Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC (The Philippine Star, 2 February 2006)
His death last Sunday (29 January 2006) came as a shock because it was expected. Lying in a hospital bed for the last two months of his life, Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, had kept the hopes of his friends alive by looking like he would soon stand up and do what he had always done – look into the future and see what could be done.
Beyond any doubt, Brother Andrew was one of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived. He was an inspiration to everyone he met, and he met just about everyone.
His achievements, listed even in small print, fill up dozens of pages. He was, for example, internationally recognized for his scholarly work on linguistics. As Secretary of Education, he introduced reforms in our public education system that, until today, are changing the way millions of schoolchildren are learning.
His greatest achievement, of course, was De La Salle University. I am currently writing the history of DLSU after 1972, and it has become clearer and clearer to me that it is no exaggeration to say that, for the last thirty years, DLSU was Brother Andrew. He built it to become what it is now – a huge, multi-campus university recognized internationally as one of only a handful of Philippine universities that matter.
During the launch at DLSU in 2002 of his book An Unfinished Symphony: 934 Days at DECS, I delivered the following remarks, part of which I reprint as a way to honor him in death as I honored him in life:
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this hall, this campus, this university, a university that grew primarily because of the vision of Brother Andrew when he was its president and continues to grow academically and into a research university under his care as Vice-President for Academics and Research.
Today we close a chapter in the continuing epic novel that is the life of Brother Andrew. It is a life full of exciting chapters, and the chapter documented in the book clearly ranks among the most exciting of them. If we were to use the metaphor he uses to structure the book we are launching today, we can also say that, today, we finish listening to his playing of a short but complex musical piece in his inexhaustible repertoire of masterpieces.
By putting down in black and white his memories of and his insights into the 934 days he spent as Secretary of the largest agency of government, Brother Andrew has put a closure to this part of his life. He can now go on with the rest of his life, which, if inertia of movement applies, if the wave that defines his life continues to move across the seas of academe and of the country, should be as hectic and vigorous as these 934 days.
Allow me to hum to you a few bars from the unfinished symphony that, except for Brother Andrew’s humility, should really be called a finished one, since he finished, in 934 days, many more than 934 things.
Just like any other symphony, this one has low notes and high notes. First, the low notes. The book goes through the ones we all remember – the stormy confirmation hearings at the Commission on Appointments, the ugly episode involving Celia Ejercito de Castro, and the notorious purchase of the Expedition. It also goes through the less public ones, such as the reassignment of Superintendents upon pressure from politicians. I understand that several lawyers went through the manuscript to remove from it all libelous material. Clearly, the unexpurgated edition would have painted the events more accurately, if more dangerously.
Let us focus on the high notes, the ones that challenge composers and musicians, and, if this were an opera, sopranos. Come to think of it, perhaps an opera would be a better metaphor than a symphony, because the twists and turns of the plot of these 934 days would do proud any opera librettist.
The high notes. The first is the price of textbooks. During his term, Brother Andrew was able to cut down the price of textbooks by as much as 35% in 1999 and a further 30% of the remaining 65% in 2000 for World Bank purchases.
The second is the clothing allowance. Before Brother Andrew, corrupt suppliers would corner the clothing allowances of teachers, since all uniforms were purchased in bulk and it was thus easy to talk to and bribe only a couple of people. Brother Andrew distributed the clothing allowance to each of the almost half-a-million teachers, making it unprofitable, not to mention impossible, to bribe one’s way to a uniform supply contract.
The third high note is the number of schoolrooms Brother Andrew constructed during his term. In 1999, using both government money and money from private sector donors, he was able to build more than 7,000 new classrooms. In 2000, he built another 7,000 new classrooms.
The fourth high note is the revision of the curriculum. Brother Andrew, being an educator all his life, knew that, in all the studies of our educational system, the issue of the overcrowded curriculum has been raised. In fact, all previous secretaries of education tried their hand at solving the problem of the overcrowded, and therefore, ineffective curriculum. Brother Andrew had a novel solution to the problem: he ordered that textbooks be bought only for five core subjects, namely, Filipino, English, Araling Panlipunan, Mathematics, and Science. Although he did not abolish the other subjects, he, in effect, marginalized them by not giving them textbooks.
There’s a lot more in this book than I have given you as a teaser. There are, for instance, explanations of Brother Andrew’s stand on the loan deductions and the corresponding service fees, his close encounters with the rich and famous who unfortunately became rich and famous by corrupting some people at DECS, and not least of all, his reasons for not resigning early from Erap’s cabinet contra mundum.
Rest in peace, Brother Andrew! Although I am not the pope and cannot declare you a saint, I am sure that you are now in heaven with the Lord you devoted your life to.