11 December 2005

Philippine PEN in Iloilo City

The Philippine Center of International PEN held its National Conference last Saturday at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City on the theme, “Mapping Our Multilingual Literatures.” SM and the University of San Agustin were the major sponsors.

In his opening remarks, PEN Chair and National Artist Alejandro Roces stressed the need to remember our history, if we are going to move forward.

In his keynote speech, Carlos Palanca Hall of Famer and Metrobank Outstanding Educator Leoncio P. Deriada said it plainly and directly: “The greatest evil in the Philippine educational system is the use of English as the language of instruction in the classroom. The greatness of the Filipino is preserved in the various languages of the country.”

Calling the continued use of English as “cultural genocide,” he urged writers and teachers to master their own language before they master another’s. “We must teach in the language of the learner,” he urged. Incidentally, Deriada is the only writer in the Philippines (probably in the world) who has won major writing awards in four languages (one of which is English).

During the first literary session on “The S in Philippine Literatures: State of the Literary Art in the Center of the Philippines,” Erlinda Alburo of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City then reported on several projects (such as the compilation of a language corpus, writing workshops for farmers, and literary publications) done by various Cebuano writers’ organizations.

John Iremil Teodoro of the University of San Agustin deplored the continued dominance of judges illiterate in languages other than Tagalog or English choosing the National Artists. He cited the case of Magdalena Jalandoni, who was not declared a National Artist a few years ago only because the judges had not read her work. Teodoro pointed out that Jalandoni wrote 36 novels and Ramon Muzones wrote 61, while even National Artists in English have not written that many.

Regina Groyon of the University of Saint La Salle in Bacolod City acknowledged the influence on her life of Bienvenido Lumbera, who urged her to research on literature from her own region. She urged young writers to read the old writers in Hiligaynon, in order to heal the generational breach in our literary tradition.

A lively discussion followed, focusing on the role of writing workshops (virtual and real) in developing young writers in the various vernacular languages.

Summarizing the first session, Malou Leviste Jacob of De La Salle University Manila assured the audience that PEN would take steps to ensure that all literary languages will be given due recognition by national award-giving bodies.

In the second literary session on “Mainstreaming the Marginalized: Preserving, Promoting, and Developing Visayan Literatures,” Victor Sugbo of UP Tacloban urged DepEd and CHED to strengthen the study of local languages and literatures in the curriculum.

Melanie J. Padilla of UP Visayas reported on the extensive collections of the university of materials written in Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Aklanon.

Isidoro Cruz of the University of San Agustin questioned the word literatures as perpetuating what it attempts to challenge. He instead proposed using the old term literature to refer to any and all works written in the country.

Merlie M. Alunan of UP Tacloban stressed the need to have more literary texts available to the general public, particularly to college students.

Joefe B. Santarita of UP Visayas pointed out that, even within Western Visayas, some literary texts are marginalized – thus forming a double bind. He found “Iloilo imperialism” as unacceptable as “Manila imperialism.” He mentioned various prolific writers (fisherfolk, farmers, or otherwise non-academic) not recognized by most scholars.

The lively discussion that followed focused on the need to decolonize our own minds.

Summing up the second literary session, Frank G. Rivera pointed out that, since West Visayan literary texts have many readers, the mainstream is really West Visayan and everybody else is “marginalized.”

In the third literary session on “Reaching In, Reaching Out: Translating Our Texts into the Languages of the Global Village,” Genevieve Asenjo of De La Salle University Manila related how, in the course of her traveling around the country, she discovered that Philippine languages are very similar to each other. She also recommended that foreign students be required to study at least one Philippine vernacular language.

Amorita C. Rabuco of the University of San Agustin related her difficulties and joys translating several poems, legends, and folktales from Hiligaynon into English.

Palanca Hall of Famer Elsa Martinez Coscolluela of the University of Saint La Salle pointed out that, based on her own experience, speaking a language is very different from writing in it. She herself, speaking in Spanish, Chinese, English, and Cebuano in her childhood, could only write in English and Filipino.

The discussion that followed was extremely lively, particularly because a student stood up to say that literature was boring.

Summing up the session, Marjorie Evasco quoted Jorge Luis Borges’ concept of a literary work as forever unfinished and described translation as a way a literary text moves from culture to culture.

In the year’s Jose Rizal Lecture, Agustin Misola (who writes in Hiligaynon, Spanish, and English) spoke of his encounters with Rizal, both the Rizal of matchboxes and the Rizal of the novels.

The conference was distinguished by its use of several languages. Speakers spoke in the language they knew best (Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Aklanon, Waray, Tagalog, Filipino, or English). Interestingly enough, everybody understood each other. That proves that differences in speaking disappear when confronted with commonalities in writing.

The next Philippine PEN conference (on Dec. 2, 2006) will be held in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. All writers are invited. It’s not too early to plan. (The Philippine Star, 8 December 2005)

21 November 2005

Quality Assurance

The Randall Scandal (The Philippine Star, 3 March 2005)

Once upon a time, a false god rose in the British isles. His name was John Randall.

He started the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), an accrediting body established in 1997 whose mission, according to its website, is “to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education.” As the first teacher to raise the alarm against the Randall idolatry put it, however, “the QAA is part of the UK government’s bureaucracy for controlling education.”

Randall had a gospel that he tried to ram down the throats of all British academics. He had a very strange idea that he did not want to sell to the academics, probably because he knew deep inside him that intelligent people would never buy it. Instead, he wanted everyone merely to follow blindly what he said just because he said it. He did not want consultations. He did not want to listen to anyone; he wanted everyone to listen to him. To his disciples at QAA, he was an angel sent from above, a god walking among mere academic mortals.

He thought that government should control – not support nor encourage – higher education. He wanted government inspectors to enter university classrooms, to check on teachers and students, to look at textbooks. He wanted all universities to document every department meeting and every class session, to follow standardized curricula, to adopt only one method of teaching – that sort of thing. In a country that prides itself on its academic freedom, this was, of course, anathema. Randall knew that nobody would agree with him, but using his position to full advantage, he was able to fool some of the people some of the time, but not most.

Being bright, most of the British were not fooled by Randall’s bull-headedness. The Association of University Teachers (AUT), the academic trade union and professional association of almost fifty thousand British teachers, launched a revolt against the dictatorship of Randall. The revolt was led by the heads of Oxford and Cambridge, the top universities not just in the UK, but probably even in the world.

The revolt spread not just like wildfire, but like fish and chips (or in these days, like Big Macs). Before anyone knew it, Parliament got into the act. On Jan. 17, 2001, Randall was summoned by the Select Committee on Education and Employment of the House of Commons. At the investigation, he was confronted by comments such as this: “You are part of the problem. University teachers are so worried about the time and expense and disruption caused by the QAA that they have hardly got time to provide quality education for their first year students.” He was warned about the QAA becoming “the great prescriptor.” (You can read the minutes of the entire interrogation at parliament.co.uk.)

The problem was really quite simple. Randall was no god, and his ideas were far from divine. In fact, he was dead wrong on many, if not most, issues. When the teachers demanded that they be consulted on his ideas before he did anything, Randall decided to resign. Consultation was the last thing he wanted. He did not want anyone questioning his ideas, for the simple reason that he had no answers to any questions, except to say that he felt he was right.

Upon his resignation on Aug. 21, 2001, he said to the press: “The Agency is moving to a new phase of its development, with consultation on the way in which the framework we have built will be used in external reviews and by institutions themselves. It is an appropriate time for me to consider the future direction of my career. There are challenges and opportunities that I would like to pursue outside the Agency.”

Randall, nevertheless, was unrepentant to the end. His last public comment was to compare universities to meat factories (Daily Telegraph, Aug. 22, 2001). Clearly, his desire to control universities was based on a deep disrespect and even disdain for teachers and students.

The AUT immediately released a statement: “John Randall’s resignation marks the end of an era of overly-bureaucratic and prescriptive regulation in higher education. The last five years have seen a hugely unsuccessful and morale-sapping experiment in higher education. The QAA failed to deliver a sensible balance between bureaucracy and accountability. The development of overly-bureaucratic regulation has antagonised those who work in the sector but has plainly failed to deliver a quality assurance regime that has the confidence of staff, students and the wider public.”

For intelligent teachers, students, and parents in the UK, Randall was dead. The false god had been unmasked and ridiculed out of office.

What opportunities did Randall pursue after his disastrous career in the UK? Lo and behold, Randall resurrected in the Philippines and became, in the eyes of our own Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the white god of education. CHED recently ordered all Philippine schools to follow the gospel according to Randall. Heaven help us!

The Randall Proposal (The Philippine Star, 6 October 2005)

This is a long-delayed sequel to “The Randall Scandal.”

On June 18, 2004, John Randall submitted to the Commission on Higher Education a proposal entitled “Quality Assurance of Higher Education in the Philippines.” Although CHED’s Commissioners have assured me that they are not going to implement the proposal in full but will remove impractical and inapplicable components, Randall’s final report to CHED (and to ADB and the British Council, which brought him to the country) remains the key document being used today to compel universities to toe his line.

As in any other government or consultant’s report, there are good and bad points in Randall’s proposal.

The best point in the proposal is Randall’s insistence on an “outcomes-based” assessment of universities. The jargon may be confusing, but Randall’s point may be illustrated by an example he does not use. When teachers apply for employment in a university, they are usually asked what their degrees are, how many years they have been teaching, and what research they have undertaken. In Randall’s terms, these data would be “inputs.”

“There is an assumption,” says Randall, “that, if adequate resources are present, quality will be guaranteed. This, of course, is not true, as much will depend on the effectiveness with which resources are deployed.” In our example, degrees, years of teaching experience, and publications may be irrelevant to teachers that face, let us say, a class of basketball players accepted primarily on the basis of their height.

Randall points out that universities are also evaluated in terms of their “processes (particularly the processes of teaching and learning).” In our example, teachers are usually judged by what their syllabi contain, what teaching strategies they use, how they fare in student evaluations, how they look to other teachers that observe their classes. Randall argues that evaluating inputs and processes is an immature act.

“Mature evaluation systems,” he writes, “are based upon outcomes, and in particular the learning outcomes that it is intended that students should achieve.” In our example, teachers applying for employment should be asked what percentage of their former students passed board examinations or found jobs. I myself often provoke literature teachers by telling them that they are bad teachers if their students do not, after high school or college, go on their own to a bookstore or library to read a new novel. As that often-misquoted Biblical verse puts it, by their fruits you shall know them. (Of course, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was referring only to false prophets and not necessarily to everyone else; see Matthew 5:15-20.)

The problem occurs when Randall tries to apply the principle of outcomes-based assessment to the Philippine situation. Although he admits that “CHED, as the regulator of higher education, should be less prescriptive,” he actually ends up urging CHED to be more prescriptive. Randall submits, together with his general statements about the Philippine educational system, a very detailed “Operating Handbook” that is about as prescriptive as you can get. An example: “Formal meetings should always involve at least two members of the [visiting] team.”

In fact, it is not just the prescriptive portions, but the whole Randall proposal that is wrong, because it falls into the trap of self-contradiction. He starts off by saying, in effect, that Filipinos are doing the wrong thing when it comes to quality assessment. Then, when asked what we should be doing instead, he ends up saying that we should be doing exactly what we have been doing all along.

Since I belong to PAASCU, as well as to a CHED Technical Panel, I may be accused of bias when it comes to the Randall proposal. But I still have to find in his proposal anything that either PAASCU or CHED is not yet doing. In simpler terms, what Randall is saying is this: you are doing everything wrong, but everything you are doing is right.

In more intellectual terms, what Randall has done is to assume that he has a monopoly of wisdom. When asked what wisdom that is, he has done nothing else but to point to the wisdom that we already had decades before he arrived in the Philippines.

I am reminded of a similar argument I used to have with Americans not too long ago. They would tease me about always having a cellphone, saying that in the United States, since everybody had a landline at home and there was a pay phone everywhere you looked, Americans would never buy cellphones. Today, there are affluent homes in the United States without landlines and practically everybody there now has a cellphone. In short, we were (and still are) much more advanced than Americans when it comes to telecommunications. (If you don’t believe that we are more advanced than them, go to any cellphone shop in New York and see how primitive their units there are.) No American can teach us anything when it comes to cellphones.

Randall came into our country thinking that he knew better than we did about higher education. When he realized that we knew a lot more than he did, he had no choice but to recommend back to us everything that we had already been doing. In effect, he was a false prophet, and the fruit of his labor – his proposal – proves that that both the ADB and the British Council wasted their money on him.

Hello Again, Randall (The Philippine Star, 6 October 2005)

Once again, the Randall Scandal rears its ugly head.

First, a flashback. Since it was established in 1994, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has been quietly and effectively fulfilling its mandate to promote quality assurance among the 1,605 (as of latest count) higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country.

Soon after its establishment, CHED created regional Quality Assurance Teams (RQATs, called NQAT in NCR), which included volunteer experts in every discipline. These experts usually belonged to the CHED Technical Panels, which were the private sector’s contribution to the governance of higher education in the country. Among the projects of the Technical Panels was the selection of Centers of Excellence (COEs) and Centers of Development (CODs), which were then given funds by CHED to help develop teaching and research in the Philippines.

On Sept. 25, 2001, CHED granted autonomy to 30 private colleges and universities and deregulated status to 22 others. The criteria for selecting these HEIs were explicit: They were “established as Centers of Excellence or Centers of Development and or private higher education institutions with FAAP Level III Accredited programs; [they showed] outstanding overall performance of graduates in the licensure examinations under the Professional Regulation Commission; [and they had a] long tradition of integrity and untarnished reputation” (CMO 32, s. 2001).

The reference to accredited programs is important. The Philippines has a long tradition of accreditation, which is another name for quality assurance. Accreditation was first proposed by Congress in 1949, first implemented in 1951, and repeatedly endorsed in laws and memos relating to education (such as the Educational Development Decree of 1972, the Education Act of 1982, and CMO 1, s. 2005).

This commendable tradition of quality assurance or accreditation was radically disturbed when a certain John Randall came into the country and claimed that the Philippines had never heard of the term “quality assurance.” For some strange reason, CHED forgot that it had been using the term for years and agreed with Randall!

When I first wrote about what I called the Randall Scandal, I was asked by then CHED Chair Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., and then CHED Commissioner Cristina Padolina to meet with them. They told me that they were not taking Randall hook, line, and sinker, and that they would definitely take a second look at the so-called Quality Assurance Program that he had proposed. I wrote a second column giving fair time to the two commissioners.

Strange as it may seem, although I head the CHED Technical Panel on Humanities, Social Sciences, and Communication and am an ex-officio member of the CHED University Status team, I was not told that Randall had been resurrected in a memo entitled “Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance of All Higher Education Institutions in the Philippines,” shortened to IQuAME (CMO 15, s. 2005) and in a subsequent memo entitled “Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions Granted Autonomous and Deregulated Status in 2001” (CMO 18, s. 2005). Since I do not regard myself as someone that important in CHED, I kept quiet when I found out that autonomous and deregulated universities were beside themselves trying to figure out how to prove that they had quality when they had already been pronounced to have quality.

Last Aug. 3, 26 of the 30 autonomous and 17 of the 22 deregulated HEIs wrote a strong letter to the CHED Commissioners questioning CMO 18. Here are excerpts from the long letter:

“We join the many who have expressed reservations about IQuAME as given in CMO No. 15, s. 2005, and the consultancy work on quality assurance done for CHED by Dr. John Randall. We feel that Dr. Randall’s experience and background in the British educational system are very different from our Philippine educational system and situation. As everyone knows, eighty percent of tertiary education in our country is provided by the private sector without any government assistance. We join many who have questioned Dr. Randall’s basic contention that private voluntary accreditation in the Philippines today which is ‘program-based’ does not cover ‘institutional’ concerns and looks mainly on ‘inputs’ rather than ‘outcomes.’

“We feel that more time and consultation should have been spent validating Dr. Randall’s recommendations and the instrument to be used for IQuAME visits.

“We strongly feel that making use of a new and untested IQuAME instrument is not the best way to monitor and evaluate the HEIs granted special status.

“We feel that for the review of HEIs with these special status, CHED should use the same criteria [as in CMO 32, s. 2001].”

Guess what CHED did to respond to the letter? On Sept. 28, CHED called the heads of all the autonomous and deregulated HEIs to a meeting at Richville Hotel in Mandaluyong and, wonder of wonders, distributed to all the participants a “Primer on the Quality Assurance, Monitoring, and Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions,” with this explicit note at the end of it: “This primer is based on materials prepared by Dr. John Randall, Quality Assurance Consultant, CHED Organizational Development, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Philippines 2004.”

Why CHED is allowing itself to look silly when it already looked good is something only we Filipinos living in our self-destabilizing world can understand.

Quality Assurance and CHED (The Philippine Star, 3 November 2005)

What is the difference between quality assurance and accreditation?

Nothing, if we are to listen to the vast majority of accrediting associations around the world. Here are three examples:

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation of the United States, with more than sixty American national, regional, and specialized accrediting organizations as members, uses the two terms interchangeably.

The German Akkreditierungs-, Certifizierungs- und Qualitätssicherungs-Instituts (Accreditation, Certification and Quality Assurance Institute) does the same thing.

So does the Swiss L’Organe d’accréditation et d’assurance qualité des hautes écoles suisses (Center of Accreditation and Quality Assurance of the Swiss Universities).

Of course, a few countries make a distinction between the two.

The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA), for example, looks at accreditation as something universities do themselves and to themselves; quality assurance is what an outside agency does.

By and large, however, universities and governments around the world treat the two terms as synonyms, whether what they are talking about is program accreditation (meaning that only certain programs, and not whole institutions, are accredited) or institutional accreditation (which means that a whole institution is accredited, even if its programs are not all on the same level of quality).

There are only two groups that still are in the dark about the two terms – students in Europe and our CHED commissioners.

The National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB) bewailed in 2000 that “at the moment there is no common frame in which actors of higher education can discuss quality assurance and accreditation. There are quality assurance systems actually doing accreditation and the other way around. Furthermore the aims and methods of quality assurance and accreditation differ from country to country and there are obscurities in the terms being used.”

Behaving more like students than the professionals they are supposed to be, our CHED commissioners are equally confused.

In 1995, CHED recognized that Philippine accrediting associations were already doing quality assurance or accreditation, both institutional and program. It did this through CMO 31, s. 1995 (“Policies on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence in Higher Education”), which used the terms accreditation and quality in the same breath. CHED at that time also recognized that voluntary accreditation included both programs and institutions. CHED used the term Institutions/Programs even for Level I or the starting level of accreditation.

CHED actually had no choice in 1995 but to recognize voluntary accreditation, which was first proposed by a Joint Congressional Committee in 1949. The first Philippine accrediting association was formed in 1951, and the first actual accreditations were conducted in 1957.

By the way, the initial delay was due to something very similar to what is happening to CHED today.

Francisco Dalupan and several other educators formed the Philippine Accrediting Association of Universities and Colleges (PAAUC) in 1951, preparing for voluntary accreditation done by private schools themselves, based on the objectives of each institution to be accredited. Then Education Secretary Manuel Carreon, however, following advice from a consultant named Pius Barth, wanted compulsory accreditation done by the government, based on so-called objective standards. It was only in 1957, when the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU) started actual accreditation, that the impasse was broken. PAASCU’s efforts were officially recognized and endorsed by then Education Secretary Carlos P. Romulo in 1967. Since then, accreditation in the country has been private and voluntary.

Early this year, CHED issued CMO 1, s. 2005 (“Revised Policies and Guidelines on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence in Higher Education”), which removed the word institutional from the different levels, but still recognized that quality assurance or accreditation itself was being done and should be done by the already existing accrediting associations.

CHED then famously imposed the so-called IQuAME, based on an expensive, but silly study by its consultant John Randall, in two infamous memos, “Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance of All Higher Education Institutions in the Philippines” (CMO 15, s. 2005) and “Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions Granted Autonomous and Deregulated Status in 2001” (CMO 18, s. 2005). Suddenly, despite having said that quality assurance, in the worldwide sense of program and institutional accreditation, existed in the Philippines, CHED said that there was a need for quality assurance!

How can the present CHED claim that schools should undergo quality assurance when many of them (though admittedly not all of them) have already been accredited and, especially in the case of autonomous and deregulated institutions, been recognized as having quality?

I have only two foreign words: ignorantia, as in “Ignorantia judicis est calamitas innocentis (The ignorance of a judge is the misfortune of the innocent), and hubris, as in Oedipus and Macbeth. I could say that what we now have in CHED is pure tragedy, but if you know your Aristotle, there are no tragic figures in that otherwise rational government agency, just comic ones.

13 November 2005

Textbooks for Miseducation

The way we read literature, as manifested in classroom textbooks, misrepresents the state of literature today, primarily because of the four horsepersons of apocalyptic hegemony, namely (instead of pestilence, war, famine, and death), race, class, gender, and language. Let us glance at already one of the most liberal of all world literature anthologies, then contrast its contents with what is really happening in the world of literature. I will restrict myself only to the literature of the second half of the last century, because that is the period in which I grew up.

Let us begin with that ridiculous 1997 Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, edited by Maynard Mack, which patronizingly accommodated only four so-called “non-mainstream” writers – two writing in English and one a biological female. In contrast, the 2003 Bedford Anthology of World Literature, edited by Paul Davis, Gary Harrison, David M. Johnson, Patricia Clark Smith, and John F. Crawford of the University of New Mexico, claims that it “represents important historical and contemporary debates about science, human rights, women’s rights, colonialism, and imperialism by including texts and writers not frequently anthologized.”

The writers “not frequently anthologized” include the biologically male Achebe, Chinweizu, Mnthali, P’Bitek, and Walcott among those writing in English, and among those not writing in English, Abé, Al-Hakim, Amichai, Bei, Celan, Césaire, Darwish, Fanon, Fuentes, Gao, García, Kawabata, Kundera, Mahfouz, Neruda, Oe, Paz, Ryuichi, Sachs, and Voznesensky. The biologically female writers writing in English include Cisneros, Danticat, Desai, Harjo, Head, Jen, Mukherjee, and Nye; those writing in languages other than English are Akhmatova, Rifaat, Szymborska, Takenishi, and Tuqan.

We can classify the authors in various ways: non-Anglo-Americans (38 out of 55, or 69%), biological females (17 out of 55, or 31%), and writers writing in languages other than English (27 out of 55, or 49%). As for class, I am sorry I have not figured out who belongs to the working class and, therefore, cannot compute the percentage of such writers in the list; it may be safely presumed that not too many of them earn their living in sweatshops or as migrant workers in sugar fields. The language figures may be further broken down: of the 55 writers considered representative of the second half of the 20th century, there are 28 authors writing in English, 5 in Arabic, 5 in Japanese, 4 in Spanish, 3 in French, 2 in Chinese, 2 in German, 2 in Russian, 1 in Czech, 1 in Hebrew, 1 in Ocoli, and 1 in Polish. If we classify these languages into Asian and European, that makes 13 (24%) in Asian languages, 41 (75%) in European, and 1 (1%) in African.

Let us now see what the real world looks like in terms of languages.

The Ethnologue of the Summer Institute of Linguistics reports that 61% of the world’s population speak an Asian language as a first language; only 26% speak a European language (http://www.ethnologue.com/home.asp). The 2005 Encarta Encyclopedia puts it this way: The 10 most widely spoken languages, with approximate numbers of native speakers, are as follows: Chinese, 1.2 billion; Arabic, 422 million; Hindi, 366 million; English, 341 million; Spanish, 322 to 358 million [the last figure would put it above English]; Bengali, 207 million; Portuguese, 176 million; Russian, 167 million; Japanese, 125 million; German, 100 million. If second-language speakers are included in these figures, English is the second most widely spoken language, with 508 million speakers” (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761570647_4/Language.html). Since we are speaking about literature rather than business, we should be able to agree that most, though not obviously all, writers would rather write in their first than in their second language. We should also be able to agree that a language with more speakers is more likely to have more literary works than a language with less.

We can see, therefore, the disparity between what anthologists – and therefore teachers, students, and readers of literature – choose and what the real world offers. There should be a lot more than 2 Chinese authors in the list; most of the authors in any reading list of world literature, in fact, should be writing in Chinese. Arabic is represented by 5 authors; that may seem like a lot, but English is represented by 28! Surely, even if we allow for brilliant second-language writers, it cannot be the case that there are more English-language writers than Arabic writers. And what about Hindi? There is no author at all in the anthology that writes in Hindi, yet Hindi has a lot more native speakers than English.

Why is the disparity between actual language use and classroom literary language preference important? One reason is literary language itself. We all know that something is always lost in translation, but few of us realize how much is lost. Here is the translation by Stanley Kunitz of the poem about Goya by Voznesensky: “I am Goya / of the bare field, by the enemy’s beak gouged / till the craters of my eyes gape / I am grief / I am the tongue / of war, the embers of cities / on the snows of the year 1941 / I am hunger.” Not bad, but listen to some of the words in the Russian itself of Voznesensky: Ya Goya ... nagoye ... ya gore ... ya golos ... goda ... ya golod ... ya gorlo ... goloi” (http://www.penrussia.org/n-z/an_voz.htm). The poetry, which is in the alliteration, is completely lost.

We all know about Chinese being not only a language that we can hear, but a language that we can and need to see. How can we possibly translate the sight, not to mention the sound or tones, of a Chinese poem into a non-tonal, non-visual language? It is the literature that is lost.

I have taken only one anthology as a purposive sample. I have cited only certain authors, those that have – most of them – won Nobel prizes and, therefore, may be said to have been universally acclaimed. We can do only so much in such a short time. I hope that, with the provocation I definitely intended, you will start to think of certain very strange things, such as: why is there no Australian author in the list? Nor an Indonesian, a Malaysian, a Singaporean, or any other one from the countries we represent here? Even if we grant that it would be more convenient to pick writers in English, how about our English-speaking writers from Hong Kong?

We have overused the H-word – hegemony – but that is really what this is all about. The conference which will take place in the next three days should discuss practical and concrete means to counter the hegemony of – we cannot even say exactly what. It may be late capitalism or Hollywood or the English language that Australian postcolonial critics love to deconstruct by putting the letter E in lower case, or it may simply be our own minds and imaginations, for so long silenced by the silent enemy, which is our undecolonized selves. Whatever it is, it must be faced – and faced down.

(Delivered at the Public Program in Trades Hall Bar, Melbourne, Australia, as part of Beyond Borders: Creative Strategies for Global Harmony, an event of the Asia and Pacific Writers Network, 6 November 2005)

16 October 2005

Best Philippine Books of 2004

Here are some of the citations read during the awarding ceremonies of the National Book Awards on Sept. 4, 2005, at the Manila International Book Fair for the best books published in the Philippines in 2004. The citations were written by various members of the Manila Critics Circle.

The Manila Critics Circle cited Christine S. Bellen for her series of children’s books “that have brought to life for today’s young generation the classic tales of Severino Reyes.” The Anvil series includes Ang Alamat ng Lamok, Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin, Ang Parusa ng Duwende, Ang Plautin ni Periking, and Rosamistica.

The Circle cited the Philippine Deaf Resource Center and the Philippine Federation of the Deaf for their four-volume series Introduction to Filipino Sign Language that “offers the reading public an easy and systematic way into being literate in the language of the soundless but not voiceless, a language at once universal and Filipino, meaningful and empowering.”

The Circle cited Summit Books, for its books (such as Have Baby, Will Date; No Boyfriend since Birth; Tough Love; Wander Girl; and Mr. Write) which “promote the habit of reading among a previously unreached group of Filipino readers, in the process developing a kind of Philippine English that should be appreciated for its complexity, profundity, and truthfulness.”

The Circle cited Cantius J. Kobak, O.F.M., and Lucio Gutierrez, O.P., for their “masterful, meticulous, and almost miraculous edition, annotation, and translation” of Jesuit Ignacio Francisco Alcina’s Historia de las Islas e indios de Bisayas as History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands: Evangelization and Culture at the Contact Period (two volumes published by UST Publishing House so far).

The Circle cited Rolando B. Tolentino for his series of cultural criticism (published by Anvil), Ang Bago, Bawal at Kasalukuyan; Si Darna, ang Mahal na Birhen ng Peñafrancia, at si Pepsi Paloma; Disaster, Droga at Skin Whitener; Kulturang Mall; Lalaking Pin-up, GRO, at Macho Dancer; and Paghahanap ng Virtual na Identidad, “which studies ordinary events and processes in our society from the point of view of extraordinary literary theory and social science.”

The Circle cited Centro Escolar University for its series of research-based coffee-table books (Filipino Cuisine, Beyond Rice, Bamboo, The Philippine Forest, and Philippine Markets), “well-conceived, well-written, and well-designed, offering readers unfamiliar views of familiar realities.”

The winner of the National Book Award for Best Book in Education – the two-volume Helping Our Children Do Well in School: 10 Successful Strategies from the Parents’ Best Practices Study of the Ateneo de Manila High School and A Companion Manual to Helping Our Children Do Well in School: 10 Successful Strategies from the Parents’ Best Practices Study of the Ateneo de Manila High School, by Queena N. Lee-Chua and Ma. Isabel Sison-Dionisio (Anvil Publishing) – was cited for “discovering, documenting, analyzing, and applying the strategies used by parents to ensure a bright future for their bright children and for making educational and psychological research accessible to parents not just inside Ateneo de Manila High School but in other schools as well.”

There were two winners for Best Book in Literary Criticism.

On the Subject of the Nation: Filipino Writings from the Margins, 1981 to 2004, by Caroline S. Hau (Ateneo de Manila University Press) was cited for “demonstrating dramatically how powerful literary criticism is in unlocking the mysteries not just of what can be read on paper but of what can be and is being lived in real life by the powerless, the ignored, and the othered.”

Cultural Fictions: Narratives on Philippine Popular Culture, Politics, and Literature, by Isidoro M. Cruz (University of San Agustin) was cited for “using the tools learned in literary theory classes to shed new light on real happenings in the real world outside campus, thus harnessing the powerful analytic tools of theory to help us make sense of the Philippine political, literary, and cultural landscape.”

There were two winners for Best Book of Short Fiction.

Cadena de Amor and Other Short Stories, by Wilfrido D. Nolledo (UST Publishing House) was cited for “collecting in one place the best short stories of a writer who did not so much defy fashion as define and fashion it, anticipating and transcending it, short stories as alive, even more alive now as when they were first fashioned.”

On Cursed Ground and Other Stories, by Vicente Garcia Groyon (UP Press) was cited as “a book for which the adjective overpowering is an understatement, because it is not just the protagonists that grow up in many of these stories, but also we readers, who participate in what is not so much lust as hunger, in what is not so much the search for soul mates as for the soul, in what is not so much a style of storytelling as a personal unravelling.”

The Juan C. Laya Prize for Best Novel in a Vernacular Language was won by Hunyango sa Bato, by Abdon M. Balde Jr. (UST Publishing House), cited as “a novel daring in style, topic, and characterization, a novel unafraid to challenge what were previously thought to be unbreakable rules of writing and language, a novel forcing the reader to remember past events that still mold the present, a chameleon-like novel showing only one true color.”

The Juan C. Laya Prize for Best Novel in a Foreign Language was shared by two novels.

People on Guerrero Street, by Leoncio P. Deriada (Seguiban Printers), was cited for “portraying life in a ‘small town’ transforming quietly into a big city, with every growing-up event magnified beyond reason and passion, where sex is mistaken for love and love for life, until death brings both protagonist and reader back to semi-urban life in an unreal city with real people in it.”

Women of Tammuz, by Azucena Grajo Uranza (Bookmark), was cited as a novel that “portrays in an extraordinary manner how ordinary people live normally during abnormal times and harnesses the resources of fiction to retrieve our past in order that we may live our present more fully, declared or undeclared war notwithstanding.”

The National Book Award for Best Book of Essays was shared by two books.

Looking for Jose Rizal in Madrid: Journeys, Latitudes, Perspectives, Destinations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes (UP Press), was cited “for giving us Escolastico, intrepid researcher and traveler writing across the continents, and for making nonfiction creative long before the term was invented; from Ateneo’s Heights to Philippines Free Press and Asia Philippines Leader, later to Midweek and Graphic, the world of Greg Brillantes is worlds of wry, journalistic fun.”

Between the Centuries, by Sylvia L. Mayuga (UP Press), was cited “for reinventing the essay as column piece and never giving up on Avenida, parlaying the favors of lovers and other strangers, from Banahaw to Sagada, deep in the heart of a visionary esoterica.”

The National Book Award for Best Book on Music was won by Pinoy Jazz Traditions, by Richie C. Quirino (Anvil Publishing), which was cited “for filling a dearth in local jazz journalism and research, and trading in the musician’s drumsticks for a writer’s instruments on the elusive downbeat, shuffling in a timeline of singers and musicians almost forgotten save for a stroll down this street called Pinoy Jazz Traditions.”

The National Book Award for Art Studies was won by Rice in the Seven Arts, edited by Paul Blanco Zafaralla (Asia Rice Foundation and Metrobank Foundation), which was cited this way: “For paying tribute to the national staple and its role in the national psyche, these studies of rice as artful manifestations warm the stomach and address different levels of hunger more than any rolling store could.”

The National Book Award for Best Book of Poetry was shared by two books.

Liyab sa Alaala, by Roberto T. Añonuevo (UST Publishing House) was cited for “collecting poems as blinding as dancing bamboo during a storm and as shiny as garden grass in sunlight, proving that the fire of poetry is alive, as the memory of his every line illuminates Philippine literature.”

A Feast of Origins, by Dinah Roma (UST Publishing House) was cited for being “a collection, by one of the brightest young poets gracing the literary scene today, of poems on love, the struggle with desolation and despondency, affinities and kinships familial and otherwise, beginnings, mortality, death – in varying shades, all finding their expression in images that swoop and soar in rhythms properly contained, such that reading her poetry makes one instantly connected and encountered.”

The National Book Award for Personal Anthology was won by In Ordinary Time: Poems, Parables, Poetics, 1973-2003, by Gemino H. Abad (UP Press), which was cited as “a selection of poems and parables all catering to the mind’s own ‘essential poetics of finding one’s path through language and making one’s own clearing there,’ grouped according to themes like Things, Words, Self, Love, Country, and God, all bearing that signature beyond forgery in a language bursting at the seams, explored along its infinite possibilities, writing about meaningfulness and not simply meaning, born of moments not only fully lived but also fully imagined – truly no ordinary book by no ordinary writer.”

The National Book Award for Best Book on Theology and Religion was won by Mga Aral sa Daan: Dulog at Paraang Kultural sa Kristolohiya, by Jose M. de Mesa (DLSU Press), cited this way: “The book globalizes the trend to translate the Bible into Filipino and to interpret it according to the needs of the Filipino nation by focusing on the cultural dimensions of Christology and Christianity, thus planting the seeds of reconciling the Bible with the Filipino values of grace, soul, and virtue.”

The National Book Award for Best Book of Plays was won by Oyayi: Sarswela ng Pamilyang Pinoy, by Frank G. Rivera, edited by Arthur P. Casanova, Felix P. Tapongot, and Louela B. Floresca (UST Publishing House), cited this way: “Only recently have the literary gems lying unremembered in the memory of Frank G. Rivera been published, the latest of which is this sarswela first presented in 1979 in Mindanao. Despite its age, the play still talks to the current contradictions in Philippine society and identity.”

The National Book Award for Best Book in the Social Sciences was won by Ginto: History Wrought in Gold, by Ramon N. Villegas (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas), cited for being “a wonderful introduction to a great collection of the nation’s heritage in gold, representing diligent research that not only establishes a previously unknown history of the gold artifacts now housed in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, but also introduces modern Filipinos to the ancient art of designing jewelry and other decorative articles in gold.”

The National Book Award for Cultural Criticism was won by Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order, by Neferti Xina M. Tadiar (Ateneo de Manila University Press), cited for “proceeding from a rather current concept that imagination is a culturally organized social practice, pursuing some areas of studies in the context of transformations in Philippine society in the twentieth century, using combined postcolonial and feminist perspectives in examining the products of dominant Philippine imaginations through contemporary Philippine phenomena, like overseas employment, prostitution, and people power, to underscore her reading of nationalist and capitalist undertakings that are shaping the Filipinos as a nation.”

20 September 2005

Philippine National Book Awards

The Manila Critics Circle announced the winners of the 2004 National Book Awards at the Manila International Book Fair on Sept. 4, 2005.

The University of Santo Tomas Publishing House was named Publisher of the Year for the second year in a row.

Album: Islas Filipinas, 1663-1888, by Jose Maria A. Cariño and Sonia Pinto Ner, Ars Mundi, won the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Art or Architecture, with a cash prize of P10,000.

Hunyango sa Bato, by Abdon M. Balde Jr., UST Publishing House, won the Juan C. Laya Prize for Best Novel in a Vernacular Language, with a cash prize of P20,000.

People on Guerrero Street, by Leoncio P. Deriada, Seguiban Printers, and Women of Tammuz, by Azucena Grajo Uranza, Bookmark, shared the Juan C. Laya Prize for Best Novel in a Foreign Language, with a cash prize of P10,000 each.

Ginto: History Wrought in Gold, by Ramon N. Villegas, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, won in two categories: Best Book in Social Sciences and Best Book Design.

Citations for special achievement were given to Centro Escolar University, Christine S. Bellen, Lucio Gutierrez OP, Cantius J. Kobak OFM, the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, the Philippine Federation of the Deaf, Summit Books, and Rolando B. Tolentino.

The rest of the winners: What the Water Said: Alon Poems, University of San Agustin (Anthology); Rice in the Seven Arts, edited by Paul Blanco Zafaralla, Asia Rice Foundation and Metrobank Foundation (Art Studies); A Cofradia of Two: Oral History on the Family Life and Lay Religiosity of Juan D. Nepomuceno and Teresa G. Nepomuceno of Angeles, Pampanga, by Erlita P. Mendoza, Holy Angel University (Biography & Autobiography); Erick Slumbook: Paglalakbay Kasama Ang Anak Kong Autistic, by Fanny A. Garcia, Anvil (Biography & Autobiography); Driven: How to Make it in Philippine Business, by Class 1971, Asian Institute of Management (Business & Economics); Wealth Within Your Reach: Pera Mo, Palaguin Mo!, by Francisco J. Colayco, Colayco Foundation for Education (Business & Economics);

The Christmas Fireflies, by Girl Valencia, Papertree Publishing (Children’s Literature); The Greediest Rajahs and the Whitest Of Clouds, by Honoel Ibardolaza, Adarna Books (Children’s Literature); The Adobo Book: Traditional and Jazzed-Up Recipes, by Reynaldo Gamboa Alejandro and Nancy Reyes-Lumen, Anvil (Cookbooks & Food); Philippine Markets: Homage to the Hardworking Men and Women of the Market, by Karla P. Delgado, Centro Escolar University (Cookbooks & Food); Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order, by Neferti Xina M. Tadiar, Ateneo de Manila University Press (Cultural Criticism);

Pidgin Levitations, by Ricardo M. De Ungria, designed by Veni L. Ilowa and Ricardo M. de Ungria, UP Press (Design); Oyayi: Sarswela ng Pamilyang Pinoy, by Frank G. Rivera, UST Publishing House (Drama); Helping Our Children Do Well in School: 10 Successful Strategies from the Parents’ Best Practices Study of the Ateneo de Manila High School and A Companion Manual to Helping Our Children Do Well in School: 10 Successful Strategies from the Parents’ Best Practices Study of the Ateneo de Manila High School, by Queena N. Lee-Chua and Ma. Isabel Sison-Dionisio, Anvil (Education); Between the Centuries, by Sylvia L. Mayuga, UP Press (Essay); Looking for Jose Rizal in Madrid: Journeys, Latitudes, Perspectives, Destinations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes, UP Press (Essay); Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands: A Centennial Tribute, 1903-2003, edited by Patricia Okuba Afable, Filipino-Japanese Foundation of Northern Luzon (History); The Law on Alternative Dispute Resolution: Private Justice in the Philippines, How to Resolve Legal Disputes Without a Courtroom Trial, by Jim V. Lopez, Rex Book Store (Law);

English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways To Learn Today’s Global Language, by Jose A. Carillo (Carlos O. Llorin Jr.), Manila Times Publishing (Linguistics); On the Subject of the Nation: Filipino Writings from the Margins, 1981 to 2004, by Caroline S. Hau, ADMU Press (Literary Criticism); Pinoy Jazz Traditions, by Richie C. Quirino, Anvil (Music); In Ordinary Time: Poems, Parables, Poetics, 1973-2003, by Gemino H. Abad, UP Press (Personal Anthology); Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman, Supply Oilfield Services (Photography); A Feast of Origins, by Dinah Roma, UST Publishing House (Poetry); Liyab sa Alaala, by Roberto T. Añonuevo, UST Publishing House (Poetry); Cultural Fictions: Narratives on Philippine Popular Culture, Politics, and Literature, by Isidoro M. Cruz, University of San Agustin (Literary Criticism);

Cadena de Amor and Other Short Stories, by Wilfrido D. Nolledo, UST Publishing House (Short Fiction); On Cursed Ground and Other Stories, by Vicente Garcia Groyon, UP Press (Short Fiction); Mga Aral sa Daan: Dulog at Paraang Kultural sa Kristolohiya, by Jose M. de Mesa, DLSU Press (Theology & Religion); Cuentos Filipinos, by Jose Montero y Vidal, translated by Renan S. Prado, Evelyn C. Soriano, Heide V. Aquino, and Shirley R. Torres, Ateneo de Manila University Press (Translation); Ilocos Norte: A Travel Guidebook, Gameng Foundation (Travel).

It was also announced that critic Soledad S. Reyes of Ateneo de Manila University will join the Manila Critics Circle next year.

The members of the Manila Critics Circle are National Artist Virgilio S. Almario, Juaniyo Arcellana, Cirilo F. Bautista, Miguel A. Bernad SJ, Isagani R. Cruz, Ruel de Vera, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Resil B. Mojares, Danton Remoto, and Alfred A. Yuson.

The awards were sponsored by the National Book Development Board, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Primetrade Asia.

16 February 2005


Understanding Makabayan
from The Philippine Star, 13 January 2005

There is no question that, of all the five learning areas in the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), the most problematic is Makabayan.

Born out of the perceived need to collapse as many subjects as possible into one and the equally urgent need to teach as many subjects as possible, Makabayan appears to be neither here nor there. Sometimes seen merely as a garbage dump of all the other subjects not needed by a growing child, sometimes seen as a miracle cure for the lack of values in Filipino society, sometimes seen as merely a new name for the average of all grades received in all the subjects left out by the four staples, sometimes seen as the Mother of All Subjects, Makabayan has occasioned instant conferences, quickie workshops, loud demonstrations, heated arguments, reversals of official policies, fears of being fired – all symptoms that no one really knows what is going on.

I cannot presume to be an expert on Makabayan, since no one really is right now, but perhaps, as the person who conceptualized the BEC as it now stands (though the movement that reformed the curriculum actually started more than ten years ago in the Department of Education), I may have an insight or two to contribute to the ongoing debate.

What is Makabayan, and why is everyone against it? (To be candid, I have not met many who are for it, except those who are, by virtue of their positions, forced to support it publicly.)

Everyone is against it because no one knows what it is. That is the oversimplified, but nevertheless correct, reason for the desire to remove or distort or neutralize it.

Simply speaking, Makabayan is Values Education.

We have known Values Education by many names. Our parents knew it as Good Manners and Right Conduct, which was not bad, except that it sometimes deteriorated into Etiquette and Passivity. Mainstream America now knows it as being politically incorrect (against gay marriages, against stem cell research, against African Americans and other Americans of color, against wars of liberation, against human rights for terrorists, against civil liberties for foreigners). Malacañang knows it as being for the incumbent president, no matter who it is; anyone with any kind of independent mind is automatically called a destabilizer and, therefore, not makabayan.

What it should really be, however, is education in its classic sense, which is a way to ensure that a child grows up to be an adult.

The question, then, is what is an adult? If we complicate the question by asking what is an adult Filipino, we can now see what the problem is.

Is an adult Filipino one that stays in the country or one that leaves the country? To say that one should stay in the country in order to be a Filipino clearly is plain stupid, because if we all stayed here, no one would be out there sending us dollars to keep our economy afloat. We might all be in the country, but we would all starve together faster than you can say “visa.”

To say, on the other hand, that we should teach all Filipinos how to speak English because they will go abroad is also plain stupid, because only ten percent of our population is abroad. To force 90% of our people to learn something only 10% will use is to oppress the many for the sake of the few.

Numbers, in fact, reveal the lie that is at the root of our identity as Filipinos. We should probably be grateful that so many call centers are based in the Philippines. But how many Filipinos are actually employed by call centers? The latest count says that less than 2% of employable Filipinos work in call centers. In any other field, anything that accounts for only 2% is ignored. (A simple analogy: there is more than a 2% chance that you will be run over if you cross the street, but everyone, without exception, crosses the street anyway.)

Why, then, are universities educating Filipinos for call centers? In fact, why are universities educating anybody at all, since the figures for unemployment among college graduates is, to put it mildly, disturbing?

If universities were really doing their jobs well, why do companies still have training programs for new hires? On the other hand, if companies think that they can do better than universities, why do they require university diplomas of applicants?

What I am driving at is simple. We do not know what it means to be an adult Filipino. We do not know if an adult Filipino should or should not speak Filipino, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Chinese, Arabic, English, or whatever. We do not know if an adult Filipino should know how to operate the latest nursing equipment that can be found only abroad and not here. We do not know if an adult Filipino should be working in a farm to begin with, since that is where the bulk of our population works.

Because we do not know what the child should grow up to be, we have no idea how to make that child grow up. There is no problem with the tool subjects of Filipino, English, Math, and Science. Every child in every country needs to know a native language, an international language, the language of math and business, and the language of science and technology.

But there is a big problem with being a Filipino child in the Philippines. That problem is the problem of the Filipino identity, which is also a problem of Filipino values. That problem is supposed to be addressed by Makabayan. That Makabayan has to address a problem that has no solution in sight is the root cause of the confusion regarding what the learning area should be.
My answer is simple: Makabayan is nothing else but Values Education. Perhaps, in fact, it is time to rename Makabayan into what it really is and should be – Values Education.

Makabayan as Integrative
from The Philippine Star, 27 January 2005

When Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient thinkers spoke or wrote about anything, they did not classify themselves the way we do now. They were not specialists, but generalists. They were not lawyers, doctors, nurses, journalists, artists, economists, or whatever. They were, for lack of a better word, philosophers.

When Jesus, Muhammad, and other great religious leaders spoke or wrote about God, they did not classify themselves as Christians, Muslims, or whatever, the way we do now. They thought of themselves as God’s servants, children, or creatures. They were, for lack of a better word, human beings.

Today, if we talk to literary critics, social scientists, physicists, and just about anybody in academe, we will hear pretty much the same names and terms, such as Freud, Marx, Chardin, Lacan, Foucault, and so on. Fields of knowledge today are coming together in a way not seen since antiquity or, to a lesser degree, during the Renaissance. The splitting up of Truth into areas of specialization has stopped, and the world is returning to the days when everybody studied everything.

The learning area Makabayan reflects this trend towards being integrative and generalist, rather than narrowly specialist as in the early twentieth century, when our present system of public education started. In fact, the entire Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) is integrative, with the five learning areas merging seamlessly into each other.

Even the two languages, which should be taught separately, for example, actually depend on each other: in an English class, difficult English terms are defined through translations into the vernacular languages; in a Filipino class, English terms are employed to fill in missing words in the vernaculars. Math and Science, though separate subjects, clearly cannot be understood without referring to each other: math has little practical use except in science and technology, and science and technology cannot be learned without also learning math.

Filipino, English, Math, and Science are tool subjects. That means that they are to be used to understand or to do something else. That something else is Makabayan. Makabayan is the subject in which the students learns what the world is, what life is all about, how to live life, how to become human. As the Filipino proverb goes, it is easy to be born human, it is something else to become human. Or as the feminists say, one is not born a woman but has to become one.

In Makabayan, students learn about the world. In particular, they learn about their world, which is, first of all, their local community, secondly, their country, thirdly, the earth, and finally, the universe (including the unseen part of it, often called the supernatural).

Makabayan, then, is the logical culmination of the long tradition of human thought, from Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Muhammad, and so on, down to the most recent movements (such as Complexity Theory, the Theory of Everything, and stuff like that) derived from modern thinkers like Freud, Marx, Chardin, Lacan, and Foucault.

In the old days, Makabayan would be called philosophy, but even philosophy today has become a specialization, with people actually taking a doctorate in it. The tradition of philosophy being integrative, of course, persists with the academic practice of calling doctorate degrees Doctor of Philosophy or PhD, even if the student majors in something like Computer Science or Accounting. There are attempts to move away from calling all doctoral degrees philosophy (such as Doctor of Fine Arts or Doctor in Business Management), but by and large, such degrees have not displaced the PhD from its exalted position in academe.

Makabayan is an attempt to bring basic education in step with the latest movements in higher education. Just as colleges now offer Philippine Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, and the like, in an attempt to break the stranglehold of specialization, our elementary and high schools now offer Makabayan as the integrative content learning area.

When we talk about being human, we are really talking about values. Values Education itself, unfortunately, was taken in by the trend towards specialization; there are actually graduate programs in it! If we go back to the old meaning of values, however, we will realize that Makabayan and Values Education are really synonyms.
We can see this if we take any description of Values Education and match that with the DepEd description of Makabayan. Take, for instance, Jesuit Vitaliano Gorospe’s explanation of former Education USEC Minda Sutaria’s values outline: “A Filipino experiences family closeness and solidarity (pagpapahalaga sa pamilya), politeness (use of po or ho), hospitality (tuloy po kayo), gratitude (utang na loob) from ‘within,’ that is, subjectively and emotionally, unlike a non-Filipino observer, social scientist, or psychologist who studies Filipino values objectively from ‘without’ or ‘from a distance.’ Such Filipino values as social acceptance (pakikisama, amor propio), economic security (pagmamay-ari), and trust in God (paniniwala sa Diyos, bathala or Maykapal) find their philosophical basis in man’s [sic] dynamic openness toward nature and the world (e.g., the value of hanap-buhay ng magsasaka), one’s fellowmen [sic] (the values of paggalang, hiya, katarungan, pag-ibig), and God (the values of pananampalataya, pananalangin, kabanalan).” In that description can be seen all the subjects that are now integrated into Makabayan.

Makabayan Decalogue
from The Philippine Star, 26 May 2005

To understand Makabayan, we can recite ten descriptors or principles.

First, Makabayan is a work-in-progress, not a completed work. Because each high school holds (or is supposed to hold) regular sessions among its Makabayan teachers where continuous integration of lessons takes place, there is no single Makabayan curriculum completely applicable to all schools. Strictly speaking, there is no Makabayan, but there are Makabayans. There can also be no fixed list of lessons and competencies, because each school designs Makabayan according to the changing needs of its students and the community to which it belongs.

Second, Makabayan is a work-in-progress from below, not from above. Because no human being can possibly understand all the aspects of Makabayan (from cooking to car repair to website design to martial arts to all sorts of other intelligences, skills, and knowledge areas), no one in the Central Office of the Department of Education can dictate what the individual schools need to do. Just to take a simple example, take an agricultural high school in a place where there is no electricity and where people usually eat only one meal a day. How can someone in Metro Manila, used to computers connected to the internet, figure out what competencies students in that school must have in order to find a job? The content of Makabayan has to come from the schools themselves, not from any central office.

Third, Makabayan is our responsibility, not that of DepEd. Because the human beings we are educating are our own children or the children of our neighbors, we are responsible for the content of Makabayan. We know what we want our children to become. As Secretary Abad has put it in management terms, school governance has to be local, not regional nor national. Abad has correctly challenged parents to govern schools themselves.

Fourth, Makabayan, like the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), is integrative. It is a mistake of many high schools today to treat Makabayan as merely the total of several separate subject areas. The original Department Order that created Makabayan stated very clearly that the duration of the pilot project was only one year. We are way past that one year. It is a violation of the Department Order for any school to still add and average grades taken from separate subjects. There should by now be only one grade for Makabayan, not a mere average of several grades. The idea of Makabayan is to integrate previously distinct subjects, not merely to put them together mechanically.

Fifth, Makabayan has the psychomotor objective of engaging the multiple intelligences of students. Most schools now realize that Makabayan does not address merely the cognitive aspect of the human being. Since what used to be called Physical Education is part of Makabayan, for example, teachers that used to teach only history or art must integrate physical exercises into their lessons.

Sixth, Makabayan has the cognitive objective of acquainting students with the way the human body works in the context of human society. The object of study in Makabayan is the human body. That is why learning to swim, learning to cook, and learning to plant are part of Makabayan. But since each human being lives within a community (from the local one to the global one), students have to study the way the human being depends for its very existence on the way society is structured. The body, after all, contains not only muscles but a brain, which is obviously affected by, say, the amount of oxygen in the air – a product of the number of trees in the area (something one learns in geography and social studies, not to mention science).

Seventh, Makabayan has the affective objective of socializing students in the context of their own generation. All education is meant to train students to live as adults. They will all become adults only in the future, not today. The world in which they have to live is not the world their teachers live in and are familiar with. It is important that students learn to live with their own contemporaries. That is why a huge portion of the Makabayan period is devoted to activities that allow students to talk and act with their classmates.

Eighth, Makabayan is the content part of the BEC, for which Filipino, English, Math, and Science are tools. The other four learning areas in the curriculum are merely tool subjects. They are means to an end. The end is Makabayan, which contains such topics as history, etiquette, and values – in other words, what life is really all about.

Ninth, Makabayan prepares students for the long term goal of lifelong learning and the short-term goal of earning a livelihood. Because students have to live in a future world that their teachers have no experience with, Makabayan focuses on how to learn rather than what to learn. This does not mean, of course, that Makabayan is a skills course. In fact, Makabayan is a content course, but that content must be taught with a practical end in view – to allow the students to find a livelihood, either by themselves as entrepreneurs or family employees, or as employees or managers in corporations. In some schools, for example, students learn to fix electronic equipment or to fish or to drive during their Makabayan sessions. The ultimate objective of the entire BEC, in fact, is to make the students already employable by the end of high school (the way Americans, for example, get hired immediately after high school).

Finally, Makabayan is the heart of the BEC. The curriculum exists for only one purpose – to prepare students to become adults. Although every adult has to know a language to communicate with others in the community (Filipino) and elsewhere (English), has to understand how the world works (Science), and has to manage finances (Math), an educated adult needs to become responsible for the community, the nation, and the whole world (Makabayan). The four tool subjects train, but Makabayan educates students.