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.

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”

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”

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”

Top town dad earns Socio degree

AS A POLITICIAN, Rommel T. Labasan is currently busy attending commencement ceremonies in a number of schools. He is usually a guest of honor and speaker. On April 3, however, it will be his turn to wear a toga and march, this time as a graduate.

Labasan, the number one Sangguniang Bayan member of Pinili town, is one of nine candidates for graduation for the degree Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

On March 13, the three-term councilor successfully defended his thesis entitled, Perceived Effectiveness of Gender and Development (GAD) programs in Pinili, Ilocos Norte. He was under the advisorship of Herdy Yumul who describes Labasan as “very humble and receptive”. Continue reading “Top town dad earns Socio degree”

Budding Sociologists tackle the laoagcentralissue

 

Young Ilocano Sociologists at work
Young Ilocano Sociologists at work

INSTEAD of submitting tired academic papers, my students in Sociology of Development are working on a blog (http://laoagcentralissue.wordpress.com).

Using the sociological lens, the blog tackles the complex issues that surround the construction of a mall in downtown Laoag.

My students’ zest in posting entries there is fueled not only of their aspirations for high marks, but more so of their desire to generate intelligent and enlightened discussion on the implications of the mall project to development.

Continue reading “Budding Sociologists tackle the laoagcentralissue”

Dear MMSU

mariano_marcos_state_university

Today, you turn 31.

The past year, one of your children was hailed one of  Ten Outstanding Students in the Philippines.  Also, a mentor bagged the coveted Metrobank Outstanding Teacher plum.

You have produced topnotchers and victors, and brought home a number of awards, but your greatest achievement lies in helping improve the lives of families and communities.  In 2008, you brought home the Most Outstanding Extension Program, besting all other universities in the country, proof that your excellence goes beyond instruction inside the classroom and extends to greater, nobler roles in human development.

mmsu-logo1

In 1978, you immediately built your reputation as the best university in the northern regions.  Today, you wow the nation with your feats.

Happy anniv, MaMaSU.  We love you.

Love sealed on a balikbayan box

“Roughly speaking, one loves not because one wants gifts, but because one wants their meaning.”

-Niklas Luhmann

PARALLEL to something big happening in Manila, the MMSU Graduate School organized recently a Research Forum on Migration and Development where this columnist was invited to speak.

There I presented a paper I co-authored with my ‘partner for all seasons’ Marjorie Pascual Garcia, also of MMSU, and Vangie Novero Blust of Green Mountain College, Vermont, USA. Bearing the title “Influences of Transnational Labor Migration on Ilocano College Students’ Consumption Behaviors, Value Retention, and Social Relationships”, the paper studied in detail the cases of fifteen college students whose parents are working overseas.

Allow me to share with you some insights from our work:

Migration is across all social classes. While it is true that poverty is the main reason for work overseas, many Filipinos go abroad for some other reasons (including whims and caprices). Note that most of the participants did not consider themselves economically poor when their parents were still home.

For one, no participant confessed to experiencing hunger in their pre-migration lives. When their parents went abroad, the increase in food was more on the variety, not on the quantity. One student puts it:

Nagbalin a sab-sabali tay ordinaryo ken inaldaw-aldaw a kankanenmi aglalo no agpao-it ni Mama ti door-to-door. (Our everyday fare became different, especially when we would receive our door-to-door package.)

Also, most of the participants now find themselves frequenting fast-food chains, which connotes deviation from Ilocano foodways. Continue reading “Love sealed on a balikbayan box”

Ang gurong ‘di nagpasalamat



NAIS KONG IBAHAGI ang isang karanasan ko nu’ng bago pa lang ako sa MMSU. Unang semester ko noon ng pagtuturo sa unibersidad.

Ako ay bahagi ng College of Arts and Sciences o CAS. Kapag faculty ka sa kolehiyong ito ay lilibutin mo ang iba’t ibang mga gusali para sa iyong mga klase. Itinayo sa mahigit sa isandaang ektaryang lupain, malawak ang MMSU at magkakalayo ang mga building kung kaya’t sumasakay kami sa tricycle madalas, lalo na kung sobrang init o umuulan, kapag gahol ka na sa oras, o kung pagod at tinatamad ka nang maglakad.

Minsan, mula sa CAS papuntang CBEA, isang kolehiyong may kalayuan, ay may nakasabay akong isang guro at isang estudyante sa pagbiyahe. Ako at ang guro (mga 40 pataas ang edad, babae) ay nasa loob ng tricycle samantalang ang estudyante naman ay nag-“backride”, sumakay sa may likuran ng drayber.

Tinanong ako ni Ma’am kung saan ako bababa. “Sa CBEA po,” aking tugon. At di na kami nag-usap pa.

Naunang bumaba si Ma’am sa isang mas malapit na gusali, nagbayad siya at sinabi sa drayber, “Duwakam ditoyen” (Dalawa na kami dito). Ang initial reaction ko e magpasalamat lalo na’t hindi pa ako sumasahod noon, pero bigla akong napatigil at tinanong sa aking sarili, “Sino ba ang inilibre niya? Ako ba o ’yung estudyante? Baka naman ‘yung estudyante kasi ay di pa naman kami magkakilala ni Ma’am.” Hayyy, ang hirap! Kapag nagpasalamat ako at hindi pala ako ’yung inilibre, mapapahiya ako at baka ganun din si Ma’am. Awkward ‘yung sabihin ni Ma’am: Ay, sori, haan nga sika’t impletyak, diya’y ubing (Sorry, hindi ikaw ang inilibre ko, ‘yung bata). Ngunit, kapag ako pala ’yung inilibre at hindi ako nakapagpasalamat, nakahihiya naman… at baka maipamalita pa ni Ma’am na “’yung bagong faculty e hindi marunong ng tamang asal”. Dahil ‘di ko malaman ang gagawin, hindi na lang ako nagpasalamat.

Pagdating sa CBEA, sinubukan kong magbayad. Kapag tinanggap ng drayber ang pamasahe ko, aba’y mabubunutan ako ng tinik dahil hindi naman pala ako ’yung inilibre. Ngunit kapag hindi niya tinanggap ang bayad ko, patay! Dyahe kay Ma’am.

Tinanggap ito ng drayber… kaya’t ako’y napangiti. Nu’ng paalis na ’yung tricycle, ipinaalala ko sa estudyante, “Ading, ’wag ka nang magbayad ha, inilibre ka na ni Ma’am”. Ang malaking ngiti sa aking mukha ay nalusaw na parang ice cream (ube flavor) nu’ng makita ko ang reaksyon ng bata: bakas sa kanyang mukha ang pagtataka at pagkagulat. Hindi pala niya kilala si Ma’am, at mukhang sa tingin niya ay hindi naman siya ililibre nito.

Sus! Malamang ay ako pala ang pinagmagandahang-loob. Ano ba’ng buhay ‘to? Nang dahil sa pitumpisong pamasahe ay nagulo ang mundo ko.

Alam kong magkikita pa kaming muli ni Ma’am kaya puwede pa sana akong bumawi, ang problema ay hindi ako matandain sa mga mukha. Malamang, ‘pag magkasalubong kaming muli e hindi ko siya mamumukhaan.

Ang solusyon? Nginingitian ko na lang lahat ng aking makasalubong. Hindi lang basta ngiti ha… Hindi ngiting pitumpiso… Kundi ‘yun bang smile ng batang ibinilhan mo ng pitong Happy Meal sa McDo. Ayun.

At mukhang epektib naman. Mahigit isang taon na mula noon e ‘di pa naman kumakalat na ako’y isang taong hindi marunong mag-tenkyu. Sa ating kultura pa naman, napakahalaga ng pagpapasalamat. Hindi naman dahil sa naghahanap tayo ng kapalit sa ating mabuting gawain kundi dahil sa kapag hindi mo na-appreciate ang kabutihang-loob ng iyong kapwa ay parang binale-wala mo na rin ang kanyang buong pagkatao. Sensitib tayong mga Pinoy dito.

Ang leksiyon: ang inyong abang lingkod ay malugod pa ring tatanggap ng inyong tulong, sa loob man o labas ng tricycle. Sana lang ay pakilinaw ha. Tenk yu. Siyanga pala, bakit naman ganun si Manong Drayber, tanggap lang nang tanggap?! At si backrider, nabagabag rin kaya ang kalooban tulad ko?

At sa iyo, Madam Mapagbigay, marami pong salamat. Hindi lamang sa baryang inyong ibinahagi, kundi pati na rin sa pagkakataong ako’y makapagnilay-nilay at masuri ang aking pakikipagkapwa. At dahil ‘di kita namukhaan kaya’t di ako makaganti. Sa aking muling pagsakay ay aalalahanin ko na lamang ang iyong magandang halimbawa. Sino man ang makasabay, ako naman ang taya.

Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher

ALL RIGHT, my students are bright, as we boast of having one of the finest nursing programs in the country. Their training is rigid, and the selection process very tight. But, at the turn of the semester, I feared that my students would take my subject lightly. I took pains in urging them not to treat philosophy as a “minor subject”, for there must be some reason why it is a curriculum requirement.

After a month, my students submitted their phenomenological reflections. My heart broke when I discovered that many of them wanted to pursue something else, but were forced by their elders, who finance their studies, to take up nursing instead. It is sad that our ailing economy kills the dreams of the young. Older people are infected with bitter pragmatism, and few of them are as supportive as the father in a PLDT commercial (“Kung saan ka masaya, anak, suportahan ta ka”).

Our class had an engaging discussion on Martin Heidegger, who posits that when man confuses being with having, the origin of desire is located in external possessions: money, gadgets, and whatnot become the source of happiness; deprivations lead to feelings of sadness and frustration. In this case, the human-being has identified her self with objects of passing significance, and has forgotten her own existence.

“At the moment, what essence do you find in your existence?,” I asked them. It is not very difficult to figure out: e$$ence. It does not take a sociologist to understand why. Our government is a joke, our economy a disaster, and only God knows what other tribulations await our benighted land. No wonder that many professionals are now taking up nursing—doctors, dentists, physical therapists and, yes, even lawyers. Some of them have been my students, older than I am, and resigned to this nation’s dim tomorrow.


Continue reading “Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher”

The Powerless Academic

I feel like a prostitute, used and not taken seriously, unimportant and powerless, paid for some passing need. This is how a few years in the academe has made me feel.

Thousands of Nursing students have attended my classes, and they have come in various shapes and forms: young, not so young, married, single, well-off, poor. They have one common goal: to leave this country as soon as possible.

Ask them why they took the course, and they are quick to tell you success stories of their relatives in other countries, and the dim tomorrow that awaits us in our own. These students are well-driven, and well-motivated. Charity begins at home. And so are apathy, resignation, and materialism. Any influence that I wield as an educator is very easily negated by the gospel of a world that is painfully real. Continue reading “The Powerless Academic”

Provincial bliss

MRS. MATIPO of our university library was the 50th person to ask me this question: “What made you decide to come home to the province and teach here?”

It was mid-June last year and I was meeting the librarian for the first time. She learned from her son, MJ, one of my treasured students, that I had taught in Manila schools before moving here in Ilocos.

“Many want to work in Manila,” she added, in an attempt to put her question in the proper perspective.

I had long wanted to stay in the province and it did not begin as an act of altruism. Nurturing no illusions of self-importance, it was not the “I want to go home to Ilocos and share my talents with my province-mates” sort of thing.

I first imagined working in Ilocos during one of those mornings in Manila when I was getting late for work and I still had to press my clothes (one of the things I do not enjoy doing). That morning, I was yet to eat breakfast, and my tummy was already rebelling. Food was usually something fried, something instant — something I was beginning to take with revulsion.

I was walking briskly to school when a decent-looking man approached and showed me something. “Bilhin mo na itong necklace, mura lang” [“Buy this necklace, the price is cheap”], he said. The piece of jewelry looked real and expensive, but it was broken. “Mamahalin ’to, kasi ’nung hinablot ko ’to, umiyak ’yung nurse” [“This is an expensive kind, because the nurse cried after I snatched it from her”], he added with pride.

That was the straw that broke the weary camel’s back. On the same day, I typed an application letter to the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), the best university in the North. That was in March last year.

Only a few days were left before the start of the semester and a reply had yet to come. One more year of Manila then, I thought. That meant another year of missing the birthdays (including that of my Kuya Henry on Sept. 11 and of my Grandniece Ananda on Sept. 21), anniversaries and other special occasions of family and friends. Another year of bad food and bad air, of ironing my clothes (and losing them in the laundry shop), and of receiving frantic messages from my Mom each time the metropolis was stricken by terrorist attacks.

But the call for a demonstration teaching and panel interview came, and I was thrilled.

“Aside from teaching, what else can you contribute to the university?” I was asked in the interview.

Honestly, I wanted to just teach. In schools where I had taught, I contributed more than I should, and I wanted to be more relaxed this time. That’s what I told the panel members who, judging by their facial expressions, were unhappy with my answer. So I added that writing and debate are areas where I might contribute.
The most memorable question came from a senior faculty member: “For how long do you intend to stay here?”

“I can stay here forever,” I replied without batting an eyelash. If my 20/20 vision did not betray me, I thought I saw the professor’s eyebrows rise a bit and her academic forehead crumple a little. She was doubtful. No one knows for sure what Mother Destiny holds in the future, but I was sincere when I said that I could imagine myself working in the university until my hair is gray.

Shortly after, I was called in to work. I met my dean, and then I was led to my department on June 12, Independence Day. I was all smiles.

It has been fifteen months from that memorable day, and the smiles have not faded. I have even purchased a desk mirror so I can marvel at my face when I am smiling, which is a hundred times more often now than when I was working in the big city.

And, why not? Here, I live very comfortably. “Manang” Glory, our well-loved “kasambahay” [househelp], is so kind to pamper me. From food to clothes to cleanliness in my room, she makes sure that everything is A-OK.

Aside from our home in Laoag, which is better than my living quarters in Manila, I got a room at Coed’s, the university dormitory. My room in Manila was enough only for a bed and a table, had no window, and, if not for an exhaust fan, I could not breathe. In contrast, the well-ventilated and spacious Coed’s dorm gives me a fantastic view of the fields, which I could only imagine in Manila when I was stuck in traffic.

On top of material comforts is the immense joy that family life gives me. I have friends, and I have had friends who came and went and forgot, but my family has stood by me at all times, high and low. And, no, I would never exchange for anything the joy of coming home to my grandniece Ananda’s kisses and embrace after a long day at work, and finding out what new words or new tricks she has learned.

In the university, I am blessed to work with dreamy academics whose cognitive brilliance is matched by youthful idealism and cheerful dispositions. Our students, most of them children of farmers, are as competitive, even better, than many of their counterparts in Manila.

I had wished to just teach and relax and veer away from added responsibility but, when you are surrounded by people who breathe excellence, it’s difficult not to get infected and do your share. People might find fault in government for a number of things, but outstanding state-run universities such as ours are not among them.

Growing up with the belief that the only tourist attraction we have in Ilocos is the late strongman’s mausoleum, I used to find my province boring. But when my colleagues in Manila regaled me with stories of how they experienced a piece of paradise in Ilocos, my pride for my place was unmatched.

This is not to say Ilocos is heaven, and that I will forever be in bliss. I know that this is just the honeymoon phase. Difficulties and crises will come in my career and personal life, but given the inner joy and energy I bear, I will get by.

There are times when I miss the city, especially when I need something I cannot find in stores here. There are times when I long for the malls, their artificiality and the empty lifestyle they propagate. And, oh, yes, I miss the surprises of living in the nation’s capital, such as watching a movie and finding out after the lights are turned on, that seated just a meter away is Madam President and the First Gentleman.

At my young age, I have had the opportunity to work in various set-ups, from the seat of power in Malacañang to the corporate jungle of Ortigas and Libis to the marginalized communities in Metro Manila to the glistening world of show biz and mass media, and to the universities of the bourgeoisie. I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the country, from Aparri to Dumaguete to Cotabato, and have had the chance to visit other countries, too.

But I have never been happier than now, working in my province and in the university that captured my heart.

****
DONNA RIETVELD of The Netherlands writes via email: Hi, hope you are well.

Just want to say that I LOVE reading your column. Basta, nakaka-relate ako. The way you wrote about the 2 Glorias is really a work of art.

I am accessing Ilocos Times via the web so medyo late lagi ang column but I am going to check out your blog regularly from now on.

I am from Pasuquin but I have now adopted The Netherlands as my country. Thanks to you and the staff of Ilocos Times, I still get to update myself with what’s happening up north.

Regards and God Bless.

Herdy’s Riknakem: Thank you, Donna. You are one more important reason to burn the midnight oil to meet the every-Wednesday deadline in this publication. The consuming loneliness in writing is briefly punctuated by kind messages such as yours.

“Hindi mo makapa ang iyong nararamdaman; hindi lungkot, hindi saya, hindi bagot, hindi din naman balisa. isipin mo na lang na lahat ng nilalang, nahihimlay, nahihimbing at nananaginip nang nag-iisa. walang nagsusulat, dahil walang nagbabasa, walang bumabagsak dahil walang pumapasa. sa bawat bagong iyong natutuklasan, ika’y natututong kay rami-rami pa palang di mo alam.” – gary granada.

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)