Daguro, one of my former students, invited me on a weekend visit to their home in Brgy. Agunit, a farming community in Marcos town. He was apprehensive at first, saying that there was nothing much to see, but invited me anyway when he felt that it was something really meaningful for me.

Aboard a rusty jeepney, I then traveled to Agunit with the excitement of a groom and the curiosity of a child. Passing through the uninterrupted farmland bordered in the horizon by majestic mountains, I realized how little a part of the universe I was and how much space there is to explore. The experience was spiritual. Borrowing Rizal’s description of Dapitan, Agunit easily struck me as “picturesque and very poetic… without comparison.”

There I met Albert’s family. True to the Ilocano mold, his father, Tata Pascual, is known to be a very industrious man. At 68, this former barangay captain remains one of the most active farmers in Agunit. Far from the melodramatic tales of farmers in Sumilao and feudal haciendas, the Daguros are fortunate. With sheer discipline and guts, Tata Pascual and his loving wife started from scratch and gradually acquired parcels of land. Now totaling a few hectares, their farm is more than sufficient to provide their family a decent life.

The Daguros have eight cows, three carabaos, six goats, four pigs, and egg-laying ducks and chickens that were too busy running around their backyard to be counted. A miniature pond also produces fish for their consumption. Add to these the mango and avocado trees that diligently bear fruits. They have their own farm machines: a tractor and a kuliglig. To top these all, their sitio enjoys an efficient irrigation system that allows farmers to plant rice three times in a year. Given these blessings, I was interested to know whether Mang Pascual’s children are building their dreams around agriculture. Or, as with most families, do they see education as gateway to redemption?

Ronald, the eldest among the Daguro siblings, finished criminology and is now a newly sworn policeman. Albert is a civil engineering senior while Russell, the only female, is a nursing freshman. Six-grader Oliver, their youngest, tends their goats, but only Jhoan, the second eldest son, now works full time in the farm. After finishing a two-year technical course, Jhoan was requested by Tata Pascual to help him till their land. Being a good son, the former naturally obliged, although he occasionally resents being tied up to backbreaking work in the fields. Jhoan mulls of going back to school when his siblings graduate so he, too, can be a “professional”.

This reminded me of many students who strive in college, hoping they can eventually turn their backs on farming and do white-collar jobs. They subscribe to the belief that wearing a coat, working in an air-conditioned office, and speaking the language of colonizers are the main indicators of personal growth. Convinced that education is the best legacy they can leave behind, parents are quick to remind their children: do well in your studies, less you become just farmers like us.

I lament at how formal education is overvalued. Our present crop of political leaders proves that honesty, integrity, and unity—virtues that our nation miserably lacks—are legacies not guaranteed by a diploma. I do not say that children of farmers should not pursue other careers; everyone is entitled to see more of the world and discover new things as I do now. I was just wondering if they realize their sector’s worth and promise.

In MMSU, for instance, courses in agriculture register significantly lower enrolment compared to the health and business fields. This situation aggravates the already wide mismatch between our country’s human resource requirements and the graduates produced by universities, resulting to an increase in rates of unemployment and underemployment. Students taking up agriculture bear with people taunting them: mannalon ka la ngaruden, agriculture pay laeng ti innalam! They remain undistracted, however, as many of them have their dreamy eyes set, not in our own land, but elsewhere greener, like New Zealand. Meanwhile, queues for affordable rice now reach scandalous lengths.

In sociology, structural functionalist theory explains social stratification by assuming that positions essential to society’s survival are awarded more than those that are not as important. Of course, the “important” positions’ higher remuneration and prestige are justified by the long formal training and the skills acquired in the process. In this perspective, the lifetime training of farmers does not count because they don’t get any diploma for it. That small farmers are important for the population to survive is taken for granted, especially now that agriculture has become the milking cow of manipulative multinational firms.

In an attempt to convince his people that farming is a good a profession as medicine, Rizal himself became a farmer in Dapitan. Writing to his sister, Lucia, our national hero remarked: “We cannot all be doctors, it is necessary that there would be some who would cultivate the soil.” But who can blame farmers who wish they could do something else? Much is to be desired from government and society at large. While it is true, for example, that the prices of farm produce have skyrocketed, so have the costs of plant inputs. Hence, many farmers are buried in debt even as the “fertilizer scam” remains unresolved and is doomed, as many other scandals are, to be forgotten. The recent distribution of free sacks of fertilizers to farmers may sound commendable, but it is just another band-aid solution in the absence of a well-implemented and sustainable program to alleviate the plight of the mannalon.

When I left Agunit and went home to my place in the city, I felt a vacuum inside me. Aside from the breathtaking sights and subtle sounds of the fields, there were much more to my enchantment. I was drawn to the farm folks’ solidarity with nature, their spartan way of life, and their ability to appreciate the simple joys brought by simple things. I witnessed how members of farming families are tightly knit, how their neighbors are treated as family, and how belief in an unseen God is manifested in their day-to-day attempt at co-creation.

I went to Agunit so secure of myself, but left the place humbled at how little I knew about the more basic things in life. Unlike farm kids who, by taking care of animals and helping out in the paddies, have developed a sense of responsibility and stewardship early on, I was the bratty type of child. Our family has always had househelps who made life easier for us. Our domestic comforts, quite ironically, are brought by folks who come from agricultural families not as fortunate as Tata Pascual’s. Now in her fifties, Manang Glory, wife of a tobacco farmer, works in our household so she can help send her children to school.

With reasons now more personal than professional, I have included in my lifetime’s to-do list working as a full-time farmer, even just for an entire season. As an apprentice, I want to experience all the processes from pre-planting to post-harvest, and feel both the joy and despair that go with transforming nature and being transformed by it in turn. An employee under the tyranny of the Bundy clock, I am not sure how this can be possible. But just as a farmer has faith that the seeds will fertilize, I have high hopes this dream will happen in time. While most academics aspire for scholarships in top universities, I yearn for a semester or two in the farm. Hopefully, in my next visit, the Daguros would let me dirty my hands, and not pamper me the way they did during my first sojourn.

As I nurture this agricultural dream, news are abound that two monuments of materialism will be built in this province known for her people’s frugality and hard work. One mall will rise in the flourishing town of St. Nick while the other will be built in the middle of Laoag City, posing threats of more traffic, pollution, and an empty lifestyle—banes of urban life that Agunit folks are lucky to be spared from.

Each one of us is said to have a rightful place under the sun. I found mine inside the classroom, Tata Pascual found his in paradise. My classroom, however, need not always be four-walled, and I need not always be the teacher. ###

(herdiology@yahoo.com)