31 December 2007

Fr. Miguel A. Bernad SJ

Of the many things in my life I regret doing or not doing, one thing I regret very much is not having met the deadline to contribute to the festschrift in honor of Miguel A. Bernad SJ, now published by Xavier University as a special issue of Kinaadman (Wisdom): A Journal of the Southern Philippines (volume 29, 2007).

I regret this act of omission for two main reasons.

First, I would have loved to bask in the reflected glory of such writers as Gemino H. Abad, Patricio N. Abinales, Gregorio C. Brillantes, Linda Ty Casper, Leonard R. Casper, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, Christine Godinez Ortega, Azucena G. Uranza, and the other contributors to the volume, all of whom took the time to write essays in honor of the country’s pioneer in the field of literary criticism.

Second, I owe a lot to Fr. Bernad.

While I was with the Society of Jesus, he was my regular bridge partner. He played (maybe still plays) bridge the way he writes – looking not at the most efficient or coldblooded way of winning tricks or points at the table, but at the most elegant.

I learned a lot from him about how to survive the brickbats that inevitably come across a writer’s way. He simply labels people of lesser intelligence and breeding as “obnoxious.” Being obnoxious, such critics or crabs are not allowed to enter his select universe and, therefore, do not matter and cannot affect his writing.

He has always been one of my models for good teaching. He does not come into the classroom with a book or textbook that he then merely paraphrases or elaborates on. He teaches from books implanted in his mind. He infuses literary texts with wisdom gained from years of study and experience. He quotes from Shakespeare and Dante (and, of course, the Bible) from memory. I have a terrible memory, but during the few times that I recite lines of poetry from memory in my classes, I always see the eyes of my students light up. Nothing can inspire students to read more than a teacher quoting a book from memory.

As a colleague in the Manila Critics Circle, he has always been very supportive of our efforts to establish a reading culture in the country. Several times in the recent past, he has tried to resign from the group, citing his difficulty reading with his failing eyesight, but at all those times, I have simply ignored his letters of resignation. I think he understands what I am trying to do with the Circle. I want not just to capitalize on his name, but to have him around to exploit his wisdom. He contributes to the group what none of us have – personal experience of having lived and worked during those earlier times when our literature was still inchoate, because writers were just starting to learn how to write in English after having learned how to write in Spanish. In the Circle, he is our sense of history.

On the rare occasions when he disagreed with the views of the majority of the members of the Circle, he would lay down his arguments in pure classical fashion, with a logic that even those of us already in the postmodern mode could appreciate.

I am sorry I could not attend the joint academic convocation last Dec. 18 of Xavier University, Ateneo de Davao University, and Ateneo de Zamboanga University conferring on Fr. Bernad an honorary doctorate. (It was the first time the three universities conferred a common degree on anyone.) I hope my absence will not qualify me for inclusion in his list of obnoxious people.

Thank you, Fr. Bernad, not only for the kind words you said about me in the Festschrift, but for the kind deeds you have been doing all these forty years I have known you. (The Philippine Star, 27 December 2007)

16 December 2007

Ranking Universities

How seriously should we take the Times Higher Education Supplement World University Rankings?

Very seriously. Not because the rankings are accurate, since there are a number of questions that can be and have been raised about the criteria used, but because foundations around the world prefer to fund universities on the list rather than those not on the list.

It makes good business sense for universities to try to get high rankings in this annual survey.

Times has announced the top 400 universities in the world. On top of the list are the usual ones (in order): Harvard (undisputed 1st place), Cambridge, Oxford, and Yale (tied for 2nd place), Imperial College London, Princeton, Caltech and Chicago (tied for 7th place), University College London, and MIT.

Oxford, Yale, Imperial, Princeton, and Chicago moved up from their rankings last year. The most spectacular rise is recorded by University College London, which was only 25th last year. Going down in reputation and quality are MIT, Stanford (6th last year to 19th this year), and UC Berkeley (8th to 22nd).

How do universities in Asia compare with the best in the world?

The top Asian, non-ASEAN university is Tokyo (17th), followed closely by Hong Kong (18th from 33rd last year). Kyoto is in 25th place, followed by Peking (36th), Chinese University of Hong Kong (38th), Tsinghua (40th), Osaka (46th), Seoul (51st), and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (53rd).

For ASEAN, the top university is still National University of Singapore, though it has moved down to 33rd from 19th last year. Following NUS are Nanyang (69th), Chulalongkorn (223rd), Malaya (246th), Sains (307th), Kebangsaan (309th), Gadja Mada (360th), Putra (364th), Bandung (369th), and Indonesia (395th).

The University of the Philippines is tied for 398th to 400th place, at the very bottom of the list but at least still world-ranked.

The Times criteria have remained the same: peer review of research quality (40%), citations per faculty (20%), graduate employability or recruiter review (10%), proportion of international faculty (5%), proportion of international students (5%), and teaching quality reflected in student/faculty ratio (20%). The amount of money that pours into a university is not considered a factor in the rankings (although, of course, the less non-tuition money, the more students per faculty).

Times, however, has revised the way it uses its criteria for this year’s rankings. The biggest change is the removal of Thomson ISI from the Times process. Instead, Times now uses Scopus, which according to Times, “has a less pronounced bias towards the US, resulting in a reduced advantage in their favor in this indicator, covers a larger number of papers and journals overall leading to greater representation from lesser known universities and institutions from academic systems with less emphasis on publication, and covers more sources in languages other than English resulting in better numbers for institutions with large volumes of high quality research in their own language.”

This is a welcome development. I have time and again attacked the bias displayed by Thomson ISI in their listing, and I am really happy that Times has dropped Thomson ISI.

Another welcome change is the use of standard scores (z-scores), which are much more reliable than the type Times used last year. This change has removed the bias for universities that excel only in a few areas. The list now reflects overall excellence.

In listing the world’s top universities, Times uses the following criteria: peer review (40%), employer review (10%), staff per student (20%), citations per staff (20%), international staff (5%), and international students (5%).

Let us look at each of these criteria.

Times says: “The core of our methodology is the belief that expert opinion is a valid way to assess the standing of top universities. The opinions are gathered, like the rest of the rankings data, by our partners QS Quacquarelli Symonds (www.topuniversities.com), which has built up a database of e-mail addresses of active academics across the world. They are invited to tell QS what area of academic life they come from, choosing from science, biomedicine, technology, social science or the arts and humanities. They are then asked to list up to 30 universities that they regard as the leaders in the academic field they know about, and in 2007 we have strengthened our measures to prevent anyone voting for his or her own institution. This year we have the opinions of 5,101 experts, of whom 41 per cent are in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 30 per cent in the Americas, and 29 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Since peer review is really a popularity contest among academics, the results depend on who are doing the voting. If Philippine universities want to be included in the list, they must be proactive as far as academic opinion is concerned. We have numerous Ph.D. holders in our universities. We should have ourselves listed in the QS database. This is not difficult; all we have to do is to send our names online. We cannot vote for our own universities, but we can vote for other Philippine universities. If we vote for each other, our peer review scores will rise. I am not completely sure that this is ethical, but if we do not look out for each other, who will look out for us?

The next criterion – employer review – is something we do not have to worry about. Because of the large number of Filipino college graduates going abroad, numerous employers all over the world are aware of our universities. This does not mean that, ideologically speaking, we should be educating for overseas employment, but since the majority of our graduates apparently go abroad anyway, and since our economy depends on remittances, there is not much we can do to reverse the OFW phenomenon.

The third criterion – staff per student – is something we can do something about. Our universities, by and large, depend on student tuition for their income. That is why we pack students into classrooms, thus enlarging our class sizes and decreasing the ratio of staff (faculty) to students.

That is not the case with the top universities in the world. Other universities earn money outside of tuition. For example, like many top universities, Oxford and Stanford have malls inside their campuses. Like other top universities, Harvard earns from the patents of every invention produced by its faculty. This may sound like heresy to Filipino professors, but it is about time that our universities claim the intellectual rights to everything produced by professors during their time of employment. Since full-time professors are legally obliged to work for 40 hours a week, this means, in effect, that every invention or creation done by a professor is owned completely by her or his university.

A major criterion used by Times is the number of citations researchers in a university get in scholarly journals and books.

This is the way the process works. A scholar writes a book or journal article. Another scholar refers to that book or article. The citation by the second scholar is listed by Thomson ISI, Scopus, and similar databases. The more citations by the second and succeeding scholars a book or article receives, the higher the score is for the university of the original scholar.

Since ISI or Scopus cannot cover all the books and journals being published every year (not even Google Scholar does), there are a number of journals that are considered major. These are the only ones actually covered by the databases. (There is a theory justifying the choice of only a few journals. Early this year, I argued in Canada against this outdated theory.) These journals are known as ISI or Scopus journals.

Libraries around the world, not having enough money to subscribe to the more than 36,000 journals, limit their subscriptions to the ISI or Scopus-listed journals. This means that scholars cite only articles in these journals, not those in non-listed journals. There is, then, a Catch-22 situation here for us: in order for Philippine journals to be listed, they must be read by foreign scholars, but foreign scholars cannot read them unless they are already listed.

One way to break this impasse is to send complimentary copies to libraries around the world. This is extremely expensive, and our universities cannot afford to do this while waiting to be cited.

An easier and less expensive way is to go online. There are a number of Philippine journals online (those published by Ateneo, IRRI, UP, to cite a few), but with the billions of websites online, there is little chance for these journals to be included by Google Scholar on its first few search pages.

One solution is something that I am currently trying to push. There is an NGO in London called International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP). It puts journals from underread countries on their website, thus ensuring greater visibility on the Web. I have already obtained the commitment of INASP to include our journals on its site.

The INASP Philippine representative is Lourdes David of Ateneo’s Rizal Library. David and I have written to most Philippine universities to have their journals included in a project I have called Philippine Journals Online.

Asia-Pacific College has offered to host the journals on its IBM and SM-funded state-of-the-art computers. C&E Publishing has offered to translate the articles in the journals to a form readable by Open Journal Systems, the open-source software developed by Canada and used by INASP.

Once our journals are online and retrievable via London and Google Scholar, we can expect scholars around the world to read us and eventually to cite us. If citation is the name of the game, this is the way to compete.

Another Times criterion is the number or percentage of international teachers in a university. Having taught in various universities abroad, I know how important it is for “locals” to interact with visiting professors.

Inbreeding or having only locals teaching locals is the worst thing that can happen to a university, since it is the equivalent of marrying only within one’s clan. There are many ways, not all of them expensive, to get foreigners to teach in our universities.

The last Times criterion is the number or percentage of international students in a university. This is one way to solve two problems at the same time. The first is income. International students bring in foreign currency. The second is the use of English. The simplest way to encourage Filipino students to practice speaking English on campus is to let them have international students as classmates. (The Philippine Star, 30 November, 7 & 14 December 2007)

25 November 2007

The Future of Accreditation

I was asked to react to a paper on "PAASCU at 50: Raising the Standards
of Excellence in Philippine Education" by Fr. Antonio S. Samson, S.J., President of Ateneo de Davao University, at the PAASCU General Assembly held in Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan City, Philippines, last 23 November 2007. ("PAASCU" stands for Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities.) These are the remarks I made:

Fr. Samson raised several points. I shall react to four of them.

First, he has correctly pointed out that we have globalized in two ways. We have established linkages with associations abroad that now recognize our process, and we are about to accredit institutions outside the country. Our coming out into the world logically follows our looking beyond CEAP to non-CEAP schools. Globalization is an inevitable, necessary, and good development of PAASCU.

Second, Fr. Samson has pointed to the need to develop new instruments for new programs and new conditions. He mentioned architecture, marine engineering and transportation, and he also mentioned voc-tech and foreign students. We are expanding not only geographically but also disciplinally. A new condition is, of course, IQuAME. Far be it from me to champion this mongrel of dubious birth, but like Leibniz who thought that there is always something good in everything, even the most evil of things (I think it was Leibniz, because otherwise, my philosophy teacher Dr. Ramon Reyes, PAASCU president, will recall my grade), Fr. Samson has asked us to examine our consciences to see if we do not, indeed, focus enough on outcomes, as IQuAME claims it does. I agree that we should always be sceptical of ourselves, just to keep us honest, but I do not share his optimism that talking to CHED about IQuAME is worth our time. Having tried for more than ten years as a member of one of CHED’s technical panels to change CHED from within, I think talking to the so-called commissioners would be an exercise in superhuman patience. Fr. Samson would be better off talking to his fellow Jesuit, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, who is now de facto the Education Czar, since the real Education Czar, Mona Valisno, consults him. As for foreign students, we should be flattered that other people are asking us to teach them. The universities in their countries usually rank higher than ours in the Times Higher Education Supplement survey. That reminds me. Perhaps we might want to include in our graduate school area of research the requirement of Times that faculty publish in ISI-listed journals.

Third, about deregulation and autonomy. Together with some of the PAASCU members in this room, I was involved in this CHED project. Let me say that, if we were accrediting CHED in this area, we would not even recommend a consultancy to determine readiness. I do not share Fr. Samson’s optimistic view that, if CHED finally comes up with the list, some or even a few of our problems will be solved. Remember how we felt the first time around? The original lists raised more questions than they answered. By the way, the non-accreditors in CHED are now demanding that autonomous schools should follow the tedious process that non-autonomous schools go through to get permits for new course offerings. That’s what we get when people have no accrediting experience. As the late Education Secretary Raul Roco famously put it when he was asked why he did not approve of charter change, why change the charter when we can always do anything under it? Frankly, what does autonomy really give an institution that it cannot get if it knew how to get things done within the self-contradictory bureaucracy of CHED? And while we are on the subject of autonomy, Fr. Samson has correctly alerted our basic education schools to DepEd Order 32, series of 2006, which expands the arena of struggle about autonomy from CHED to DepEd. Since DepEd is even more self-contradictory than CHED, there is even more we can do because of that Order.

Fourth, Fr. Samson talked about institutional accreditation, which we have with our Level 4 and which we really have no choice but to have, since we practically do it anyway.

I want to say something of my own about institutional accreditation and autonomy and the general idea that some schools should be able to do pretty much what they want to do. If we look at the educational system as a whole, it is important that some parts of it, even just a few parts, should be at the margins, or probably better-put, at the cutting edge or frontier. Some schools should be innovating. In effect, they will be the R&D of the system. To innovate, these schools have to have autonomy in the real sense, that is, that they should not be subject to the confusing directives of either DepEd or CHED and perhaps not even to the clear criteria that PAASCU itself uses for accreditation. Because we are not divine, these schools are bound to make mistakes, plenty of them. Like the dot.com phenomenon, perhaps they will succeed only 10% of the time. But that 10% might spell the difference between life and death for all our schools.

Let me take a simple example. Fr. Samson mentions the decrease in enrolment in our schools. Within the paradigm that we now follow, that sounds like a really bad thing. If we look at autonomous or institutionally accredited schools as our R&D, however, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, our taipans always say that every disaster spells opportunity. Maybe the decrease in enrolment is heaven-sent. Why and how should we profit from the apparently unstoppable exodus of students to SUCs, to call centers, to jobs abroad? This is precisely why we need autonomous schools to think for us, to think not just outside the box, not just to break the rules, but to do what academic institutions are supposed to do, to challenge received wisdom, to discover or constitute new truths, to shift the paradigm. We can call it institutional accreditation or autonomy or whatever, but whatever it is, we have to identify, not to reward, but to provoke institutions with proven quality to show us the way out of the educational disaster that we are currently experiencing.

When PAASCU was first conceived, it was, above all, a revolutionary idea. PAASCU should remain revolutionary. That is the only way for us to continue to make a difference. Thank you.

14 November 2007

CyberEd 101

Charges of corruption and overpricing miss the point. The Philippine Department of Education's CyberEd is a bad project not because of politics or economics, but because it makes no sense from the educational point of view.

CyberEd envisions one channel per grade level (6 for elementary and 4 for high school), plus two extra channels for teachers and officials, for a total of 12.
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all schools already have electricity, that all classrooms have TV sets and computers capable of receiving the 12 channels, and that each school has enough money to pay for electricity and maintenance costs. (I am using assumptions contrary to fact to show that, even under ideal conditions, the project is nonsense.)

Take a Grade 3 class. Suppose it is 8 a.m. and students are watching a program on Channel 3 (for Grade 3) of CyberEd. Say the program has a master teacher giving a lesson in English. Let us even assume that the students learn from the master teacher (a contentious point in educational theory). Instead of a master teacher, the lesson can feature a canned educational program; my point will still be the same. I am using DepEd’s Single Session Sample A schedule for Grade 3.
What happens at 9:40 a.m.? The students go on recess. For the sake of argument, let us say that Channel 3 now broadcasts inspirational shorts or advertisements. Let us even assume that the students watch the intermission materials while having their meals.

What happens at 9:55 a.m.? Channel 3 shows a lesson in Mathematics.

From 11:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there will be no one in the classroom, because the students go out to have their lunch. Channel 3 goes dark. That is not so bad, because the network station at least will save some power costs.

At 1 p.m., Channel 3 goes back on air to show a lesson in Science and Health.

At 1:40 p.m., Channel 3 shows a lesson in Filipino.

At 3:00 p.m., it is recess time again, and Channel 3 shows more inspirational shorts or advertisements.

At 3:15 p.m., Channel 3 shows a lesson in Makabayan.

At 4:15 p.m., Channel 3 signs off, because the students are now out of school.

What is wrong with this picture?

Any teacher can spot the educational problem immediately. Students do not learn at the same pace. Section 1 may grasp the lesson immediately, but Section 5 will need another day to finish the lesson. But Channel 3 assumes that all students learn at exactly the same pace all throughout the country. The lesson for today assumes that the students have learned the lessons beamed yesterday.

In educational terms, CyberEd is not learner-centered and contradicts the DepEd and UNESCO philosophy of learning.

Furthermore, any DepEd official with some experience in education can spot the scheduling problem immediately. Not all schools use the Single Session Sample A schedule. Some use the Single Session Sample B schedule, which has Filipino at 8:40 a.m., Mathematics at 9:45 a.m., English repeating at 1 p.m., and so on.

Worse, plenty of schools do not hold single sessions but double sessions, which means that English is taught at 6 a.m. and it is Filipino that is being taught at 8 a.m., when Channel 3 broadcasts its English lesson. There are even schools with three shifts, which means that, at 8 a.m., the students are either on recess or learning Filipino.

If DepEd insists, to correct the scheduling problem, that all schools teach English at the same time, then we run into what Gloria Arroyo got so angry about when confronted with the unfavorable ratio of students to classrooms: only if schools go on multiple shifts can the ratio look good on paper. Your guess is as good as mine why Arroyo does not go ballistic with CyberEd for making her look stupid.

The Online Journal of Space Communication carries, in its Spring 2007 issue, several articles surveying the experience of various countries with the kind of distance education that DepEd wants to set up.

CHINA: There are three projects for basic education in China: the Western Primary and Junior Secondary Schools Project, the Distance Education for Primary and Junior Secondary Schools in the Countryside Project, and the Bainian Shuren Group.

The first is on its pilot stage and serves only 10,000 schools.

The second offers laser discs and computers to schools, not the live broadcasts that DepEd envisions.

The third has over 100 channels, running 24 hours a day, but covers only 5,000 schools. In contrast, DepEd wants to have 12 channels covering at least 25,000 schools.

What does Tsinghua University say about its own experience in distance education? Speaking in Singapore in 2003, Feiyu Kang of Tsinghua said that all their students were at the college level or were out-of-school youth, not in basic education. Why is DepEd working with Tsinghua on CyberEd?

If DepEd is so enamored of Chinese technology, why doesn’t it follow the Chinese government policy of “progressing step by step”?

THAILAND: Thailand has had 12 years experience with exactly the kind of network DepEd wants. Says one article: “The Thai Schoolnet network was reaching over 35,000 primary, secondary and vocational schools nationwide by 2006. Schoolnet supports a mix of infrastructures that include dial up, ADSL, WiFi and two-way satellite depending on which technologies are most accessible and appropriate for a specific area or school.”

This is the concluding sentence in the assessment: “Attention must also be given to the appropriateness of the infrastructure for the desired applications on the ground.” That is the technojargon way of saying that there is a mismatch between the hardware and what teachers actually do in the classroom.

One of the key problems confronting DepEd’s CyberEd project is its putting the cart before the horse: it wants to put up the infrastructure before it has determined what the applications on the ground will be. You can bet the entire national budget that CyberEd will fail, because DepEd decided to put up 12 channels before figuring out what to show on those channels.

INDONESIA: The Indonesia Distance Education Satellite System (SISDIKSAT) caters only to college students. Nevertheless, one of its own findings – that despite initial acceptance by students, the system has become unpopular – is noteworthy: “There was a drop from 46% to 12% in the number of students who believed that SISDIKSAT teachers were better than their local instructors. In almost all cases, the SISDIKSAT teachers had higher academic qualifications than local teaching staff, so students were not using that as an indicator of better quality. It does not appear either that their evaluation was based on the dedication of the teachers nor by the degree of student interaction allowed by the teacher. Interviews with some classes indicated that many students preferred instructors who covered the course content at a leisurely pace that all students could follow.”

The DepEd CyberEd project will force every student to study at exactly the same pace. That does not work with college students and it will definitely not work with younger ones.

INDIA: India’s experience is even more telling: “It took nearly a decade and the expansion of the number of network production centres to 17 for Indian higher education to be completely self-sufficient in programming for the one-hour slot.” If it takes ten years to do programs to fill one hour, how long will it take to do programs for several hours on 12 channels?

India recalls its own experience in basic education: “There were five independent educational channels, named after characters from Hindu mythology. None had enough programmes to run a channel independently. None had resources to step up the production capability or capacity.” India calls this “depressing,” because their EDUSAT was supposed to carry 72 channels.

If India cannot even put up one complete channel for basic education, how can we have 12?

The lesson from international experience with projects similar to DepEd’s CyberEd is clear: it takes a very long time to do such a project and, at the end of the day, no country has claimed complete success with the kind of hardware we are eager to buy.

DepEd has answered some of the points I raised about CyberEd. I quote from DepEd’s long rejoinder, with my comments.

“Isagani Cruz, being a former Undersecretary of DepEd, could have requested DepEd a full and private briefing on CyberEd but he did not. He could have engaged us in a productive dialogue but he did not. We wish to tell him that we in DepEd hold him in such high respect that it would only take one phone call from him for us to come rushing and eager to brief him. We could have clarified his concerns or comments. In fact, we would most welcome his proposals and ideas. But he chose to do this in public and would want to engage DepEd in a public debate (as if we had all the time and energy to do that at DepEd).”

Thank you for the kind words, but I attended a briefing by Secretary Jesli Lapus himself. It was a briefing attended mainly by university presidents, former DepEd secretaries and undersecretaries, and former CHED commissioners. Lapus started the briefing by announcing that “CyberEd is the best thing that has happened to Philippine education since the coming of the Thomasites.” Frankly, how he could have dismissed in one sentence the entire history of Philippine education in the 20th century is beyond my understanding.

“The CyberEd proposes to install servers (high capacity PCs) in each school capable of recording or saving live broadcasts. These servers are also envisioned to be capable of storing reference learning materials for easy access of local teachers. It is also designed to download materials from a Central Repository or from the WWW that will help the teacher teach his/her class better. Through this capability, therefore, we envision the following:

“1) while the live broadcast of the master teacher takes care of the main body of learners (supplemented by the local teachers during the rest of the class hours when the broadcast is not live during the same hour), the local teacher can now have some leeway to take care of the advanced learners and the laggards by downloading beforehand materials with which both ends of the learners can work on (advanced materials for those fast learners and further working materials for those lagging behind). Given the rich availability of stored and downloadable materials, the local teachers can now plan ahead on how to engage his/her class more effectively;

“2) since live broadcasts are and can be saved, these can be replayed for slow learners at special appointed hours: replayed and replayed even in slow motion if things are really difficult for some learners;

“3) since broadcasts can be saved and can be played at will, those schools with different schedules can arrange these replays quite easily. In fact, this is perfect for those affected by suspension of classes due to typhoons or whatever other reasons. This way every school and every child will have the chance of getting the same quality inputs wherever they are in the country. The poor child in an island in Saranggani can have the same quality of inputs the kids in Metro Manila will be receiving.”

If the live programs are meant to be downloaded and stored, to be played at different times anyway, why not just record all the programs first, put them all on DVDs, supply schoolrooms with players, and send the DVDs and future revised versions to the schools? That would accomplish exactly the same thing and be much less expensive.

“As for the effectivity of broadcast TV-based instruction, we urge everyone to talk to Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation for copies of their studies on the matter. Or perhaps, Prof. Milagros Ibe of UP will be more accessible.”

Dr. Ibe was present in the briefing I attended. The instructional video series I am currently producing (FUSE’s CONSTEC Literature) should eventually be shown on ABS-CBN’s Knowledge Channel. From personal experience with distance education, I can tell that CyberEd is silly. (The Philippine Star, 18 & 25 October, 8 November 2007)

12 October 2007

UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino

An online reader of my weekly column in The Philippine Star persistently questions my use of the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, published by the University of the Philippines and Anvil Publishing in 2001, as the authoritative source of words in Filipino. The book is admittedly not perfect, but since the University of the Philippines is internationally recognized as the leading university in the Philippines and since Anvil Publishing has been named several times as Publisher of the Year by the Manila Critics Circle, it is the best dictionary that we have so far of the Filipino language.

A more complete dictionary of Filipino, prepared by University of the Philippines professor Ernesto A. Constantino, is still in the process of publication, though an abridged version for students is available - The Contemporary English-Filipino Dictionary (published by the EAC Center for Philippine Languages in 1999).

25 September 2007

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education

Here are some things from Philippine law and the Web that may be of interest:

From Republic Act No. 7722, “An Act Creating the Commission on Higher Education,” the 1994 law that created and continues to govern CHED:

“SEC. 4. Composition of the Commission. - The Commission shall be composed of five (5) full-time members. During the transition period, which begins upon approval of this Act, the president may appoint the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports as ex-officio chairman of the Commission for a maximum period of one (1) year. Thereafter, the President shall appoint a Chairman of the Commission and four (4) commissioners, who shall be holders of earned doctorate(s), who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years, and must not have been candidates for elective positions in the elections immediately preceding their appointment. They shall be academicians known for their high degree of professionalism and integrity who have distinguished themselves as authorities in their chosen fields of learning. The members of the Commission shall belong to different academic specializations.” (italics mine)

From the curriculum vitae of Romulo Neri, posted on the official website of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA):

“Academic Background: MBA, Graduate School of Management, University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Major in Finance and International Management (1977-1979); BSBA, Major in Marketing, University of the Philippines (1966-1970).” No mention of an earned doctorate.

From a 2004 report on the website of the World Bank:

“The Estrada administration formally established the National Coordinating Council on Education (NCCE) through Executive Order No. 273, immediately following the PCER launching in 2000. The NCCE was supposed to fill up the policy vacuum resulting from the trifocalization of the education sector and was designed to coordinate and harmonize the cross-cutting education issues, formulate sectoral policies and priorities, and decide on the rational allocation of resources across different parts of the education system. To date, however, the NCCE remains inoperative. The formal convening of the body and constitution of its high-powered Technical Secretariat was not considered a priority of its first rotating Chair. Most of the actual coordination among education sub-sectors have occurred informally. No formal decisions binding on the whole education sector are made and issues are resolved by consensus or compromise, often independently of considerations of existing policy.

“Funding for the NCCE was supposed to be sourced from the General Appropriations Act but because of its non-operationalization, funding in subsequent years was not pursued. Consequently, the planning of the entire sector continues to be fragmented and the conduct of initiatives and resolution of issues that cut across the three levels are not undertaken efficiently. The determination of the growth rates of the appropriation for each level over a time period remains contentious because of the lack of agreed developmental bases for subsectoral allocation. As originally envisioned, one of the tasks of the NCCE was to convene the first National Congress on the State of Philippine Education by 2001 to assess the fulfillment of all program and policy recommendations of the EDCOM and PCER.

“The Professional Regulation Commission, which administers and enforces the regulatory policies of the national government, including the maintenance of professional standards, has not been modified or improved. Little progress has been made in terms of the accreditation system, given the complexity of the task due to the huge number and variety of existing higher education programs and institutions. Equivalency, as a cross-cutting issue, requires the participation of different agencies. So far, there is only one agreement for accreditation criteria and guidelines for technical training on industrial skills (except for information and communication technology). Thus, the goal of establishing mechanisms and regulations to facilitate the move from post-basic education and training to university education is far from complete.

“The establishment of the National Education Evaluation and Testing Service (NEETS), as recommended in the PESS and PCER reports, has not progressed in view of the non-operationalization of the NCCE. Considerable technical work has been undertaken on the planning for improved student assessment systems.”

From the website of CHED, we learn that, currently, CHED has a Board of Advisers, with the DepEd Secretary as Chair and the NEDA Director-General as Co-Chair. In other words, Neri has been advising CHED all these years anyway and need not be illegally appointed to chair it.

Now comes Executive Order 632, abolishing the NCCE and providing for the appointment of an “Education Czar.”

And you thought the Harry Potter saga was the ultimate in the incredible! (The Philippine Star, 2 August 2007)

The question going around the heads of all Philippine educators nowadays is this: how could she do it?

How could President Gloria Arroyo break the law so blatantly? How could she appoint, contrary to RA 7722, a non-doctorate holder to head CHED?

RA 7722 says, clearly and unequivocally, that the CHED commissioners should be “holders of earned doctorate(s), who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years, and … shall be academicians known for their high degree of professionalism and integrity who have distinguished themselves as authorities in their chosen fields of learning.”

Whether one is called a commissioner or an officer-in-charge is irrelevant. One cannot be in CHED without a doctorate, ten years’ experience, and international stature in a field of learning.

Far be it from me to take it upon myself to defend Arroyo, since she has plenty of media people to explain her actions to the citizens. In this particular case, however, it is pretty clear that she did not intend to break the law.

Arroyo thought that Romulo Neri had a doctorate!

To his credit, Neri himself has never pretended to have a doctorate. He has been in academe long enough to know that a doctorate is the minimum qualification for being an academician. (That word, by the way, is not a synonym of academic, since the latter refers to anyone teaching at the university level.) No one is questioning his ability to cut through the many problems of higher education. That is not the issue.

The issue is whether we are still a country of laws or not. The law is the law. If there is anyone that should be upholding the law, it should be the President of the Republic of the Philippines.

A doctorate holder herself, Arroyo fortunately has a way out of this mess. She can now claim that she honestly did not know that Neri is not qualified by law to be in CHED. As COCOPEA has recently stated, she should now choose someone else to be her point person in CHED.

COORDINATING DEPED, CHED, AND TESDA: Executive Order 632, entitled “Amending Executive Order No. 273 (series of 2000) and Mandating a Presidential Assistant to Assess, Plan and Monitor the Entire Educational System,” gives former CHED Commissioner Dr. Mona Dumlao-Valisno the following functions formerly assigned to the National Coordinating Council for Education: “to serve as the [point person] for trans-subsectoral consultations on cross-cutting policies and programs; to harmonize goals and objectives for the entire education system and to dovetail them to national development plans; to review existing and proposed programs and projects for tighter inter-subsector coordination; to set priorities for the education system and recommend corresponding financial requirements; to pursue and monitor implementation of the reforms proposed by the PCER; to establish, oversee and monitor the implementation of the National Educational Evaluation and Testing System and its operations; to designate and provide guidelines for Philippine representatives in international and national conferences/meetings with cross-cutting themes or concerns in education; and to convene a biennial National Congress on Education for the purpose of assessing, updating/upgrading and strengthening of the educational system and its components.”

I wish her well in this new challenge. She will need all her experience in the Department of Education and CHED to fulfil this mandate. As she herself requested me to do, I will write on each of the crucial tasks given to her. (The Philippine Star, 16 August 2007)

The reason the EDCOM-created National Coordinating Council for Education (NCCE) never got off the ground is something all managers know: if everyone is in charge, nobody is in charge. By making CHED, DepEd, and TESDA equal partners in education, the NCCE failed to take into account the hierarchical (some say, dictatorial) nature of Philippine government entities. Government people always look to the boss for directions.

For instance, when he was DepEd Secretary, Raul Roco convened a large group of school principals and told them pointblank, “I am now empowering you. You can decide on your own about matters that have to do with your teachers and your school buildings.” The principals then asked him in return, “Sir, can you put that down in a memo?”

Roco then went on to tell one of his favorite stories about the prisoner who had been in handcuffs while being taken to court. In court, the judge commanded the guards to remove the handcuffs. Even without the handcuffs, the prisoner kept his hands together, as though they were still in handcuffs.

The first function given to Presidential Assistant Mona Dumlao-Valisno by Executive Order 632 is “to serve as the [point person] for trans-subsectoral consultations on cross-cutting policies and programs.” Although management theorists might question how a staff function can have line authority, the order from President Arroyo is clear: Valisno can now, with Arroyo’s blessing, order CHED, DepEd, and TESDA around.

That is the only way to ensure that the three government bodies get their act together. Someone has to be on top, and since the President herself has no time to look personally into education, she has delegated her power to her Presidential Assistant for Education. (That, by the way, neatly solves the management issue of staff and line functions.)

Remember the title of Executive Order 632: “Mandating a Presidential Assistant to Assess, Plan and Monitor the Entire Educational System.” The executive order is the first step towards returning to the good old days when only one person was on top of the educational system. Since it is about time anyway to review EDCOM, Congress must now take the cue and see if trifocalization (as it is called in Philippine English), which seemed like a good idea at the time, has outlived its usefulness. (The Philippine Star, 23 August 2007)

To think that there is a quick fix to our educational problems is sheer insanity. The problems are so enormous that six years, let alone six months, will not be enough to put things in order.

The second of eight functions recently assigned through Executive Order 632 by President Arroyo to Presidential Assistant Mona Dumlao-Valisno, for example, is this: “to harmonize goals and objectives for the entire education system and to dovetail them to national development plans.”

Let us take just one area that needs harmonization – the curriculum. When DepEd changed the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) in 2001, CHED went into denial.

Take just one subject area for which I was responsible – literature. In 1996, when I was with CHED’s Technical Panel for Humanities, Social Sciences, and Communication, I was able, together with my colleagues Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz and Cynthia Bautista, to convince then acting CHED Chair Valisno to revise the General Education Curriculum (GEC). I wrote the syllabi for the two required literature courses (Literatures of the Philippines and Literatures of the World). At that time, the syllabi were revolutionary, because most schools were teaching the theoretically flawed Philippine Literature in English and Panitikang Pilipino.
In 2001, I became Undersecretary for Programs and Projects at DepEd. I was placed in charge of revising the BEC. After much consultation with various stakeholders, the curriculum experts at DepEd added literary theory to the high school curriculum. This was not a new idea, since as early as 1987, literary criticism (an elementary form of literary theory) had already been introduced into the high school curriculum.

The two college courses thus became misplaced, even redundant, since according to both literary theory and educational practice, survey courses should be taken before and not after literary theory. In fact, survey courses on Philippine, Afro-Asian, Anglo-American, and World literatures had been in the high school curriculum for several years before the BEC revision.

When I quit DepEd and returned to CHED’s Technical Panel in 2002, I tried to convince CHED to revise the GEC to upgrade or reconceptualize the two literature courses, because they were mere repetitions of the high school subjects. CHED stonewalled. Although I was placed in charge of getting the heads of different Technical Panels together to revise the GEC, nothing came out of our meetings, not because we disagreed with each other, but because CHED’s ridiculous bureaucracy worked and still works against rational change.

That is just literature. Think of algebra. High school students take two years of algebra (sometimes three, if they take Advanced Algebra as an elective in Fourth Year). College students today are treated as though they never took algebra before in their lives. In many cases, the college course is even more elementary than the ones in high school!

Aside from the curriculum, there are the thorny issues of the medium of instruction, the distinction between education and training (are we preparing Filipinos to be telephone operators or entrepreneurs?), the role of the humanities in a technology-driven global economy, the role of human teachers in the increasingly digital classroom, the nature of ladderized courses, aptitude streaming, and of course, the mismatch between what employers demand and what schools supply.

Valisno will have her hands full just getting CHED to admit that DepEd is doing its job well and that TESDA is just as legitimate an educational body as it is! On the other hand, to get DepEd to stop talking about CHED matters (why is DepEd doing an aptitude exam when its responsibility stops after the student graduates from high school?) and TESDA to stop telling CHED what to do (how can a non-academically-inclined body tell scholars how to design a ladderized program?) will be just as difficult a task for Valisno! Frankly, this looks like Mission Impossible or an Ocean caper, but then, those movies did not end so badly, so who knows? After all, as every literature teacher knows, life always follows art. (The Philippine Star, 30 August 2007)

I received quite a number of reactions to my column about what I called the “illegal” posting of Romulo Neri at the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Many readers asked me why I was insisting on someone with an earned doctorate heading CHED, whether as Officer-in-Charge or Chair. Let me clarify that I am not the one insisting on the doctorate requirement. It is R.A. 7722, the law that created CHED, that says, very clearly, that “the President shall appoint a Chairman of the Commission and four (4) commissioners, who shall be holders of earned doctorate(s) [and] who have been actively engaged in higher education for at least ten (10) years.”

There are no ifs and buts about this. Whoever heads CHED must have an earned doctorate. Neri does not have an earned doctorate. Therefore, he cannot legally head CHED, whether we call him an OIC or a Chair. Therefore, his appointment is illegal.

If anyone wants to challenge this reading of the law, go to the nearest court and file a case. I may not be a lawyer (it’s my namesake that is), but I’ll bet anything that the appointment will be declared null and void ab initio. I will go further than this and say that, since the appointment is null and void, Neri is NOT the head of CHED and anything he does is not legally binding.

The issue is not whether you need a doctorate to head CHED. The law says that you do. You may not like what the law says, but it IS the law.

Some readers are alarmed at the restructuring that Neri is doing at CHED. His mandate, publicly announced by Malacañang, is merely to push the ladderized program that CHED had been rejecting, not to appoint or remove officials, especially career or CESO ones. I have unsolicited advice for those being eased out of their positions by the illegal “head.” Go to court! Since this is a question of law, only the courts can help you now.

A couple of readers asked why I am being so hard on Neri when another commissioner also has not complied with the law. Apparently, one commissioner has “not been engaged in higher education for at least ten years.” If that is true, then that commissioner should certainly be kicked out of there as fast as Neri.

One of the readers pointed out that this particular commissioner filed a curriculum vitae with CHED that did not show any experience in higher education, but subsequently obtained a certification for some university or other that she had! Now, that’s not my cup of tea, but if someone wants to be a detective, the commissioner’s curriculum vitae is a public document and can be accessed by anyone.

Several readers agreed with me that Neri should not be in CHED, but went further than I did. They said that the President has a penchant for not complying with the law. Again, that is not my cup of tea. I still believe that, in the case of Neri, she was misinformed by her staff.

In any case, Neri is not an “education czar” in charge of the entire educational system. As I have been painstakingly detailing these past few weeks, the one in charge is President Gloria Arroyo herself, and she has delegated her authority through E.O. 632 to Presidential Assistant for Education Mona Dumlao-Valisno.

Fortunately, Valisno is not alone in this gigantic task of getting everybody in education to work together. President Arroyo has just formed a Presidential Task Force on Education (consisting of the DepEd Secretary, the CHED Chair, the TESDA Chair, the Presidential Assistant for Education, and five representatives from the private sector). I say fortunately, because more heads are better than one, but on the other hand, too many cooks may spoil the broth. (This is one reason we always tell students not to use clichés; clichés tend to contradict each other!) (The Philippine Star, 6 September 2007)

03 September 2007

Alejandro "Anding" Roces

I gave this lecture in honor of Philippine National Artist Alejandro "Anding" Roces on 2 September 2007 as part of the Pistang Panitik 2007 at the 28th Manila International Book Fair at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines.

“You know you are a Filipino if,” goes a popular email posting, not to mention a bestselling book. You know you are a Filipino if, after having told a joke and everyone has laughed, you tell the joke again. And again. And again. That is the Filipino way, and that is the way I shall handle this afternoon’s lecture on a National Artist. I’ve delivered this lecture before, in various ways and on different occasions, and to some of the same listeners, but I hope that, like every Philippine joke, rumor, or truth, it bears repeating.

We might expect Alejandro Reyes Roces – who once headed the country’s Department of Education (its largest bureaucracy with the biggest share of the national budget), who has won a host of literary and diplomatic awards (such as the 1997 SEAWRITE Award from Thailand, and various decorations from China, Germany, Indonesia, Malagasy, Mexico, and Spain), who has written the definitive scholarly treatise on the unique Filipino phenomenon called the fiesta (which, by the way, will have a sequel soon), who put his life on the line as a guerrilla during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, and who ran or still runs huge business corporations – we might expect him to be so serious no smile would ever cross his face or those of his admirers. But, no, upon reading his stories, we discover that Roces is one of those rare individuals to which the immortal opening line of the novel Scaramouche applies: “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

Roces is one of the very few Filipino writers that have tried to inject humor into their stories. In fact, in a Roces story, humor forms the core, the raison d’etre of the story. The incredible thing is that the humor in his stories stems from real life. Where other writers might distort reality to make it less serious, Roces remains faithful to distorted reality.

Roces is undoubtedly the country’s best, some even say the only, writer of comic short stories. From the widely anthologized “My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken” to the more extended narratives in his books of short stories, Roces has found a novel way to approach the Filipino character. Full of witty lines, as well as accurate historical and ethnographic detail, particularly with regards to cockfighting, his stories paint a portrait of the Filipino as a noble person endowed with innate intelligence, patience, and compassion. In his stories, the Filipino steadfastly seeks the truth and hungers for justice.

Readers of his stories should not be lulled into a false sense of “I can write this, too!” The reason that there are hundreds of Filipino writers that are, as the current uncomplimentary words put it, “grim and determined” and hardly any that try to make their readers smile and laugh is that it is very, very difficult to write a humorous story. After all, it takes a lot more effort to crack a joke than to rage against the dying of the democratic, patriotic, gender, or linguistic light. In fact, it can be said that small minds take everything seriously, but great minds think everything is a joke. Only the intelligent can appreciate humor. Even among those that smile, the ordinary laugh at others, but the truly gifted laugh at themselves.

Comedy is such a serious business that the highly intelligent Aristotle, who could dash off an entire treatise on tragedy in no time flat, could not even finish a short essay on comedy. His followers give the lame excuse that his treatise on comedy has been lost, even if all the rest of his writings have been found. The truth is that even one of the most brilliant philosophers of all time found comedy much too profound to understand. Aristotle could understand everything that existed during his time, but not comedy.

We should not read Roces’s stories, therefore, only in order to have a good time, although that would already be a major accomplishment, considering the seriousness of our country’s situation yesterday, today, and most probably tomorrow. We should read his stories also in order to understand what Filipinos are really like.

For example, we should be able to see ourselves in the ever-optimistic Kiko, who will not allow reality to come between himself and his dream of winning. Or we might see ourselves in his brother Andres, who keeps failing to see that his search for truth has indeed uncovered (shall we say created?) the truth. Or we might be able to recognize many of the big people in small roles, that in a musical would merely form part of the chorus or, as T. S. Eliot might put it, would not be Prince Hamlet.

Speaking of musicals, most of Roces’s stories, taken as a whole, form a continuous plot with discernible themes; in other words, his stories seem naturally to beg to be written into a musical play. And indeed a number of them have been woven together for the musical Something to Crow About, which was successfully premiered to an international audience during the 31st UNESCO-International Theatre Institute’s Theatre Olympics of the Nations in May 2006 and which played to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences in June 2007 in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In New York, it played at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, which as most of you know, started what is now known as off-off-Broadway; through La MaMa America got introduced to such playwrights as Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Sam Shepard; such directors as Peter Brook; such actors as Billy Crystal, Robert de Niro, Bette Midler, Nick Nolte, and Al Pacino; and to such plays as Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and most recently, Something to Crow About. Whatever the usual crabby suspects say about Roces and his musical, the fact remains that his name and his musical now appear on the same list as those of these famous artists and works.

Hovering between modesty about himself and pride in his work, Roces himself says, with a pronounced gleam in his eyes, when he talks about his stories onstage, that his musical and his stories “make every Filipino one inch taller.” Modesty is one of his virtues as a writer. He himself, in fact, likes to say that, when he was young, his biggest failing was that he was not humble, but when he was finally able to conquer his tendency to boast, he says, in his own words, “Now that I am humble, I am perfect.”

Let us take a moment to talk about the musical. Roces’s stories have effortlessly leaped from the page to the stage. In particular, transformed into the musical are these stories: “My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken,” “Of Cocks and Choreographers,” “The King of Roosters,” “Kiko and the Priest,” and “Kiko Goes to Court.” Roces calls Something to Crow About a sarsuwela rather than a Broadway musical. Although theater purists might argue about that distinction, Roces’s intention is clear: he does not want to be coopted by the Americans by using their language to describe his work. He wants the American audience to say the word sarsuwela, to make them borrow a word from our language. In fact, as those that have seen the American production knows, the musical is very, very Filipino, complete with a fiesta, a love story between a poor boy and a rich girl, in fact, two love stories, since the married couple, despite their familiar Filipino sparring, are also deeply in love, a Flores de Mayo and a Santacruzan, all kinds of folk dances, lots of singing and dancing, and of course, cockfights.

In his stories, his numerous public speeches, and in his innumerable newspaper columns, Roces has always focused on the neglected aspects of the Filipino’s cultural heritage. Ever the champion of Filipino culture, even against the globalizing influence of Broadway and Hollywood, Roces brought to public attention the aesthetics of the country’s fiestas. He was instrumental in popularizing several local fiestas, notably the Moriones and the Ati-Atihan. He personally led the campaign to change the country’s Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. He caused the change of language from English to Filipino in the country’s stamps, currency, and passports. He recovered Jose Rizal’s manuscripts when they were stolen from the National Archives.

His unflinching love of country led him to become a guerrilla during the Second World War, to defy martial law, and to found the major opposition party under the dictatorship. Many people have forgotten that he founded the Laban party that fielded the imprisoned Ninoy Aquino in a doomed senatorial election. Young people who know only Garci should research a little bit to realize that elections in this country have long been a joke, though many of us like to think that, with the elections of February 1986, we changed all that. During the campaign for Ninoy, it was Roces that the crowd waited for, because he cracked jokes all night, all at the expense, of course, of Ferdinand Marcos. Although he imprisoned and killed people that did not like him, Marcos could not imprison and kill Roces, because no one kills the jester, even if, in times of crisis, it is only the jester that tells the truth.

At some point in my life, when I had not yet retired and therefore had much less work than I have now, I planned to write a biography of Roces. I sent my research assistant, Carmencita Pascual, to interview him. Since I am now completely swamped with work, I most likely will never get to write that biography. I want to share with you now passages from Anding that would have been and should be in that biography.

These are Roces’s words:

The house that Rizal describes in the opening chapter of Noli Me Tangere, the house of Kapitan Tiago, is the house of my great grand uncle, Balvino Mauricio. He was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny, along with Gomez, Burgos and Zamora. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora were condemned to death. Balvino Mauricio, along with Pardo de Tavera, the two Basa cousins, and Antonio Regidor were deported to Guam. The house was on a street called Anloague, now called Juan Luna Street. I think they should have retained the old name, but you know how we are here. We don’t respect history, I’m sorry to say.

During liberation, Manila was full of bodies. A doctor would say “Ito, patay na.” Once in a while he would find someone wounded and say, “Ito, ambulansiya.” There was one the doctor listed as “Ito, patay na,” but the man shouted, “Buhay pa ko, buhay pa ko.” The doctor’s aide said, “Ito, marunong pa sa duktor.” I learned a lesson from that. When the doctor tells me I’m already dead, I won’t argue. I will accept it.

During the war I was a teenager. It made me grow up fast. Now I appreciate the war. I’m happy that Manila was the second most destroyed city in the world. That’s when Intramuros was destroyed and that erased a lot of my past.

I still hope to write the Filipino Christmas story. I hope to write great stories on Filipino fiestas, but what I’m trying to finish now is four more stories of my collection, a little series of stories that revolve around cockfighting.
[Let me interject here that Roces finished one of those stories for the 1997 edition of his stories, the story entitled “Nine-Nine” (for siyam-siyam). Back to Roces.]

I’m happy because I could not ask anything more from the Lord and I mean that seriously. If I were to die today, I would still be way, way, way ahead, because God has been extremely kind to me. People have betrayed me, but God has never betrayed me. I cannot complain about life and I don’t know how to repay it.

That is why I’m obsessed with the street children. I want to be able to repay that by helping street children. I’ve always done what I could for street children. I work with Father Ben Beltran of Smokey Mountain, a very, very fine person. He could have been the president of the University of San Carlos because of his qualifications, but he chose to be the parish priest of Smokey Mountain and I admire that. Once I saw him say mass on Smokey Mountain and I got the idea like a flash for a poem: “An altar infested with flies / Lord accept this sacrifice.”
[Roces is not a poet, but he has written a couple of these short rhyming verses. He has even written his own epitaph. If I can recall it accurately, it goes this way: “Lord, do unto me what I would do unto you, if I were the God of Moses and you were Alejandro Roces.” Back to Roces.]

I feel like Rizal. If I had the proper teachers in Ateneo, I would have become a Jesuit. I’m sorry to say this because I love the Ateneo: I always say that I was not a good student in the Ateneo. I never criticize the Ateneo, but I had the wrong teachers there. What happened is that in the Ateneo the teachers were Irish and they were from very, very poor Irish people who migrated to the United States. They were supposed to be sent to India, but India did not accept them, so they were sent to the Philippines. I think many of them were culture-shocked, because when they went to the Ateneo, they were told, “Your students here are students from the elite; they have maids to dress them up for school, cars to take them to school.” So they thought that all their pupils were just a bunch of spoiled brats. When I was in first year, I was looking forward to be under American Jesuits, because in grade school I had Filipino teachers. When the year began we had to get subscriptions to the Messenger of the Sacred Heart. It was a magazine published in the States. We were nine brothers in school. Obviously my father could not get nine subscriptions, so my father would get one for Hospicio de San Jose, PGH, and so on. In my case, I would ask my Ninang to get my subscription for me. I never had problems from third grade to seventh grade. I would just tell the teacher, “Today is my mother’s birthday, my godmother will come,” and she always came every year. That year I told the Irish Jesuit, “Father, today is my mother’s birthday and my godmother will come to give the subscription money.” This was interrupted by a one-hour lecture! The Irish Jesuit said, “Don’t brag about your mother’s birthday.” Now, my mother’s birthday was just attended by brothers and sisters with my godmother, who happened to be my first cousin. He said, “Don’t brag, we don’t give a damn about your mother’s luxurious birthday. Nobody gives a damn about the birthday of your mother.” After that I was turned off. After first year, you were supposed to go to second year when you began taking Latin. I was transferred to II-D with no Latin. I was in II-D, III-D, and IV-D. They would always tell us that we were placed in section D because there were no leaders in that section. My classmate was Catalino Arevalo, who is now one of the leading Jesuits. If not for that incident I probably would have followed the footsteps of Catalino Arevalo.

I came for a very dominating family. My father had interests in mining. Although I could never figure out fractions (even now), when I graduated from fourth year, my father said, “We need an engineer in the family; you will take up Mining Engineering in Arizona.” I found myself in this engineering school in Arizona. Of course I flunked all my mathematics subjects. They should have thrown me out of the school, but I won the literary contest, so they allowed me to transfer to Literature. Now, isn’t that God’s will?

I was champion boxer in high school in the Ateneo and college in Arizona. Up to now I wake up at five in the morning and walk for one hour every single morning, and I’ve been doing that for about thirty years every morning. How did I become a boxer? We lived in Oroquieta in Zurbaran when I was about six or seven years old. Every time I went out of the house, because we were the only Spanish-speaking family there, everybody would tell me, “Kayo Kastila, kayong pumatay kay Rizal.” So I got into a fight every day. Later on there was a fellow named Enriquez. He became the coach in the Olympics and he saw me. He thought I had very good reflexes so he trained me.

Those words are from Roces himself. Let me now follow his words with some words of my own. As you may already know, I wrote the lyrics of most of the songs in the sarsuwela. As happens in any musical production, lyrics are revised to suit the music and the directorial concept. But since I am speaking now and not the composer nor the director, I will now read some of the lyrics that I wrote for that musical. Some found their way into the off-off-Broadway production, but some did not. Here are some lyrics taken from his short stories. For literary critics, these are technically what are known as “found poems,” that is, poems that use words originally written by another writer. “Found poetry” is one of the many literary types under the general heading “Creative Non-Fiction” or that strange animal that has become, without anyone realizing it, the fifth genre of literature, after poetry, fiction, drama, and essay. Here are some lyrics inspired by the stories of Roces.

History of Cocking

The very first crime was that of Cain
He plotted to get his brother slain
And what was the reason for their fight
They couldn’t decide which cock was right

To Greeks ‘twas alectryomachy
Temistocles wanted victory
He told his men to copy the cocks
Who fought and fought no matter the shocks

The Athenians hailed Temistocles
Cockfights were decreed in ancient Greece
Cockfights were called winged public games
They’re one of the things Plato disclaims

Severus the Emperor of Rome
In planning Britanya’s hecatomb
Forced his soldiers to study the cocks
To learn how to avoid more deadlocks

The French call themselves the Gallic race
Abe Lincoln had such an honest face
They made him referee cock matches
Called him Honest Abe, sang his praises

Cockers then were Thomas Jefferson
Everybody and George Washington
When they looked for a U.S. symbol
The cock lost by one vote to the eagle.

Those lyrics did not make it to the stage. The next ones did, but after much revision. This was the original love song, based on Roces’s insisting that it is not love at first sight that is important, but love at first insight:

When I saw her that night
‘Twas not love at first sight
‘Twas not my heart took flight
‘Twas love at first insight

My mind knew it was fate
My body lost its weight
My feelings thought it great
I had found my soul mate

Can a man without a soul
Find a soulmate to extol?
Will my soulmate make me whole
If my soul I can’t control?

Before I turn to dust
To find my soul I must
Give her all of my trust
My soul to her entrust

When the music was composed, it became a duet and had a different meter. So I changed the lyrics to these, sung onstage by the two young lovers Leandro and Luningning. Forgive me if I don’t do justice to the music.

Love at First Insight


It’s love
Love not at first sight
It’s love at first insight
It’s love at first insight
You made me see the light

Make me whole
With you I found my soul
A soul that had no goal
And no control

We are one
To me you are the sun
My life has just begun
You are the one

It’s love
Love not at first sight
It’s love at first insight
It’s love at first insight
You made me see the light


We are whole
Together just one soul
Our love at first insight
We’ve seen the light

We are one
This cannot be undone
Our lives have just begun
We both have won


It’s love
Love not at first sight
It’s love at first insight
It’s love at first insight
We now have seen the light

Here is another love song, again with Leandro, the writer that is really Roces, and Luningning, the dancer that comes from the story about choreographers.

LUNINGNING: Not richer things, Leandro, finer things. Like dancing. Like writing.

LEANDRO: When I write, you are my muse.

LUNINGNING: When I dance, you are my music.


You’re my muse when I write
You’re my heavenly light
When the words I can’t find
You enlighten my mind
When I try to create
My soul you liberate
When a poem is my goal
You’re my soul


You’re the music I hear
You’re the one I revere
When I dance you’re the beat
Moving my hands and feet
What I see is your face
While I’m walking in space
When a dance is my goal
You’re my soul


There’s nothing more that I need
When it’s my words that you read


It’s music you are to me


Our art makes us free



You’re the one I adore
I have said this before
You’re my self you’re my goal
You’re my soul

I will shout to the world
All my self is unfurled

{ LEANDRO: When I write you’re the one
{ LUNINGNING: When I dance you’re the one


Now our lives have begun
We are soulmates my love
We are blessed from above


I feel oh so complete


Everytime that we meet


You’re my soul that is true
I love you

Sadly for me, those lyrics did not make it to the stage, either, but the actors promised me that they would record it for a recording studio. Here is the title song, as I first wrote it:

Something to Crow About

When I wake up in the morning
And I hear the roosters crowing
I imagine they’re announcing
That my woman’s come out shining
Every morning the sun comes out
I have something to crow about

When the sun sets in the evening
I get ready to start dreaming
I imagine we are kissing
Me and she I can’t help loving
Every evening the lights go out
I have something to crow about

But there’s someone else I treasure
Also raises my temp’rature
And believe me I am cocksure
That cockfighting has its allure
As a cocker I’m out-and-out
Cocking’s something to crow about

When I watch the roosters fighting
And the people round them betting
I imagine soldiers training
Cocks can teach them ways of winning
Every morning after a bout
Cocks have something to crow about

With my cock I am a cocker
With my woman I’m a rooster
I love one as much the other
For them both there’s no one better
About this there can be no doubt
My cock’s something to crow about

You can tell we’re Filipino
From the way our souls are aglow
We all wake up with the cockcrow
Ready to work, to play, to go
With a country that’s green throughout
We’ve got something to crow about

These lyrics changed considerably, because the music just did not fit them and the composer wanted to write his own lyrics, although frankly, he had absolutely no command of the English language. So in order not to put up Filipino English to ridicule in the United States, I was forced revise his lyrics and the song eventually became this, a combination of his lyrics and mine:

Something to Crow About

The dawn is breaking
Everybody’s out
The sun is rising
We’ve something to crow about

It’s another day
For the men to play
While the women pray
That’s something to crow
That’s something to crow about

The night is over
There can be no doubt
When we’re together
We’ve something to crow about

It’s another day
Let the children stay
They’ll not go astray
That’s something to crow
That’s something to crow about

Come to the cockfight
Everybody shout
There things are all right
That’s something to crow about

It’s another day
For the cocks to play
While the losers pay
That’s something to crow
That’s something to crow about

The cockfight
The cockfight
The cockfight again

Cockfighting’s heaven
No need to explain
All’s fair and even
That’s something to crow about

It’s another day
We will bet today
Happy come what may
That’s something to crow
That’s something to crow about

Please indulge me for just for one more song. Since the highest tribute a writer can give another writer is to write something for him or her, I did these lyrics for Roces’s birthday. I cannot compose music, so I composed it to one of his favorite tunes, Everything’s Coming Up Roses.

Everything’s Coming Up Roces

You’re Anding! You’re the best!
You will always stand out from the rest!
With your books and your looks,
Anding, everything’s coming up Roces!

What a heart! What a mind!
You’re the friend we are so glad to find.
Greet the folk. Crack a joke.
Anding, everything’s coming up Roces!

Your short stories – oh what laughs they can give!
And your columns – they teach us all how to live!
Here’s a toast! Not a boast!
You, my friend, are just really the most!
You’re so prompt, never late.
We all know you are great.
You’ve made us all so proud of what you are!
Anding, everything’s coming up Roces because you’re the star!

Let’s all stand up, let’s all cheer for the man.
Anding Roces, you made us believe we can!
You’re the one! You have won!
What you did we thought could not be done!
In New York or L.A.
When they all saw your play
They knew that what they saw was all so true!
Anding, everything’s coming up Roces and cock and hen!
Everything’s coming up Roces and what a pen!
Everything’s coming up Roces and once again!
Everything’s coming up Roces for us and for you!

For the privilege of working with him on his musical, for all the good things he has done for me in my career as a writer (since he wrote the letters of recommendation that got me all kinds of grants), for being a friend in need and a friend indeed, and for being the human being that he is, I take my hat off, or I guess my hair off, to our one and only, our comic writer, our patriotic columnist, our fiesta champion, our National Hermano Mayor – Alejandro “Anding” Roces.

National Book Awards 2006

Here are the winners of the National Book Awards for books published in the Philippines in calendar year 2006:

Anvil Publishing

The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935, by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, designed by Guillermo Ramos. Anvil Publishing.

Ani: The Life and Art of Hermogena Borja Lungay, Boholano Painter, by Marjorie Evasco. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.
Brushstrokes from the Heart: ArtPetron, The First Five Years, by Alice G. Guillermo. Petron Corporation.

Coconut: The Philippines’ Money Tree, by Renato M. Labadan. RM Labadan and Associates and University Research and Resource Development.

(H)istoryador(a), by Victor Emmanuel Carmelo D. Nadera Jr. University of the Philippines Press.
Ang Sandali ng mga Mata, by Alvin B. Yapan. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Banyaga: A Song of War, by Charlson Ong. Anvil Publishing.
The Jupiter Effect, by Katrina Tuvera. Anvil Publishing.

The Manila We Knew, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio. Anvil Publishing.

Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, by Mario I. Miclat. Anvil Publishing.
Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN, by Raul Rodrigo. ABS-CBN Publishing.
Myself, Elsewhere, by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. Nakpil Publishing.

Bad Kings, by Gilda Cordero Fernando. Anvil Publishing.
The Cat Painter, by Becky Bravo. Adarna House.

The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935, by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. Anvil Publishing.
Potluck, Hidalgo Bonding: A Family Heritage Cookbook, edited by Jaime C. Laya and Adelaida Lim. Anvil.

Kasaysayan at Pag-unlad ng Dulaang Pambata sa Pilipinas, by Arthur P. Casanova. UST Publishing House.
Treading Through: 45 Years of Philippine Dance, by Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz. University of the Philippines Press and Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation.

Mga Premyadong Dula, by Lito Casaje. De La Salle University Press.

Great Scott!: The New Day William Henry Scott Reader, edited by Bezalie Bautista Uc-Kung. New Day Publishers.

Daughters True: 100 Years of Scholastican Education, 1906-2006, edited by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz, Paulynn Paredes Sicam, Karina Africa Bolasco, and Ma. Ceres P. Doyo. St. Scholastica’s College.

Science Solitaire: Essays on Science, Nature, and Becoming Human, by Maria Isabel Garcia. Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Maligayang Pagdating sa Sitio Catacutan: Mga Kuwentong Kasisindakan, Aklat 1, by Tony Perez. Anvil Publishing. / Malagim ang Gabi sa Sitio Catacutan: Mga Kuwentong Kasisindakan, Aklat 2, by Tony Perez. Anvil Publishing.
Pagluwas, by Zosimo Quibilan Jr. University of the Philippines Press.

Postmodern Filming of Literature: Sources, Contexts and Adaptations, by Joyce L. Arriola. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Apokripos, by Jerry B. Gracio. University of the Philippines Press.
Gagamba sa Uhay: Kalipunan ng mga Haiku, by Rogelio G. Mangahas. C&E Publishing.

A Guide to Families of Common Flowering Plants in the Philippines, by Irma Remo Castro. University of the Philippines Press.
Introduction to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (C.A.M.), by Victoriano Y. Lim. University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.

Adios, Patria Adorada: The Filipino as Ilustrado, the Ilustrado as Filipino, by Alfredo Roces. De La Salle University Press.

Pacific Storm: Dispatches on Pacquiao of the Philippines, by Recah Trinidad. Anvil / Inquirer.

God Was Not in the Wind: An Evolutionary Understanding of Popular Religion in the Philippines, by Jimmy A. Belita, C.M. Adamson University Press.

The Colonial Odyssey of Leyte, 1521-1914, by Manuel Artigas y Cuerva, translated by Rolando O. Borrinaga and Cantius J. Kobak. New Day.
Gagamba sa Uhay: Kalipunan ng mga Haiku, by Rogelio G. Mangahas, translated by Marne L. Kilates. C&E Publishing.

Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, for supporting Philippine literature through the publication of an outstanding children’s book

Ayala Foundation – for children’s books on paintings:
Juan Luna: Patriot and Painter, by Carla C. Pacis
The Boy Who Lost a Father and Found the Sun: The Life of Maestro Fernando Amorsolo, by Rene Villanueva
Fernando Zobel: The Man Who Painted Ideas, by Maria Elena Paterno

Filipinas Institute of Translation, for the Sawikaan series:
Sawikaan 2006: Mga Salita ng Taon, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Roberto T. Añonuevo. University of the Philippines Press, 2007.
Sawikaan 2005: Mga Salita ng Taon, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Michael M. Coroza. University of the Philippines Press, 2006.
Sawikaan 2004: Mga Salita ng Taon, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Romulo P. Baquiran Jr. University of the Philippines Press, 2005. [NBA winner, 2005]

Sy Yinchow, for a lifetime of translating Philippine literature into Chinese

22 August 2007

On Poison Pen Letters

Since my columns are now online every Thursday on the website of the Philippine Star , I do not have to upload them to this blog. I will now, therefore, use this space to do what bloggers usually do, which is to write whatever comes into their heads.

I usually pay no attention to poison pen letters or white papers, particularly if they are unsigned or signed by a pseudonym. Anyone too cowardly to use her or his own name when attacking another human being is clearly not worth anything, not even an acknowledgement that she or he exists.

Unfortunately, too many people have been forwarding to me an emailed poison pen letter published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer website about the sarsuwela Something to Crow About, which played in Manila, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

I wrote the lyrics of most of the songs of that sarsuwela, which was based on the short stories of Alejandro Roces. Although I usually charge a substantial fee for my writing services (enough to buy lots of books and computer stuff), I did those lyrics gratis et amore, to repay Roces for the many recommendation letters he wrote for me in the past, allowing me to get some grants. I also paid my own way to watch the productions in the United States, as did, I understand, several of those that were in the production.

The poison pen letter, signed “Marianito Parrenas,” called me “a mediocre Phil. Star columnist who is never known to excel in the area [of writing lyrics].” Frankly, I would rather be a mediocre Philippine Star columnist than an idiot hiding behind a pseudonym! By the way, I do not recall anyone in the Philippine Star ever calling any columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer mediocre (or any other name). There is a lesson here for students of journalistic ethics and good taste.

I am never one to boast about my credentials, but I suppose this situation calls for an exception. I am in the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for having won a number of prizes in the annual literary contest, where (for those not familiar with Philippine literary competitions) all entries are anonymous and, therefore, are judged solely on the basis of their merits. Several of the awards I won at the Palancas were for playwriting, not only in Filipino (which is my first language), but in English (also my first language, since linguists tell me that I am a “true bilingual”). I also have written quite a number of musical plays, all of which have been produced by various professional and amateur companies. I may, indeed, not have excelled in the area of writing lyrics, but then, that is the anonymous writer’s opinion and thankfully not of those that pay me good money to write lyrics.

Having gotten that off my chest, let me say something about the letter, at least about what I can make of it, since it is so badly written that it is almost impossible to understand, standard English grammar having been thrown out the window by the writer (or more likely, writers). That the letter is ungrammatical is only the least of its faults. It is even more contemptible in its distortion of facts.

For one thing, the letter calls the Chelsea International Hostel, where all the cast and crew stayed, including writer Alejandro Roces and director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, a “classy hotel.” This reveals more of the quality of life of the letter writer/s than the standards of the hotel, which is classified as a one-star hotel. (Check any hotel reservation website or traveler’s guide, such as tripadvisor.

The letter says that Earthsavers is not registered, when it is a registered Philippine corporation. Anyone that has ever applied for funding from an international funding agency knows that legal incorporation is required to get anything. As the letter itself admits, Earthsavers has been getting foreign grants, not least because it has been designated by UNESCO as “UNESCO Artists for Peace.”

As anyone that knows anything knows, if someone lies in a small thing, she or he is obviously also lying about big things.

So, whoever you are, “Marianito Parrenas,” stop trying to get out of the gutter where you belong, because that is as classy a place as you will ever get to.

16 July 2007

Scared in New York

It should have been a perfect night. The last two performances last June 24, Sunday, of Philippine National Artist Alejandro Roces’s Something to Crow About at the famous La Mama Experimental Theater Club in New York City went very well, and I enjoyed taking my curtain calls for having written the lyrics of fifteen of the nineteen songs.

My relatives in New York had warned me not to take the train to my hotel after dark. I had checked in at the Holiday Inn near LaGuardia Airport, partly because it offered a free airport hotel shuttle and partly because I was a member of the frequent guest club of the hotel chain. The hotel itself was in a peaceful block, but the walk to or from the train station more than a mile away would take me through a street not exactly known for being hospitable to strangers.

My head was also full of the news that day that New York City had 3,612 “unidentified human remains” as of 2004, with the number growing every year by the hundreds. Since I loved my name, I was in no mood to be named a John Doe after having been murdered in New York City and robbed of all my identification cards.

Since the celebration after the last show lasted until almost midnight, I had no choice but to take a taxi from Manhattan to Queens, a ride of about thirty minutes, usually costing about $25 ($40 if it’s a hotel car), not too much to pay for remaining alive.

I gave the taxi driver the address of the hotel, told him it was two blocks from Shea Stadium (where the Mets had won a game the night before), and unfortunately did what I usually do when I get on a moving car – I fell asleep from exhaustion.

I woke up in time to see the taxi come close to Shea Stadium and my hotel. I told the driver, “That’s where it is.” Suddenly, he stepped on the gas and drove away from the hotel! I started to shout to him that we had passed the hotel and he should turn back. He completely ignored me and just kept on driving.

We must have been more than twenty miles past the hotel when he finally stopped on a dark street. I said to myself that this was it. I was indeed fated to become a John Doe. I did not want to get out of the car, because the whole neighborhood was deserted and I preferred to battle a single taxi driver than a gang on the street.

The driver claimed to have gotten lost. He hailed the only other car on the road. The driver of the other car got down. My driver asked the other driver where Holiday Inn was. (Of course, there are several Holiday Inns in New York!) The other driver said there was a hotel down the road and I could stay there if I wanted to. This was getting to be really ridiculous, if only I were not so scared.

I asked the other driver where Shea Stadium was. He claimed that he had never heard of it. I asked him where the Mets played baseball. He claimed that he had never heard of the Mets either. He had heard of baseball, but did not know what it had to do with our being on a deserted road in the middle of the night. Since I happen to have been born and bred in Manila, I knew that this was all for show. Imagine a New Yorker never having heard of the Mets?

Since I may have looked less like a tourist because I knew the Mets and perhaps because they probably had a stereotype of Asians as kungfu masters, the other driver got back into his car and my driver sped away. This time I told him exactly where to go, even if I had no idea where we were going. I just kept telling him to turn this way and that, more or less in the general direction of the hotel. I knew that, if we somehow got on a main road, we would sooner or later see Shea Stadium.

Finally, in desperation, I told him to go to LaGuardia Airport. Actually, I should have thought of that sooner, because the hotel was just five minutes from the airport. We got to the airport and I showed him the way to the hotel. We got to the street where the hotel was located. Incredibly, we passed the hotel again at top speed! Fortunately for me, a car cut into our lane and my driver was forced to slow down. That gave me the opportunity to really bawl him out, since I had my hand on the door handle and now could really literally just jump out.

The meter showed $45. He said I could take five dollars off because he got lost. Since the hotel car rate was $40 anyway, I paid him $40, even if it was only a yellow cab. I was not going to spend another minute in the car looking for smaller bills.

I went at once to the hotel receptionists and asked them how to call the police. The clerks said that the driver, if he had indeed gotten lost, was supposed to have called his dispatcher. They told me to go to the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission website and to file a complaint. I did that immediately when I got to my room. (Holiday Inn offers free internet access in rooms.) I had, after all, been technically kidnapped, since I was held in the taxi against my will.

Unfortunately, the website said that “in order for disciplinary charges to be brought against a licensee, you must attend a hearing.” Since I was only visiting New York, I could not stay for the hearing. I guess the taxi driver got off scot-free. On the other hand, I got off injury-free, with my name not changed to John Doe. I suppose I should be grateful.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 28 June 2007.)

04 July 2007

How to Bring Up Scholars

Much has already been written about Magaling ang Pinoy!: How and Why Filipino Public School Students Achieve, Ateneo’s Filipino Family Best Practices Study in Marikina and Bulacan Public Schools, written by Queena N. Lee-Chua, Ma. Isabel Sison-Dionisio, and Nerisa C. Fernandez, published in 2007 by the Office of Research and Publications of the Loyola Schools of Ateneo de Manila University.

There is no need to summarize the results of the study conducted by the writers. In any case, the book is available from bookstores, as well as from the Ateneo itself.

What I want to do now is to take the results a step further. What can the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) do to ensure that the pioneering research project does not merely gain applause but actually will affect the lives of the millions of children going to school this year and the next?

The book talks about things that parents can do to help their children achieve their full potential. It does not really talk about what schools can do to do the same thing, though the transition from home to school is implied by many of the chapters in the book.

Let us take some random insights gained by the writers and translate them into doable school projects.

The first chapter talks about the value of discipline in the home. One example says it all: “No one (among one family’s children) has ever violated the 6 pm rule because the children know that Mama means what she says. If they are ever late, they will have to sleep outside the house.”

I suggest that teachers at whatever level – elementary, high school, college, or even graduate school – simply lock the doors of their classrooms when the bell rings and not allow latecomers in. That should instil punctuality in no time flat.

The second chapter talks about setting goals. Many of the parents involved in the study proactively discourage their children from getting married early, obviously because most of them married early and therefore remained poor the rest of their lives.

I suggest that schools make it a policy, clearly spelled out in brochures and manuals, to expel any student that gets married or pregnant. It is not a matter of morality, but a matter of motivation. If students know that they will never be able to finish their education if they have sex early, they will refrain from sex. The sex drive may be strong, but the drive for self-preservation is stronger.

The third chapter, focusing on relying on oneself, identifies favoritism on the part of teachers as a key disincentive for students.

I suggest that schools remove the possibility of favoritism by adopting the British model of external examiners. If the final grade of a student will be given by someone else, a teacher has no reason to play favorites or engage in harassment (sexual, verbal, racist, or otherwise).

The fourth chapter talks about strengthening family bonds. Most schools already have parent associations in place, but we could involve parents not only in raising extra funds, but in designing the curriculum.

I suggest that parents (even of college students) should be asked to sit in curriculum committees, hiring boards, boards of trustees, and the like. On a micro level, parents should be regularly called in to discuss the progress of their children.

The fifth chapter on making the home fit for learning also has implications for teachers. Teachers should formulate homework that involves parents. A simple example on the elementary level is the construction of a genealogy of the family of a student. On the higher levels, an oral history project could start with interviewing one’s parents and grandparents.

The book is clearly meant for parents that want their children to excel in school. The lessons learned by the writers, however, can teach teachers a thing or two.

The researchers (all highly educated) obviously know educational theory. They wisely refrain from using academic jargon in this book meant for a non-specialist reader. Anyone that has studied pedagogy, however, will recognize the principles laid down by the book.

Discipline in the home or in the classroom is nothing else but the routine necessary for any learning to take place. Setting goals refers to the objectives of any course of study or even of action. Self-reliance is an attack on the Filipino value of bahala na (“God will provide”). Family involvement in learning makes positive use of the family, which to Filipinos is often above country or even God (not “God, Country, and Family” but the other way around). Creating a home environment conducive to learning is part of the so-called Whole School Approach, which DepEd has been pushing in the past few years.
Like every other book of any value, Magaling ang Pinoy does not tell us anything new, but merely reminds us of what we know deep down inside us to be true.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 14 June 2007)