06 December 2009

Martial Law might be declared in the whole Philippines

Statement of Rep. Teofisto “TG” Guingona
on the declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao
05 December 2009

"I would like to reiterate my condemnation of the brutal and senseless Maguindanao massacre. Justice must be attained, and it must be attained swiftly. This can be resolutely attained under existing laws and will power on the part of the authorities, without a declaration of Martial Law. They have already suppressed any lawless violence and have already controlled the Ampatuans, as evidenced by the successful raid on their residence and the discovery and confiscation of their arms and ammunition. Again, the wolf has already been defanged. No need for Martial Law.

"Under the 1987 Constitution, Martial Law can only be declared when two things are present: (1) the existence of ACTUAL invasion or rebellion, and (2) when public safety requires it. BUT there is no actual invasion or rebellion at the moment. The allegation in Proclamation 1959 that “heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety” IS UTTERLY WITHOUT FACTUAL AND LEGAL BASIS. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can order the Armed Forces of the Philippines to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion WITHOUT DECLARING MARTIAL LAW AND WITHOUT SUSPENDING THE PRIVILEGE OF THE WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS. Martial law poses a grave threat to our democracy and should not be taken lightly and should not be declared at the whim and paranoia of the present administration.

"I would like to warn the public on the possibility that the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will exploit the situation in Maguindanao. Unlike the Martial Law imposition of President Marcos, which was done swiftly, in one blow, all over the country, there is a possibility of a “creeping” Martial Law by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. We all know that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has proven her lust for remaining in power. What is to stop the administration from recreating disorder, violence, and chaos in other places, exploiting the sense of helplessness of civilians in dismantling warlords, thereby orchestrating widespread acceptance. Thereafter, they can put up a front of running after “KUNO” drug lords, jueteng lords, smugglers, oligarchs, etc., again as a strategy of gaining acceptance amongst the people and expanding the area of coverage of Martial Law.

"I was around during the early days when Martial Law was declared by President Marcos. I vividly remember the initial feeling of stability and peace and order during those early days. The pattern seems to be repeating itself. One, create violence and chaos. Two, exploit the citizens’ helplessness in dealing with the violence and chaos. Three, declare Martial Law. History is repeating itself."

22 November 2009

ERF: Cory Aquino 2

In one of my one-on-one meetings with Cory Aquino when she was running for Philippine president, she asked me, "What would you do if you were Secretary of Education?"

Without hesitation, I answered, "I would make Filipino the medium of instruction."

She said, shaking her head, "Sobra ka naman" [You're too much).

That did in any possibility of my being named Education Secretary when she won the election against Ferdinand Marcos. Instead, she chose Lourdes Quisumbing, then president of Miriam College (formerly Maryknoll College), a much better choice than me. Quisumbing stayed in the Department of Education the whole time Cory was president, thus becoming the longest-serving Education Secretary in the history of the Philippines. Other Secretaries came and went, often without any impact on the educational system. Quisumbing introduced and advocated Values Education, a newer version of what I had during my elementary school days as "Good Manners and Right Conduct" or "Behavior."

I will always remember that particular conversation with Cory not because I lost my chance at being a member of her cabinet (whew!), but because it showed that she chose her cabinet members not because they were personally known to her, but because of their beliefs or advocacies.

Ironically, when she was President, Cory signed an Executive Order urging all government employees to use Filipino in their official transactions and communications. She was the only president to have done that. Other presidents have been, for political reasons, unwilling to comply with the Philippine Constitution, that mandates that Filipino be indeed the primary medium of official communication and the primary medium of instruction.

15 November 2009

28th National Book Awards


Arts & Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Art: The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines, Grace Nono (Anvil Publishing and Fundacion Santiago)

Autobiography/Biography: Afro-Asia in Upheaval: A Memoir of Front-line Reporting, Amando Doronila (Anvil Publishing)

General Nonfiction: Ah, Wilderness! A Journey Through Sacred Time, Simeon Dumdum Jr. (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Leisure: Café by the Ruins: Memories and Recipes, Lia Llamado, Adelaida Lim and Feliz Perez (Anvil Publishing)

Literary Criticism/Literary History: Our Scene So Fair: Filipino Poetry in English, 1905 to 1955, Gémino H. Abad (University of the Philippines Press)

Poetry: The Gods We Worship Live Next Door, Bino A Realuyo (Anvil Publishing)

Professions: Sine Gabay: A Film Study Guide, Nick Deocampo and the Center for New Cinema (Anvil Publishing)

Sciences: Diabetes is BitterSweet: A Guide to Understanding Diabetes, edited by Estrellita V. Fernando-Lopez, et. al (SweetStar Publication)

Social Sciences: Competing Views and Strategies on Agrarian Reform, Volume I: International Perspective and Volume II: Philippine Perspective, Saturnino M. Borras Jr. (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Design: The Philippines Through European Lenses: Late 19th Century Photographs from the Meekamp Van Embden Collection, designed by Karl Frederick M. Castro (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Publisher of the Year: Anvil Publishing

06 November 2009

ERF: Cory Aquino 1

It was after the murder of Ninoy Aquino and before Marcos announced a snap election. I was part of a group doing a video on Ninoy to be shown underground to Filipinos, so that people would know exactly why he was such a threat to Marcos that he had to be shot at the airport. I was working closely with the Cojuangco family. I met regularly with Cory in the Cojuangco building in Makati. I have so many memories of those days. Here's one:

Cory and I were left alone in the room after everybody else had left. We chatted a bit about Ninoy (I will not break confidence!). What I can reveal is this: it was after dark and there was no one left on the floor where we were. At that time, Cory was not considered in danger nor a threat to the Marcoses, so she had no bodyguards, no secretaries, no one to care for her person.

Cory said it was time for us to go home. She got up, went to the window, closed the blinds, checked the electric plugs, and as we went out the door, made sure the door was locked. There was absolutely no "presidential air" in the manner she went about making sure the office was okay before she left it. Right there, I knew that, if there were any chance at all, she should be president of the country.

A few months later, Marcos announced the snap election. Of course, I wrote Cory's first speeches, including the proclamation speech at Liwasang Bonifacio. I wrote all the speeches in Filipino. One afternoon, when she and I were again alone in her office, she asked me, "Do you think I should be running for president?"

I said, unhesitating, "Ma'am, you will make a great president."

Then she asked me something that I will never forget.

"Promise me," she said, "that if I become president, you will break through my cordon sanitaire." She was so afraid that she would be isolated from the people by the people around her.

"I promise, Ma'am," I said. That is one promise that I never fulfilled, because when she did become president, no matter how hard I tried (and I knew the people closest to her), I could never get through her cordon sanitaire.

After her term, it was much easier for me to get to her. I invited her to a couple of events I managed, and she always came. She even consented to swear me in as president of the Fulbright alumni association. But that was after her term. Before her term, I was fairly close to her. After her term, she was very nice to me. But during her term, I never got to see her. Sadly, she was indeed kept isolated by her unwanted cordon sanitaire.

03 November 2009

ERF: Imelda Romualdez Marcos 2

I headed the Secretariat of the World Population Congress, held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in 1979. There was a typhoon then, devastating a number of places in Manila. Past midnight, I was alone in the huge Secretariat room, still proofreading the newsletter for the next day. Suddenly, Imelda walked in, alone. She went to the window, looked at the raging wind outside, and said, loud enough for me to hear (obviously meant for my ears), "We build, but nature destroys." (She said it in Filipino, "Kawawa naman tayo. Itatayo natin tapos gigibain lang ng bagyo.") At that moment, although I was no admirer of hers because I had worked in the anti-Marcos newspaper Imelda's Monthly in 1972 and had written the obviously anti-Imelda plays Tao and Halimaw for PETA in 1970, I could not help but be awed. She was then, as many who knew her then attest, extremely charming.

After I had written the two anti-Imelda plays, she called me and a number of other PETA people to Malacanang. When she came face to face with me in the line of handshakers, she said, "So you're the one." (She said it in Filipino, "Ikaw pala iyon.") She didn't say anything else.

A couple of weeks later, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, in a huge crowd, she saw me across the hall and shouted, "Isagani!" I remember not being able to get through the crowd to shake her hand, but I felt very good then, since I thought she remembered my name. Now, looking back, I realize that an aide must have whispered my name and pointed me out to her. On the other hand, she is reputed to have a photographic memory. I would also have remembered a playwright who made a fool of me onstage!

02 November 2009

ERF: Imelda Romualdez Marcos

I want eventually to publish a book entitled Encounters with the Rich and Famous (ERF), consisting of accounts of my brief interactions with, well, the rich and famous.

Let me start the book by putting in this blog, in no special order, my memories of such encounters.

I briefly headed the Audiovisual Division of the Population Center Foundation (PCF) during the last years of martial law, when Ferdinand E. Marcos was the dictator in the Philippines. (The pay was good and, at that time, I was not a particularly politically sensitive person.) No one, therefore, dared cross his wife Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whose brainless remarks were then fodder for the alternative press.

I was sitting in a small meeting with her and the President (or was it Prime Minister) of Cambodia (I'm not sure it was the Khmer Republic then). Naturally, there was an interpreter from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines to translate the Cambodian's French remarks into English and Imelda's English remarks into French.

Imelda was explaining why we had a Population Center Foundation (a quasi-private foundation that she founded and headed) when the government had a Population Commission.

Imelda said, "There is a lot of duplicity in our government."

We all kept poker faces and held our breaths, wondering how the interpreter was going to handle that sentence.

I knew a little French, and I understood what the interpreter said in French. The Filipino ambassador (who shall remain unnamed in order that his reputation shall not be enhanced or tarnished, depending on your political persuasion) said, "The First Lady said that our government does all it can to face the challenge of population growth" (or words to that effect).

He then proceeded to create a totally different discourse in French than the one Imelda was doing. For every stupid sentence that Imelda uttered, he invented a perfectly logical and even brilliant sentence in French, with no relationship at all to the original English sentence.

That's diplomacy at its highest (or lowest)!

24 October 2009

Not gaga over Noynoy

Why do we trust Noynoy's lineage when we could not trust Gloria's? Diosdado lived and died poor, but his daughter, well... I am not saying that Noynoy is like Gloria, but arguing from family names and blood trivializes a serious, non-personality-based election.

28 September 2009

Filipinos helping other Filipinos

There's a People Power Revolution going on (call it People Power 3): everyone helping the victims of the flooding, with or without the help of the government or those that want to be in the next government! I love the Filipino people, not just those in the country but also those abroad!

17 September 2009


My 64-year-old body will undergo an unexpected and undesired cholecystectomy and my mind will have to take a rest from thinking through Wikcriticism or interlingual criticism or language or literature or anything else. My cardiologist swears that I am a low cardiac risk, so I am not supposed to worry. Fortunately, I have a little bit of Spanish blood running in my veins, so I can say with all interlingual conviction, "Que será será" though I know that that is not Spanish at all (since the grammar is terribly wrong!), but a Hollywood corruption of "che sarà, sarà," the motto of the Duke of Bedford. The phrase appears in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (1594):

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and
there's no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so
consequently die:
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu!

The phrase may be interlingual (Spanish, French, Italian, whatever), but I'm not sure I like Marlowe's context! In any case, I shall be back online in a week or so, God willing.

05 August 2009

The 2009 Philippine National Artists Awards

Knowing that Cecile Guidote Alvarez is one of my closest friends, a number of people have been asking me what I think of the latest batch of National Artists. This is what I think.

Cecile Alvarez deserves to be a National Artist, but not this way.

Alvarez was nominated some years back for the award. She was chosen by her peers in theater then as their group nominee in the first phase of the selection process. She did not, at that time, get through the second phase. It is not unusual for a National Artist to have lost in earlier years. Some make it on their second or third tries. I believe that, sooner or later, Alvarez would have gotten the award anyway. She has certainly amassed a body of theater work of the quality and quantity expected of a National Artist, not only in PETA and Philippine television and radio, but in New York.

What Arroyo has done is to rob Alvarez of the joy of attaining the award on her own.

As for the other presidential awardees, I am familiar with the work of Francisco "Bobby" Manoza. I nominated him in previous years and argued for him this year. He, however, failed to make it through the third phase of this year's screening. I also believe that, sooner or later, he would win the award on his own. He has certainly built enough homes and buildings in his version of what is Filipino architecture, focusing on bamboo. To me, he is clearly worthy of being a National Artist, but not this way.

Although I am no longer active as a film critic, I know how the work of Carlo Caparas compares with those that have been unsuccessfully nominated, at one time or another, for the National Artist awards, such as Nora Aunor, Dolphy, Vilma Santos, Celso Ad. Castillo, and Kidlat Tahimik. I am very familiar with the work of the previous National Artists, namely, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Gerardo de Leon, Fernando Poe Jr., and Eddie Romero (and now, as decided by artists themselves, Manuel Conde). A mere listing of the names of the National Artists is enough argument against the inclusion of Carlo Caparas. Those insisting that the choice of Caparas is the first time we have recognized popular culture are insulting the memory and stature of Poe, the most popular cinema artist of his time (who, by the way, should have been our president).

I cannot say anything about Pitoy Moreno, since I am not into fashion design. I was against, and am still against, fashion design as a category for art, despite my great respect for its advocate and my friend Patis Tesoro. It is true that art, like everything else, is rapidly changing and we cannot stick to the traditional list of seven arts, but we cannot expand the definition of art to such an extent that it will lose its meaning. If it is true that life is short but art is long, fashion, from its very name, is even shorter than life.

Since it is the letter of the law that has allowed a de facto president to subtract and add to the list of National Artists decided upon through an exhaustive (and exhausting) screening process, we should take steps to change the law. I suggest that we do with the National Artists what the JBC does with SC justices: the president (whoever s/he is) should not be allowed to choose anyone not in the list, not should s/he be allowed to suggest names to include in the list. That is justice. Art deserves no less.

02 August 2009

FSGO on Corazon Aquino

Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) Statement on the Passing of President Corazon C. Aquino

We are one with the Filipino people, of all faiths and persuasions, in mourning the death of our President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. We condole with her family, and share their grief with the rest of the nation, at the passing from her life into eternity, consoled by the knowledge that she will continue to intercede in Heaven for our country and people.

She leaves a legacy of honesty, purity of heart, faith, and love for the nation, for future elected leaders of this country to emulate. As former senior government officials, aware of the difficulties of governing, and the temptations of power which beset the Presidency, we pay homage to and express our admiration for President Cory, mother of our nation.

02 July 2009

12 June 2009

Statement of Cory Aquino

Anti-CONASS Rally
Ayala Avenue, Makati
June 10,2009

Minamahal kong mga kababayan,

Ikinalulungkot ko na hindi ko kayo makakasama ngayon, ngunit kahit na mahina ang aking katawan, matatag pa rin ang aking paninindigan na tutulan ang katiwalian.

Over the years, I have learned to endure pain and sadness- first, when Ninoy was separated from us by the hand of a dictator; then, when he was taken from us by the hand of an assassin; and now that I have placed myself at the hands of a merciful God.

But perhaps there is nothing that causes me greater pain than to see our people betrayed again and again by those they have elected to lead and serve them. To those of us who had fought long and hard to restore our democracy, the pain deepens at the thought that all our gains have so quickly been eroded.

Nang mapalayas natin ang diktador, hindi ba’t ipinangako nating hindi na tayo papayag na mawala muli ang ating kalayaan? Subalit, narito muli tayo, sa gitna ng walang-hiyang pang-aabuso ng mga makapangyarihang nagnanais na sirain ang mga pinakapayak sa ating mga batas.

Hindi ito ang pamumunong nararapat para sa atin. Hindi ito ang lipunang nais kong ipamana sa mga susunod na henerasyon, kaya sa ngalan nila at ng aking sarili bilang mga mamamayang Pilipino, tumututol ako sa nais ng mga tiwaling miyembro ng kamara na palitan ang ating Saligang-Batas sa pamamagitan ng isang Constituent Assembly. At nananawagan ako sa inyo at sa lahat ng mga Pilipino na magpahayag ng ating pagprotesta rito.

Nasa inyo po ang tunay na kapangyarihan sa ating demokrasya. Huwag n’yo pong payagang manumbalik ang mga pamamaraan ng mga diktador. Tutulan po natin ang Con-Ass! At ipagdasal po natin ang ating Inang Bayan.

Mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino! Maraming salamat po.

11 June 2009

My paper on education in 2001

For the record, here is a paper I wrote in 2001 for a conference in China.

International Forum on Quality Education: Policy, Research, and Innovative Practices in Improving the Quality of Education, Beijing, China, 12-15 June 2001

A Paper by Dr. Isagani R. Cruz, Philippines

ABSTRACT: A model for democratizing quality can be derived from the two People Power Revolutions launched by the Filipino people against two corrupt presidents in 1986 and 2000. Essentially, the two revolutions worked because volunteer critical masses, remaining within broad constitutional frameworks, changed leaders through moral pressure and not through either elections or violence. This People Power Model of Quality harnesses the resources of civil society to eliminate corruption in the government education ministry, to improve access to basic education, and to ensure that education remains relevant to its customers, the latter defined as both students and future employers. The Philippine model includes the participation of professional organizations and civil society groups in the evaluation and distribution of textbooks and other instructional materials, the exercise of academic freedom on the secondary level by private schools, the non-marginalization of out-of-school youth through an accreditation and equivalency system, and the institutionalization of a wide base for curricular reform.


In February 1986, more than a million Filipinos gathered at the most widely-used highway in Metro Manila called EDSA (for Epifanio De los Santos Avenue, named after a 19th century scholar) to protest the continuing violations of human rights, the rape of the national economy (immortalized by the Guinness Book of World Records, which named Ferdinand Marcos the greatest thief of all time), and widespread cheating in just-concluded presidential elections. With only a handful of casualties, the non-violent event – quickly named the People Power Revolution of 1986 – forced President Marcos to step down and to flee to the United States.

In January 2001, more than a million Filipinos gathered again at EDSA to protest the lifestyle of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, who had been impeached in the legislature for receiving payoffs from illegal gambling, depositing incredibly huge amounts of money in illegally disguised bank accounts, and violating various laws. Again, the non-violent demonstration of moral outrage forced President Estrada to step down.

The two modern-day revolutions had in common, among other things, a redefined view of democracy. In addition to – some say, instead of – the process of changing national leaders through elections, the two revolutions introduced a more dramatic and quicker way of presidential recall – voting with feet rather than with ballots. Moral pressure, rather than regular elections or armed struggle, was the tool for people to exercise their ownership of the democratic process. In effect, people took democracy into their own hands, using communications (printed newspapers in 1986 and cellular phone technology in 2001) to exercise political power.

The direct participation of civil society – as the various organized groups and disorganized individuals who joined the two revolutions are called – is the key to the national educational policy of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Instead of the traditional top-down decision-making process, the Arroyo educational policy involves empowering civil society to participate widely and crucially in the educational system. Following the spirit of the two EDSA Revolutions, the Arroyo educational policy involves civil society in all aspects of education, particularly in four key areas: textbook reform, curricular reform, management of private education, and nonformal education. In all these key areas, the Arroyo administration makes full and innovative use of information and communications technologies.


The Philippine basic educational system consists of one year of pre-school (sometimes more for affluent communities), six years of elementary school (usually seven for private schools), and four years of secondary or high school. There is a plan to add a fifth year to secondary school, called a pre-baccalaureate year, which will not be funded by government but will be shouldered by private higher educational institutions. On the elementary level, 89.4 % of schools are public and only 10.6 % are private. On the secondary level, 57.7 % are public and 42.3 % are private. In higher education, less than 20 % is public; higher education is essentially private education. The Philippine Constitution guarantees academic freedom to institutions of higher learning; there should, therefore, be theoretically little for government to do on the post-secondary level, although there exists a Commission for Higher Education (CHED), whose main mandated task is to fund educational innovations and to encourage quality through the identification of Centers of Excellence.

For management purposes, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) is divided into a Central Office (based in Metro Manila), 16 Regions, Divisions under each Region, Districts under each Division, and 40,000 or so schools. In terms of share of the national budget, DECS has the largest share; this is constitutionally protected. But since the national budget is small, the actual absolute value of the money available to DECS for salaries, school building, textbook procurement, teacher training, and other necessary elements of public education is not very much. Public education receives added funding from local school boards, parent-teacher-community associations (PTCAs), and private business corporations.

As of SY 2000-2001, there were 17.9 M elementary and high school students in the Philippines. 15.8 M were in government or public schools, and 2.1 M were in private schools. The figures are not final yet for SY 2001-2002, because the academic year starts only in June in the Philippines, but it appears from media reports that there are now roughly 23 M elementary and high school students. The increase cannot be attributed entirely to the increased total population (now standing at 76 M, more than a third of school age). The new Secretary of Education, former Senator Raul S. Roco, instituted a policy of no collection of opening-day fees; previously, despite the constitutional mandate of free elementary and secondary education, schools collected various miscellaneous fees from students. This new policy clearly attracted school-age children whose main reason for not enrolling in school was money.

There are about half a million public school teachers (total for both elementary and high school levels), 441,000 on national government payroll. The reason that there is no exact figure for the number of teachers is the lack of a national management information system that encompasses both national government agencies, local government units, and private schools. Whatever the actual figure is, the shortage of teachers for public schools is over 38,000 for SY 2001-2002, a shortage that cannot be met by government due to fiscal limits.

The total ideal textbook requirement (one textbook per subject per student) for the public schools is more than 136 M. There are only 15 M textbooks already in the system, with only 64 M textbooks projected to be bought before the end of 2001. Given current budget estimates, there should be a 1:1 ratio for five basic subjects by SY 2002-2003, but this assumes that, first, the figures are accurate (which they are not) and second, that the school population does not increase significantly (and if the present educational policies work, it will). It is thus mathematically impossible for the Philippine government, even assuming a huge influx of money into the textbook procurement process, to provide textbooks for all subjects (even for all core subjects) for all students.

The shortage in classroom is still disturbing, but not as impossible to fill. As of SY 2001-2002, there is a shortage of about 8,500 classrooms. Fortunately, foreign funders are offering money for the building of classrooms, and in a year or two, the shortage should not be significant. There might be a problem with classrooms for secondary schools, if the cohort survival rate (currently standing at 67.21 % for elementary grades) improves, since there will then be about 30% more participation rate for secondary school in six years. Since it is ridiculous to plan on the basis of failure, we must assume that the Arroyo administration and future administrations will succeed in increasing the completion rate; in this worst-case (best-case?) scenario, there will be a crisis in secondary schoolrooms by 2007, a crisis brought about by success.

The solution to the increasing student population and subsequent proportional decrease in teachers, as well as to the gap between number of textbooks and number of students, lies obviously in innovating, rather than in catching up with the population. Information and communications technologies offer one way of working out of the box.

Textbook Reform

Before the Arroyo administration, textbooks before government procurement were evaluated by government curriculum experts. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism consistently reported that textbook procurement was one of the most corruption-prone areas of responsibility of DECS. Aside from internationally expected kickbacks from purchase costs, government officials in DECS were alleged to base their evaluation of the content of textbooks on the content of their pockets after talking to publishers or suppliers.

The Arroyo administration has eliminated corruption from the textbook evaluation and procurement process. Secretary Roco ordered the opening of bidding sessions to the media; by putting bidding on television, he was able to stop suppliers from talking to the bidding committee members. On the other end of the procurement process, in the past, several suppliers would bribe school officials to certify that deliveries of textbooks had been made, even if they had not been made. That source of corruption has also been eliminated through the People Power model. Civil society groups, particularly PTCAs, now monitor textbook deliveries in the 40,000 or so public schools in the country. Because parents, in particular, have a vested interest in having textbooks in the hands of children, suppliers now cannot have what used to be called “ghost deliveries.”

The textbook evaluation process, on the other hand, became free from corruption as an offshoot of its democratization. Textbooks are now evaluated not only by government experts (who are by necessity few and easily identifiable), but also by civil society and professional organizations (organized in volunteer Technical Panels), by higher-level government officials, and by the end-users themselves in a random process. To be approved for purchase by the government, a textbook now has to have the nod of several individuals, making it impossible for a single individual or even a single group of individuals to control the approval process. It is also now financially suicidal for suppliers to offer bribes to the evaluators, not only because there are now too many people to be bribed, but also because the suppliers do not know beforehand who exactly to bribe. In introducing a democratized process of textbook evaluation, the Arroyo government eliminated corruption in a traditionally corrupt department and allowed more minds to decide on which textbooks schoolchildren should use in classrooms.

Curricular Reform

Every previous political administration in the twentieth century changed the curriculum from the top. The typical process went this way: a Central Office high-level educational think tank thought up of a pet subject that should be learned by every Filipino child, then imposed that pet subject on all schoolchildren by inserting it into the curriculum. To break the cycle of mandated curricular change, the Arroyo administration is now instituting a system of wide ownership of curricular reform. The decentralized and decentered system is parallel to the textbook evaluation and procurement process.

First, the regions submit model lesson guides done by their teachers for publication by commercial publishers. Since no copyright can subsist in anything done by government, and since these lesson plans were done on government time by government people, publishers are free to print these lesson plans without paying royalties to anyone. That cuts publishing costs by 10 to 20 percent. Since there will be more than one publisher printing each set of lesson guides, the competition will cut the prices down to something teachers can afford. Once the lesson guides are on the open market, teachers can just mention the page number or lesson number of a book and that will be the lesson plan for the day. There will be no need for teachers to do original lesson plans anymore, which is something they do for an average of two to three hours a day. This removes one of the main excuses teachers have for not keeping up with the latest intellectual trends in their respective fields.

Now, what happens when teachers use the printed lesson guides in their classes? Naturally, they will find many of these lesson guides wanting. They will want to suggest improvements in the lesson guides. There is now a toll-free telephone line at the DECS Central Office that anyone in the Philippines can call collect. Teachers will then call in their suggestions, saying that lesson such-and-such in book so-and-so has to be revamped in this or that way. The reactions will be fed back to the publishers and to the Regional Directors. What will happen, then, is that there will be a continuous revision of the lesson guides; in other words, there will be a continuous revision, de facto, of the curriculum.

When all Philippine public schools have already been wired, which will be sooner rather than later, the teachers can use the DECS website to send in their suggestions. In fact, when DECS is fully online, teachers can just revise the textbooks and lesson guides themselves, because all these now printed materials will be online anyway. By removing the write protection and allowing everyone and anyone to revise online textbooks and lesson guides, there will emerge a truly connected virtual learning and teaching community.

Student groups have also been mobilized through focused group discussions, which basically ask them what they would change in the curriculum if they had to study all over again. Similarly, a number of parents from various regions have also been giving DECS feedback about the curriculum. The Technical Panels, of course, have had a lot to say about the prescribed minimum learning competencies. In the driver’s seat for all this incessant movement is, for convenience, the DECS Central Office, particularly the Bureau of Elementary Education, the Bureau of Secondary Education, the Bureau of Nonformal Education, and the Bureau of Physical Education and School Sports. The Regions, finally, suggest, as well as implement, changes in the curriculum.

The purpose of the entire system is simple, though ambitious: it is to ensure that curricular changes will occur only through spontaneous consensus, the very energy that drove both EDSA Revolutions. By increasing the participation of stakeholders in the curricular reform process, the curriculum is thus democratized and rationalized.

Management of Private Education

During the annual Educators Congress, the first under his administration, Secretary Roco gathered the heads of professional organizations of private schools and announced to them that, henceforth, DECS would encourage them to exercise academic freedom on the secondary level. That means, in effect, freeing the private schools from strict government supervision over matters of admission, curriculum, textbooks, languages of instruction, and so on. The move was both practical and theoretical. It was practical because DECS has too many public schools to worry about and hardly any time to devote to the few private schools operating on the elementary and secondary levels. It was theoretical because it is only in private schools, with their relative freedom from government bureaucracy and tradition, that educational innovation can take place. Without educational innovation and research, the educational system cannot and will not grow.

Mainstreaming Nonformal Education

A significant portion of the time and effort of DECS is spent on nonformal education. In the past, nonformal education was considered a poor cousin, or at least a distant cousin, of the formal school system. Because of the low cohort survival rate of the formal school system (49.76 % as of SY 2000-01), however, the actual population of school-age children served by nonformal education has become too large to be marginalized. An Accreditation and Equivalency system for children of high school age was in existence before the Arroyo administration; the Bureau of Nonformal Education launched in January, 1999, an Alternative Learning System, which succeeded in breaking the perception that learning is necessarily tied up with schooling. In fact, the Bureau was awarded the UNESCO NOMA Literary Prize in 2000 for its work in institutionalizing quality, integrity, and innovation in nonformal education.

What the Arroyo administration has done is to mainstream nonformal education. Lessons learned from the nonformal educational structure are fed into the formal educational structure, thus enriching both and moving towards true equivalency, rather than merely parallel efforts. Examples of such lessons are quality of the curriculum, the learning modules, the learning process, the delivery mechanism, the accreditation and equivalency system, and the management support system. These lessons focus on the need to expand learning into non-linguistic or non-verbal or even non-cognitive areas, particularly areas included in multiple intelligences. By removing the bias towards disciplines inherent in the formal school system, nonformal education has strengthened the need for functionality and competency-based learning, in areas such as Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Be, and Learning to Live Together. By proving that self-instruction is a valid way of learning, nonformal education has made those in the formal school system conceptualize nontraditional ways of teaching, particularly with the use of self-instruction modules using computers and the Net.

Information and Communication Technologies

The Second EDSA Revolution occurred primarily because a million Filipinos with cellphones started sending text messages to each other in the middle of the night to gather at EDSA. Technology was thus crucial to the success of the Revolution, because there was no quicker way to mobilize people in less than an hour to come together in a designated place. Previous to the start of the vigil at EDSA, the Internet had become a major player in raising the consciousness of Filipinos about the corruption in the Estrada household and government. Electronic mailing groups had been formed with members in the tens of thousands, thus making it possible to mobilize such groups on short notice.

The Arroyo administration recognizes the importance of ICT and has, in fact, named ICT as one of its core concerns. In public education, Secretary Roco has put in place a program for eventually equipping all public secondary schools with computers wired to the Net. Aside from getting government and private funding for computer laboratories, Secretary Roco has also set in motion a rapid teacher training program, ranging from simple computer literacy to computer online design. It is estimated that, upon the wiring of all 5,000 or so public secondary schools in the country, there will be enough computer-trained teachers and curriculum designers to plan and implement at least partial virtualization of secondary education.


These four areas of concern – textbook reform, curricular reform, management of private education, and mainstreaming of nonformal education – as supported by information and communications technologies are but a few of the several initiatives being undertaken by the four-month-old administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Secretary Raul S. Roco. In four months, a lot has already been attempted, and modesty aside, done. Why are things being done in a hurry? Because, in the Philippines, we removed two sitting presidents, both of whom had enormous power and resiliency, in only four days each. The confidence we have built in our people because of our ability to mobilize and to change administrations in less than a week, less than the time it takes to count election returns in our country, is the very same confidence we bring to educational reform. The People Power Model of Educational Reform that has been outlined here is not being offered as a Best Practice, but in the Philippine context, it is a practice that works.

(Dr. Isagani R. Cruz is Undersecretary for Programs and Projects of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports of the Republic of the Philippines. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and was a university professor and multi-awarded writer before he joined the Philippine government in 2001.)

Auschwitz and the Philippines

Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945) in Auschwitz-Birkenau, was for me – as it has doubtless been for countless tourists – an experience never to be forgotten.

The objective of the site is not to let the world forget the horrors of war, particularly the incredible evil of the Nazis. In my case, the site has succeeded. Although I was born at the end of the war, I shall never forget the Holocaust.

One of the things I learned is that the victims of the horror were not just the Jews. The camp was the site of the mass murder of non-Jewish Poles, Romas (we call them gypsies, which is a derogative term and thus politically incorrect), Russian prisoners, and other prisoners from outside Poland. A sign inside the site quotes a Nazi commander saying, “All Poles, Jews, Russians, and Gypsies should be exterminated.”

In fact, the first inmates were Polish intellectuals (not all of them Jewish), Russian prisoners of war, German criminals, and German homosexuals. One thing the tour guide said struck me: “Not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German.” Some of the most cruel torturers in Auschwitz, confirmed another tour guide, were not even German Nazis (or SS) but criminals put in charge of inmates.

The main site is in the Polish town of Oświęcim, mispronounced and renamed by the Nazis as Auschwitz. Another site is a few minutes away, that of Birkenau, which today is just ruins, because the Nazis burned it down in an attempt to destroy all evidence of the mass murder.

The Auschwitz site, more precisely called Auschwitz I, is very well preserved. The beautifully-architectured prewar buildings form an ironic background to the real identity of the camp. Within the camp, about 1.1 million human beings were slaughtered by the Nazis.

In the beginning, mass murder was part of scientific experiments in medicine and in biological warfare. Later, the site became a factory, supplying Germany with artificial limbs taken from dead prisoners, human hair to be woven into rugs, and ashes for building roads. It also became a laboratory for time and motion studies of the Nazis, who learned how to become more efficient in terms of how many persons could be killed in the least amount of time and how to build incinerators that could burn the most number of bodies with the least amount of heat. The lack of humanity in the Nazis is evident in every square inch of the site.

What makes the site extremely effective in touching the hearts of visitors is the progression of exhibits, carefully designed along theatrical lines. The visitors are first shown into exhibit halls with photographs and photocopies of various pieces of evidence of the mass murders. Soon the visitors see actual pieces left intact from the war, including canisters of Zyklon-B (the basic chemical poison used in the gas chambers), various objects taken from the victims (eyeglasses, artificial limbs, hair, suitcases, household goods, clothes, and so on), the gallows, and the wall against which many prisoners were shot. Eventually, after seeing various torture cells, visitors enter a gas chamber.

What the Nazis did was clearly one of the lowest points in the history of humanity. We should not forget, however, that it was only one of many low points. Mass murders have occurred many times in our history, with huge portions of populations deliberately killed by invaders. The Auschwitz memorial is unique because it aims to make us remember. We have forgotten most of the other mass murders.

As I walked through the Auschwitz memorial, I could not help but fantasize that, one day, the Philippine government will put up similar memorials to ensure that Filipinos and foreign tourists will never forget the mass murders that happened in our own country.

Not being a historian, I cannot list them all. I just remember the attacks on the Chinese by the Spanish troops, the Balangiga massacre, the tortures done by the Japanese in Fort Santiago, and the tortures by the military during the Marcos dictatorship. If the United Nations is to be believed, torture continues to be used even today under Gloria Arroyo. Do we not owe it to our children to have them remember these horrors of declared and undeclared wars in the Philippines?

The Auschwitz buildings are just nice buildings without the exhibits. Fort Santiago is just a fort (which is so nice lovers actually enjoy walking there) without a well-conceived museum showing the horrors of World War II. Fort Bonifacio has turned into a tourist attraction not because of the tortures inflicted there on Filipinos during martial law, but because of its high-end restaurants.

Just as it is true that not all Germans were Nazis (see the movie Valkyrie), it is also obviously true that not all Spaniards hated the Chinese, not all Americans thought we were monkeys with no tails, not all Japanese condoned Fort Santiago, not all of the Marcos loyalists cheered the military torturers, and not all of our government officials today are turning a blind eye towards the government-sanctioned killings of ordinary citizens but, as the Auschwitz exhibit says, quoting George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

23 May 2009

My blogs

Simply put, blogging is addictive. I have five blogs, two of which are fast asleep, two barely breathing, and one awake and much too active.

The terribly active blog, which keeps me busy for a couple of hours a day, appeals only to writers and critics. Named LOL Literatures in Other Languages, the blog focuses on multilingual or mixed-language literary texts. I am trying to invent a literary theory that, until I think of a more catchy name, is called Multilingual Literary Criticism (MLC).

I have, so far, gotten the interest of polyglots that write texts not in their mother tongue (such as Cuban-Americans, expatriate Europeans, and Filipinos) or critics that are appalled at the lack of interest among literary scholars in the tradition of macaronic verse.

Although the most pressing need for MLC is for those reading mixed-language texts, which have become fashionable lately, I am arguing that even apparently monolingual texts are actually mixed-language. I took my cue from two writers who gave the same insight into their own works, but without knowing that the other had said it, too.

N.V.M. Gonzalez, in a lecture that I attended in California, declared to his American audience, “I write in Tagalog, using English words.” Bienvenido N. Santos, talking to me in Manila, said, “I write in Capampangan, using English words.” The two writers made an impression on me that has refused to go away. I now think that Philippine writers in English write in Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano, or whatever vernacular is their mother tongue, using English words.

By suggesting that Cuban-American writers write in Spanish, using English words, I have, so far, gained the interest of many Cuban-American writers, who agree that they “think in Spanish but write in English.” My European readers (bloggers call them “followers”) are less convinced; many of them do not know in which language they think, because they grew up with more than one mother tongue.

Sometimes wide awake but often on its siesta is my second blog, this one, Critic-at-Large, in which I put all sorts of stuff – sometimes my old columns, sometimes my speeches, sometimes position papers by the various groups I belong to.

In a blog, followers often engage in heated discussions related to a blog entry. One comment I made on Nikki Coseteng’s Diliman Preparatory School continues to generate widely-divergent opinions on the school’s experiments in basic education. The comments sometimes border on the libelous, so I often exercise my right as moderator not to upload extreme views. Despite my censorship, there are still more than 140 comments on that particular blog entry.

My other blogs are the barely breathing Filipino, the sleeping Philippine Fulbrighters, and the fast asleep Manila Critics Circle. The Fulbright blog will soon wake up, because I will upload the transcribed First Fulbright Seminar, which was on corruption. The MCC blog will also get up soon, because I will upload, as soon as they are available, the titles of the shortlisted books for the 2008 awards.

(Published in The Philippine Star, 14 May 2009)

02 May 2009

FSGO on Jun Lozada


We, the Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO), condemn in the strongest terms the arrest of Engineer Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, over flimsy and concocted perjury charges filed by PNR General Manager Michael T. Defensor against him. His arrest stands in stark contrast to the freedom and impunity enjoyed by such allies of the current regime accused of far greater offenses -- Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante, Benjamin Abalos, Romulo Neri, Hernando B. Perez, Virgilio Garcillano, Jesus Martinez, Eliseo dela Paz, and others of similar notoriety.

The minions of the current regime find it all too easy to persecute to the fullest all those who expose its abuses, and oppose its corruption and bad governance. Whistleblowers are harassed and hounded, even as obvious prevaricators and practitioners of corruption are protected, promoted, and highly rewarded. What kind of message do we thus send to our people -- that good is punished and evil rewarded?

How have we as a people come to this state of things?

We call on Mike Defensor to stop posturing as if he is the aggrieved person, even as he was clearly a participant in the cover-up of what became an aborted abduction of Jun Lozada. What moral values does he hope to impart to his young children with his vain and obstinate defense of injured pride, while participating in the cover-up of gross abuses against our people and our laws?

Jun Lozada’s persecution demonstrates how truth has been sacrificed at the altar of immoderate greed. We enjoin all sectors of our society to protest Lozada’s incarceration in the strongest terms, and show to the world that we are not helpless in fighting for our rights and freedoms, that we have not, as a people, surrendered to evil.

12 April 2009

Education reform in the Philippines

Why CHED is rushing

“By 2015,” says Emmanuel Y. Angeles, who now chairs the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), “the 10 ASEAN countries will open their borders, and by 2020, the Philippines will join the APEC Trade Regime. Before these two events happen, we have to prepare our graduates to be globally competitive. There are no other alternatives but to align our degree programs with those of other countries.”

This is the main reason that the members of the Presidential Task Force for Education (PTFE), particularly CHED, are rushing the addition of at least one more and even two more years to our education cycle. All other countries in the world have 15 or 16 years of education from Grade 1 to undergraduate graduation. The Philippines has the shortest education cycle in the world (only 10 years of public basic education and usually only 4 years of undergraduate education, for a total of 14).

European countries have 12 years of basic education and 3 years of undergraduate education. The United States and Asia-Pacific countries have 12 years of basic education and 4 years of undergraduate education. (Myanmar is an exception because it has only 11 years of basic education before 4 years of undergraduate education. India is also an exception, because it has only 3 years of undergraduate education after 12 years of basic education.)

Why is it important to catch up with the rest of the world? “Soon,” says Angeles, “mutual recognition of qualifications and degrees will be undertaken by ASEAN countries and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, HEIs [Higher Education Institutions] must prepare for it now. The qualifications of our graduates must be improved to meet our development goals.”

When CHED first announced its intention to impose a minimum of 5 years for undergraduate education, everyone raised a howl, including me. When I was recently given a copy by CHED of the key points of the PTFE report, however, I realized that there were some good things to be said about the plan.

It has to be clear that not all college students need to stay for 5 years. Students who go to private schools with Grade 7 already have 11 years of basic education, and the present 4-year college already gives them 15 years. Degrees that do not need international recognition can and should be obtained after only 4, maybe even 2 or 3 years of undergraduate study.

The need for having as many years in the education cycle as other countries have is relevant only to professional courses where international agreements are already in place, such as engineering. It is also clearly needed in courses where Filipinos generally have a hard time passing foreign examinations, such as nursing. It is foreseeable that, in the near future, certain professional courses will also have their own international standards for purposes of mutual recognition of degrees, such as education.

In simpler terms, this means that, if we go to school for the same number of years as students in other countries, we do not have to take foreign exams in medicine, nursing, education, engineering, accounting, and other professions to practise in those other countries. Think of it this way: our doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, engineers, and other professionals can be hired immediately in other countries without the need for additional training or exams.

A good example of how equivalencies work is the Washington Accord (1989), an international agreement that specifies that a professional engineer must have gone to school for at least 16 years if she or he wants to practise in another country. With only 10 years of public basic education and even with 5 years of engineering, we are still one year short.

Another often-cited international agreement is the Bologna Accord (1999), which specifies that professional accountants, pharmacists, physical therapists, and so on should have at least 3 years of undergraduate education in addition to 12 years of basic education. Again, our 14-year education cycle is one year short.

Like it or not, our entire economy now depends on Filipinos working abroad. The more Filipino professionals we send abroad, the better it will be for our economy, since they will earn a lot more than less-skilled OFWs. That sounds like we are exporting and exploiting human beings, but with our country in the mess that it is in right now, we have no choice but to depend on our overseas heroes. In fact, since most Filipinos want to live and work abroad anyway, there is no reason to think that ensuring employment abroad through equivalent local education will be met with resistance.

Why, then, is adding years to the education cycle encountering resistance? The answer is simple: students and parents cannot afford the extra year of food, clothing, shelter, and lost income.

How, then, should we sell the idea of adding more years to our education cycle?

First, of course, is connecting the added years to jobs abroad. This is the carrot that will make the stick less painful.

Second and equally important is insisting that not every college course has to have an added year. Only those that produce graduates working abroad as professionals need the extra year.

What are we learning?

Just as important as the number of years we spend in school is what we are learning. How does the typical undergraduate course taken in the Philippines compare with those of the best schools in the world?

For a start, let us compare our General Education (GE) Program with those in the leading schools in the USA, the UK, and our own ASEAN region.

Representative of the American system is the undergraduate degree at Harvard University. The degree program usually takes four years to complete.

Harvard offers full courses (equivalent to our 3 units) and half-courses (1.5 units). All students take 8 half-courses in a Program in General Education, consisting of Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding, Culture and Belief, Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Ethical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, Science of the Physical Universe, Societies of the World, and United States in the World.

The subjects are spread over the first three years of college and add up to roughly one full year of study or a quarter of the entire college course. All students are also required to have a half-course in Expository Writing (our “Freshman English”) and one full course in a foreign language (if they do not pass an exemption test or if they are not foreign students).

At the University of Oxford in the UK, there is no equivalent to our GE program. Immediately upon admission, students take what we call “major subjects.”

At Oxford, students talk in terms of papers (one or two per term), examinations (usually a two to three-hour written exam per paper), and extended papers (our “term papers”). Some degrees can be earned in three years, some in more. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in English, for example, takes three years. Each year has four papers (our “subjects”), some compulsory, some by choice (our “electives”). Each student has to write a dissertation (our “undergraduate thesis” or “baby thesis”).

A good compromise between the American system with a general education curriculum and the British system with none is that of the top university in the ASEAN region, the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of NUS, for example, uses a Modular System, consisting of Modules (our “subjects”) and Modular Credits (our “units,” each Module usually having 4 MCs). The minimum number of MCs to graduate with a degree is 120, taken in three years. Students normally enroll for an honors (spelled “honours”) degree, which needs another one or two years of residence.

Half the time is spent on Single Major Modules (our “major subjects”). The other half is spent on General Education Modules (at least two), Singapore Studies (one module), Exposure Modules (at least three), and various electives that the student wants. The General Education Modules consist of two general areas: Information and Knowledge Content or Knowledge and Modes of Inquiry.

What is our own General Education Curriculum (GEC) like?

We have two models, one for students majoring in the humanities, social sciences, and communication (GEC-A) and another for everyone else (GEC-B). GEC-A has 63 units. GEC-B has 51.

A typical undergraduate degree needs at least 60 units in addition to the GEC units, for a total of about 120 units, just like Harvard and NUS. Notice, however, that an NUS student spends only three years in college. The difference can be attributed to the number of credits per subject or module: NUS has 4, we have only 3.

More important than the number of units and even the number of years spent in college, however, is the content of the General Education courses.

In college, we still teach such subjects as Algebra, Statistics, Basic Economics, General Psychology, Politics and Governance, Society and Culture, Arts Appreciation, Introduction to Philosophy, and Anthropology, not to mention English, Filipino, and all sorts of legislated content (Taxation, Agrarian Reform, Family Planning, Population Education, Rizal, Philippine History, Philippine Constitution).

Compare these subjects with those offered as general education courses at Harvard and NUS. The Presidential Task Force on Education (PTFE) has correctly observed that most, if not all of our GEC subjects are taken in high school in other countries, including Singapore. Our first-year college students, in other words, are really high school students.

Incidentally, the cutting edge in American education can now be found outside the top American universities. Check out this recent news item from the New York Times (Feb. 24):

“This fall, Hartwick College, a small liberal arts college in Oneonta, N.Y., will offer a three-year degree program: students will complete the standard 120 credits, taking 18 credits in the fall, 4 in a January term and 18 in the spring. Students will be able to keep their summers free for internships or jobs.

“Earlier this month, at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican who served as education secretary and president of the University of Tennessee, urged colleges to consider three-year degrees, calling them the higher education equivalent of a fuel-efficient car.”
We can learn at least two lessons: first, General Education courses (if they are at all needed in college) should be issue or competency-based, not discipline-based; second, college years should be lessened, not increased.

Not Grade 7

Since what we learn in school is just as important as how long we take to learn it, then lengthening the education cycle means changing the curriculum.

To make this clearer, let us take an example. Let us take the standard 120 units (hours, credits, or modular credits) that a student needs to finish a college degree. In the American system which we inherited, the student takes four years to finish the units. Roughly, that translates to 30 units per year (divided by semesters, terms, or quarters). At 3 units per subject, the student takes 10 subjects (courses or modules) per year. (In reality, a college student takes many more than 10 subjects per year, because of various other courses each school or government requires, but let us make our example simple.)

Since students in Singapore take only 3 years to finish the 120 units, each subject or module cannot have only 3 units; otherwise, each student will be taking 13 or 14 subjects per year. This is one reason Singapore gives 4 units per subject, making each student take only 10 subjects or modules per year, the same number as in the American model.

Some people have suggested that, in order to add the extra year to the education cycle, we should just let our students take the 120 units over 5, rather than 4 years. We can see from the example that this is not as simple a solution as it looks. Instead of taking 10 subjects per year, a student would now take only 24 units or 8 subjects per year. That would be an awful waste of time, since some students even now take as many as 21 units in a half-year or semester.

On the other hand, some people have suggested that, in order to approximate the British model, we should have only 3 and not 4 years of college. This means that we have to follow the Singapore model and give 4 units per subject, lessening the number of subjects students take. For administrators, that is a nightmare, because teachers will teach fewer subjects and therefore earn less than they are earning now. This will most likely lead to labor unrest in our schools.

Clearly, the solution cannot be mechanical. We cannot just extend 4-year college into 5-year college or compress 4-year college into 3-year college, without doing many other things first.

Fortunately, we have a Philippine best practice to guide us in this matter of length versus content. When De La Salle University shifted from a semestral to a trimestral system in 1981, teachers had to rethink their syllabi. It was not just a matter of teaching 18 weeks’ worth of material in 14 weeks. That would have been not just impossible, but pedagogically unsound. The expected learning competencies per subject, and therefore the entire curriculum, had to be revised.

Let us take a fairly simple example. In a course on the novel, a typical literature major can be reasonably expected to read a novel and to write a short paper on it every two weeks. (Some teachers require more, but let us take the average.) In a semester, that means 9 novels in 18 weeks. In a trimestral system, that means only 7 novels in 14 weeks. That is a major change. The missing two novels have to be taken up in another subject in the curriculum.

In short, changing the time it takes to teach a subject changes the content of the subject. If the same principle is now extended to the whole education cycle, changing the length of the education cycle changes what can be taught during that cycle.

It is, therefore, not just a matter of saying that there should be a Grade 7 or a Fifth or Sixth Year High School or a Pre-University Year in college. Just as important as the decision on when to add the missing year or years is the decision on how to change the entire curriculum to make it rational and effective.

If we add a Grade 7, we have to revise the curriculum for Grade 1. If we add a Fifth or Sixth Year in high school, we have to revise the curriculum for First Year. If we add or subtract a year or two in college, we have to revise the entire college curriculum.

Moreover, a totally new 15-year curriculum, if implemented in June 2010, will produce students graduating not earlier than 2025 (2026 if we want 16 years). Since the Philippines will join the APEC Trade Regime in 2020, we cannot start curriculum change with Grade 1. Let us forget, therefore, about adding a Grade 7. It will be useless in terms of meeting the deadline for international accreditation. It will take too much time, effort, and money to revise the entire elementary school curriculum just to have a Grade 7.

In order for our graduates to have the internationally-required 9 or 10 years of post-elementary education by 2020, where should we add the extra year or years – in high school or in college?

To add or subtract?

The burning issue of the day for tertiary-level educators and government officials is, of course, whether or not to add or subtract years from college education.

It may make us feel better to know that this is a problem not only for us, but also for educators in other countries.

I mentioned earlier the proposal by a former Tennessee education secretary to the American Council on Education to reduce the number of undergraduate years in American universities from four to three. Americans want to copy the British model.

Here, on the other hand, is one of our neighbors going the other way. Right now, college takes only three years in Hong Kong, which uses the British model. By 2012, Hong Kong will add one year of general education to extend college by one year. The British, at least in Hong Kong, want to copy the American model.

The British themselves in Britain do not always follow the British model. The University of Oxford, for example, offers the standard three-year undergraduate course for Classics and English. If the student is not yet ready for college, however, a preliminary year (what we would call Pre-Baccalaureate or Pre-University) is required, making the course in effect a four-year course. The extra year, however, is not for general education, but for languages (Latin or Greek, needless to say).

In the Philippines, we follow, though not strictly, the American model. We should know, therefore, the American justification for general education. The worst thing we can do is to have general education just because the Americans have it.

Why do Americans have general education in college when the rest of the world does not?

A good explanation was given in 2004 by Yale University president Richard Levin to incoming freshmen. “Why,” he asked, “is the undergraduate curriculum, at Yale as at other leading American universities, structured as it is – with two years of broad, general education followed by two years focused largely on one subject?”

He answered his own question: “During your first two years here, you will have the opportunity to explore a broad range of subjects, choosing among literally hundreds of courses throughout the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences that have no or few prerequisites. Indeed, you will be required to distribute your courses such that you cannot specialize prematurely. Only when you choose a major field of study, at the end of your second year, will you be required to concentrate a significant portion of your courses in one area, and only then will you be required to take certain specific courses, rather than choose among electives.”

“This distinctively American approach to undergraduate education,” he admitted, “is not the prevailing pattern in most other countries with strong universities. In most of Europe and in China, students choose their major field of study when they apply for admission. Once admitted, they do not have the freedom that you have to test your interest in a wide variety of subjects; they specialize immediately. Similarly, in much of the world, students choose a profession in their final year of secondary school; they begin the study of law and medicine as first year undergraduates.”

He stressed that the concept of general education has changed: “The freedom to explore in the first two years hasn’t always been a feature of undergraduate education in America. Until the middle of the 19th century, there were very few elective courses at Yale and other leading American colleges. Everyone in Yale College took a common set of courses focused on classical Greek and Latin, science, mathematics and philosophy, and the vast majority of students in law and medical schools entered directly from secondary school. The expansion of the number of elective courses, the requirement that students choose a major after two years of general study, and the definition of professional schools as postgraduate institutions evolved gradually during the 50 years following the Civil War.

“The most eloquent justification for a broad, unspecialized and non-vocational undergraduate curriculum is found in a report written by Yale’s President Jeremiah Day in 1828. At the core of Day’s argument was the belief, which we at Yale share today, that your education should equip you to think independently and critically, and to respond flexibly to new information, altering your view of the world as appropriate.”

What we have in the Philippines, then, is a mongrel: students choose their majors when they apply for admission to college (the British model), but we still have general education in college (the American model).

Here is the key to the issue of general education: the first two years of college, if we are going to have them at all, should not have any required subjects, should not have any skills courses, and should not include any major courses.

Although I helped craft the General Education Curriculum (GEC) for CHED, I now have very serious reservations about it. I think that the GEC as it now stands properly belongs to high school, not to college.

High school in college?

It is clear that we have no choice but to add at least one more year to our 14-year education cycle.

It is also clear that we cannot add the missing year to elementary school, because we would have to wait 7 years for a Grade 1 student to finish Grade 7, 4 more years to finish high school, and 4 more years to finish college. By that time, it would be 2010 plus 15 or 2025, too late for the international deadline of 2020.

If we added the missing year to high school, we would have to wait only 9 years (5 years for a first year high school student to finish Fifth Year plus 4 years of college). That would be 2010 plus 9, just making the international deadline.

Unfortunately, we cannot add the missing year to high school.

There are two main reasons for this. One is that the government cannot afford another year of free education. Fifth Year will have fewer students than Grade 7, but there will still be plenty of schoolrooms to build, teachers to hire, and desks and textbooks to purchase.

The other reason is that the private sector cannot afford an extra year in high school. If we added a year to high school, there would be a year when there will be no students entering college, because they will all still be in Fifth Year. (This would actually happen even if the extra year were Grade 7.) For many, if not most, private colleges and universities, that would mean financial doom, since first year students traditionally contribute the most to tuition income.

Since tertiary education is mostly in private hands, despite the proliferation of state and local colleges and universities, adding a year to high school will be an economic disaster of unforeseen proportions. Some will say that we have too many tertiary-level schools anyway and will sing hallelujahs if a few admittedly substandard private colleges disappear. Unless the government suddenly has a windfall from yet undiscovered sources of diamonds, however, the country cannot afford the withdrawal of the private sector from tertiary education.

If we cannot add the extra year to elementary school nor to high school, where then should we add it? There is no other choice but to add an extra year to college.

This is the root of the misunderstanding about CHED’s proposal to increase the number of years needed to obtain an undergraduate degree.

CHED wants to solve a problem (the lack of years) of basic education through higher education. That, of course, seems inappropriate, because CHED is not supposed to worry about basic education.

Somebody, however, has to worry about it. DepEd cannot worry about it because it does not have the money to solve it, even if it wants to. The state and local universities and colleges should not worry about it because they have a lot more issues to worry about (starting with their, in general, very little money and low standards). Who are left to worry about it? The private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Since it is CHED that monitors private HEIs, then CHED has to worry about it, even if it has no mandate to do so.

(Actually, this situation will be legalized or rationalized once EDCOM 2 convenes. Already, the two key movers of EDCOM 1 – Senator Edgardo J. Angara and Congressman Salvador H. Escudero III – are agreed that it is time to revisit the original EDCOM. Expect serious work on EDCOM 2 to start once the elections are over.)

If we added the missing year to college, we would have to wait only 5 or 6 years before our graduates will have finished a 15 or 16-year education cycle, enough time to make the international deadline of 2020.

We must remember, however, that it is not just quantity but also quality that is at issue here. We better make sure that the extra year is not wasted.

The first thing to do is to revamp the General Education Curriculum (GEC). Many of the subjects are not college-level and should be integrated into high school anyway. Although CHED is the main proponent of the added year, DepEd has to get into the picture, because the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) also has to be revised to include some of the GEC courses. (The BEC is, in fact, being revised right now.)

The second thing is to understand that the extra year should focus on subjects that will prepare the student for college work (“college” as defined by Harvard and Oxford). We can call the extra year Pre-University, Pre-Baccalaureate, Junior College, Community College, College Zero, Associate Year, or whatever; the name should not matter.

What matters is that private HEIs can and should now offer a year when high school graduates who intend to obtain an undergraduate degree can take the tool subjects most useful for high-level academic work.

This proposal answers the main objection of private HEIs to the plan to extend basic education. Because it will be the HEIs that will take care of the extra year, they will not experience one year with no incoming freshmen.

College not for all

A look at the latest list of job vacancies from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is instructive. Of the top 20 vacancies, only 6 require a college degree (three kinds of nurses, technology information officer, occupational therapist, technical support staff). The rest need only high school diplomas (if at all) or, at most, a couple of years of post-secondary education.

When we talk about the mismatch between education and industry, here is a clear mismatch: we think we need college education to get jobs, when industry itself does not require college degrees for most of its available jobs.

The Presidential Task Force for Education (PTFE) has hit upon the correct solution to this mismatch. It recommends that we should not expect everybody to go to college. In technical language, this is called streaming.

The PTFE recommends that high school graduates be streamed into either college or technical-vocational (tech-voc) programs.

For tech-voc, our current ten-year basic education cycle is enough. With some improvements to be brought about by moving some college General Education Curriculum (GEC) subjects down to high school, the public school system should be able to prepare students to go into a tech-voc program that may take anywhere from one to three years. After that, the students can join the job market immediately.

For college-bound students, the current ten-year basic education cycle is definitely not enough, for reasons I already spelled out. For these students, a two-year transition course is necessary. This is the Junior College or Pre-University (or whatever name it will eventually be called) that I am talking about.

If what is left in the GEC is incorporated into this Junior College, then real college work can be done in only two or three years, as in most of the other countries in the world.

Here is the PTFE recommendation:

Everybody goes through six years of elementary school and four years of high school (plus preschool and kindergarten, where feasible). This is the DepEd cycle as we now have it. Except for updating and revising the high school curriculum, the status quo is maintained as far as DepEd is concerned.

After high school, everybody takes an exam. Those that pass the exam may go to the university stream. Those that do not pass the exam may go to the polytechnic stream (polytechnic sounds much better than tech-voc). Those that pass the exam, of course, may also decide for personal reasons not to go to a university but to go to the polytechnic stream or, in fact, to work immediately in a job that does not require anything more than a high school diploma.

Those that finish a polytechnic program but, for personal reasons, want to go to a university anyway have to take equivalency or accreditation courses to catch up with those already in the university stream. In effect, no one is being stopped from getting an undergraduate degree. Those not passing the exam, however, have to take more time to get a degree (one to three years of polytechnic plus another two years of pre-university validation). Another way of putting it is this: those not ready to go to a university will have to spend a lot of years getting ready.

Those qualifying for entrance into a university will take two years of Junior College, to be administered by universities themselves. In these two years, all skills and GEC courses will be taken. Since the GEC today actually takes up almost two years anyway, there is no time lost with this arrangement. Students now actually take Junior College, except that they think that it is part of college proper.

The real difference lies in college proper. All undergraduate degrees will now need at least two years more after Junior College. In effect, everybody will need at least four years to get a college degree (exactly the same as today!). These two years, however, unlike today, will be spent only on professional courses. We will not have the kind of irrational mixing that our schools often do with GEC and major subjects. Instead, we will follow the European model or the American (Yale) model, which distinguishes sharply between years spent on general education and years spent on major courses.

For those degrees that do not need international accreditation, students will use two years for major courses. This means that undergraduate courses in arts and sciences will have a total of four post-secondary years (exactly the same as we have now).

For those degrees that need international accreditation through the Bologna Accord (which requires 15 years from Grade 1), students will have to have three years after Junior College. This means that Accountancy, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, and some other majors will have a total of five post-secondary years (this is not what we have today for some of these majors).

For those degrees that need international accreditation through the Washington Accord or the APEC Registry (minimum: 16 years), students will have to have four years after Junior College. This means that Engineering and Architecture will need six post-secondary years (this is not what we have today).

Education reform

The Final Report of the Presidential Task Force for Education (PTFE) contains several recommendations to reform our educational system. Many of these recommendations are not new, but were widely discussed and agreed upon in earlier surveys, such as the Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM, 1992) and the Presidential Commission on Educational Reform (PCER, 2000).

Allow me to pick out certain recommendations that I find most interesting.

For basic education, the PTFE (echoing EDCOM, PCER, and DepEd itself) recommends, among other things, the use of vernacular languages: “It is important to strengthen the use of mother tongue or lingua franca as the language of instruction in the early years of schooling. This facilitates student learning of all subjects, including science and mathematics, the national language and English as a global lingua franca.”

All (and I mean all without exception) studies of language and learning, both here and abroad, show that young students learn more quickly and more effectively if taught in their mother tongue. Those advocating the exclusive use of English as medium of instruction in basic education are, to use the late DepEd Secretary Raul Roco’s word when describing them, idiots, because they refuse to acknowledge what every researcher and every country in the world already know – that using a foreign language as medium of instruction in grade school is guaranteed to make young children illiterate. (The late DepEd Secretary Andrew Gonzalez used even more colorful language when describing intellectually-challenged kibitzers; it was Gonzalez who institutionalized the current DepEd policy of using the lingua franca as medium of instruction for the first three grades.)

The PTFE also recommends that teachers should visit homes. There are teachers who do visit the homes of their students, but they are the exceptions. Most teachers have no time left for such a crucial duty after they teach, do lesson plans, fix their classrooms, and prepare for frequent non-teaching duties (such as preparing food for “The Visitation of the Gods,” as the classic short story by Gilda Cordero Fernando puts it).

In the old days (even allowing for a little nostalgia), teachers were held in high regard in their communities. They were called maestra or maestro and often consulted in all matters. Today, many deans of schools of education lament, education is usually the career reserved for the least gifted of siblings. “Mag-titser ka na lang” (you are only good enough to be a teacher) is often the advice given to such children.

By visiting homes, teachers will show the families of their students that teaching requires extremely high intellectual and social skills, as well as tremendous amounts of patience and compassion. Teachers will again become models for highly-gifted children. Instead of education being the last choice for a fulfilling career, it might eventually be the first choice (as it should be).

For higher education, the PTFE notes that “in Singapore and European countries, the last 2 years of pre-university are very similar to the first 2 years of general education in Philippine colleges. . . . We, thus, propose benchmarking the first two years of our 5-year professional programs with the 2-year pre-university programs in Singapore and European countries. What is important in the discussion of a 12-year pre-university program is to specify the content of the 11th and 12th years and benchmark these with programs abroad.”

For technical-vocational education, PTFE has extended the current Ladderized Education Program (LEP), because students streamed into polytechnics are automatically ladderized if they wish to continue to the university.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) need not worry that they will lose students to the polytechnic stream. Most of our HEIs can offer both polytechnic and university courses and, therefore, still capture all of our high school graduates.

There are only a handful of HEIs that do not and should not offer polytechnic courses. These are what are known as “research universities.” These are, for example (in alphabetical order), Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, UP Diliman, UP Los Baños, UP Manila, and UST. In these universities, even if teaching is valued and rewarded, internationally-recognized research is always considered more important than excellent teaching. One cannot imagine any of these universities offering TESDA courses such as Automotive Servicing, Massage Therapy, or Training for Household Service Workers.

Most of the other 2,000-plus HEIs in the country, however, will not have any identity problems offering TESDA-related courses (perhaps not Massage Therapy, but Animation, Software Development, and Finishing Course for Call Center Agents). What will happen, then, if the PTFE recommendations are fully implemented, is that most HEIs will have two types of students – those in the polytechnic stream that may or may not continue to the university stream, and those already in the university stream.

The PTFE has many more recommendations, including necessary legislation (such as giving CHED more teeth). It will be impossible for the present government, with only a year to go, to implement all of them, but there is nothing to prevent it from starting to implement at least a couple of them before we elect a new President and have new heads of DepEd, CHED, and TESDA.

(Published in The Philippine Star, 5 March - 16 April 2009)

07 April 2009

The world as a human body

Far Eastern University invited me again this year to be their commencement speaker for their nursing and science graduates at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Manila. Here is my 7 April 2009 speech, which had to be different from the speech I gave last year:

My dear graduates,

I congratulate you, because today you start a new phase of your lives. Today, you change from being students to being professionals. Today, you move from mainly inside to completely outside the campus, from the world of studies to the world of work. I know that all of you have gone through RLE or OJT and some of you are already actually earning a living, so you know something about how different the workplace is from the classroom.

I want to talk about the workplace or, more precisely, about the world at large. It is the world that you will now enter full-time.

I want to use a metaphor that should be very clear to the nursing graduates, but of course the IAS graduates who are in the sciences, should also know what I am talking about. The IAS graduates in the arts are, of course, experts in the use of metaphor.

I don’t know much about preventive or curative nursing management nor even about primary health care, but I do know quite a bit about my body, a human body.

The world is like a human body. We are all cells in the world. Just like individual cells, we look like each other, but we are really different from each other, with different roles to play within the body that is the world. Just like cells, we live and we die. We live much longer than cells do, but we are still all mortal. Cells die but the body lives on, just as individual human beings live and die, but the world continues.

As cells, we form tissues. These are our families, our classmates, our friends, whether face-to-face or on Friendster or Facebook.

These tissues form organs that have different functions in the world. The organs that are our communities are there to nurture us. Your communities gave you nutrition, security, friendship, took care of you, so that you can be the adult that you are now. The organs that are our schools, the organ that is FEU, these organs are there to educate us. Schools gave you brain food, took care of your minds, so that you can be the graduate that you are now. The organs that are our churches and mosques give you spiritual food, are taking care of your souls, so that you can be the mature person that you are now. Just as we have many organs in the human body, there are many other organs that are formed by the tissues that we belong to, organs such as government, business and industry, media, restaurants, transportation, everything that we see around us.

As you learned in school, even those not in nursing, organs form systems, and these systems make the body run. There are different systems that make the world run. Let me describe them.

The skeletal system or skeleton of the world is the earth, nature, the land, the mountains, the sea. Just as we have to take care that we do not break our bones, we have to take care of the earth. We must make sure that the land is fertile, so that trees can grow and animals can find food. We must make sure that the waters of the sea and the rivers remain clean, so life can thrive there. We should learn a lesson from the human body. We cannot say that a single cell cannot make a difference. A single cancer cell soon becomes many cancer cells, and you know what happens when cancer metastasizes. You know what happens when we as individuals do not take care of the earth, when we do not keep our immediate surroundings clean, when we waste natural resources. As health professionals, you know how to keep yourself safe from harmful bacteria. As full-time professionals, you are now expected to keep the earth itself safe from harmful substances and processes.

The muscular system of the world is nature in the form of trees, fish, animals, living creatures. The land stays healthy if there are trees. Just as we have to make sure that we do not strain our muscles, we must make sure that we do not deprive the land of trees. Just as we make sure that we exercise our muscles to keep them in good shape, we must make sure that the food chain is kept intact, that we do not destroy species, that we do not endanger them. The tamaraw is a good symbol of FEU’s determination to keep the muscular system of the world healthy. We are working hard to ensure that the tamaraw does not disappear. As full-time professionals, you are expected to work hard to ensure that all species remain alive, in order not to destroy the delicate balance of nature.

The reproductive system of the world, whether we admit it or not, is us. We were told by our Creator to go and multiply, and we have taken that command literally. We multiply like crazy, from just one pair of human beings to almost seven billion people on earth. But just as, biologically, we can reproduce only so often, we must make sure that the earth is not overpopulated, because we have only so much air and so much space. As individuals who will later get married and have children, you must remember that the earth has only so much to offer, and the more there are of us, the less we can get from the earth. As full-time professionals, you are expected to be responsible cells in the reproductive system of the world.

The circulatory system of the world is, for many of you, your own parents and relatives. There are now over 11 million adult Filipinos working and living outside the Philippines, populating the earth, circulating all over the world. They have brought Philippine culture with them, and we are clearly the most widespread race on earth, perhaps even more widespread than the Chinese, who stay together and put up Chinatowns, unlike us. In any case, the world has dropped its borders, and everybody now lives everywhere. As individual cells working for the health of the circulatory system, we must keep the blood flowing, so to speak. As full-time professionals, you are expected to be global in outlook and even in residence.

The nervous system of the world is the economy, money, financial matters. Just as the nerves control our physiological processes, money makes things happen, whether through governments or through private individuals or groups. Especially when the body is under tremendous nervous strain, as the world is now with the financial crisis, it is very important that every single cell does not add to the strain. As full-time professionals, you are expected to remain responsible in money matters. You must not waste money.

The digestive system of the world is science, medicine, knowledge, intellectual capital. It is the scholars, the scientists, the thinkers, the intellectuals that ensure that the world learns from its history. We take the food given us by our experiences, and we digest that food to make it useful for all of humanity. We have to learn to distinguish the good from the bad. We know that we cannot eat everything, that we have to stay away from fatty foods, bad cholesterol, sugar, salt, things of that sort. We also should know that we do not need to know everything. There are facts that will help us and facts that we do not need to know. The temptation to eat everything, the temptation to spend the whole day surfing the Web, is very, very great, but we have to have everything in moderation. As full-time professionals, you are expected to know how to manage your time, how to know where to look for information, how to learn how to learn.

The excretory system of the world is international and national law. The law keeps us from being too selfish and ensures that everyone gets a chance to live a full life. Just as the excretory system removes bad things from our bodies, the law puts evil and corrupt persons in jail, at least in theory. As individual cells, we have to trigger reactions that will signal the presence of bad cells in our midst. Good cells have to fight bad cells. Cancerous cells have to be overcome. The biggest cancer facing our country today is the cancer of corruption. We have to stop corruption on every level, especially on our own personal level. If all of us, if all cells, just refuse to bribe anybody, the corrupt government officials will not find anyone to bribe them. Remember that it takes two to tango, two to be corrupt. Jose Rizal said that there are no tyrants where there are no slaves. We can say that there are no corrupt government officials where there are no corruptors. There cannot be bad cells if every cell is good. As full-time professionals with the FEU values, you are expected to be upright and incorruptible.

The lymphatic system of the world is religion, the various religions. Religion keeps us from thinking that we are alone in this world. Religion reminds us that there is something bigger and higher than us. Like the lymphatic system, religion destroys evil. Religion signals us if there is something wrong, if cancer has somehow crept into our world. If there is no God, one novelist once wrote, then everything is permitted. Since there is a God, whether we call God Lord or Allah, not everything is permitted. The lymphatic system can make us immune from evil, if we continue to have faith in God. As full-time professionals, you are expected to live up to your being made in the image and likeness of God.

The respiratory system of the world is society with its mores, norms, and beliefs. It is within society that we live, so we have to follow society’s ways, or we risk respiratory failure. Society is the oxygen we breathe. When we are born, we are born immediately into society. We breathe in oxygen the moment you nurses shout “Baby Out.” Once we are born, we find ourselves out in society. There is no way to avoid being in society. Society is good for us. As full-time professionals, as individual cells, you are expected to respect the tissue, the organ, the system in which you find yourselves.

Let me see. There are ten systems in the human body and I have already mentioned nine. What is left?

The endocrine system. The endocrine system relays chemical messages throughout the body. What is the endocrine system in the world? You. Yes, you. You, the younger generation, form the system that controls or should control most of the processes of the other systems in the world. The body cannot grow, the world cannot grow, your family and neighbors and friends and country cannot grow without the endocrine system, without you.

I know that you have heard this before: the youth are the hope of the country. I am saying the same thing, but in a slightly different way. You fresh graduates, you young nurses, you young scientists, you are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal glands of the world. You are the ones that will ensure that the world will run smoothly, properly, effectively, humanely. You are the ones with the new ideas, with the fresh energy, with the enthusiasm and the idealism and the good will. You are Web 2.0. You are Facebook. You are YouTube. You are awesome. You are you.

What have we learned from this little exercise in analogy?

No cell functions alone. We cannot do things by ourselves. We need to be part of tissues, the tissues of our family, our friends, our classmates. Tissues cannot act alone; we need to be part of organs, the organs of our community, our school, our church or mosque. Organs cannot act alone; we are all part of various systems.

There are good cells – that’s us – and there are bad cells. These bad cells, these cancerous cells, are those that ruin our world, those morally bad (such as corrupt government officials), those intellectually bad (such as ignorant people), those spiritually bad (such as those that do not follow God’s commandments), those psychologically or sociologically bad (such as those that do not follow the rules that we live by) – they ruin the earth. It is our responsibility as good cells to drive away the bad cells, to have them excreted from the human body as waste. If government officials are corrupt, we must not reelect them or elect their relatives next year. If there are people that have not gone to school and are still mired in superstition, we must reach out to them and educate them, do community service for the out-of-school or the illiterate. If there are people that disobey the laws of God or the laws of human beings, we must show them the error of their ways. We must not let only the excretory system worry about them, because we are the endocrine system: we tell the excretory system what are toxic and what are nutrients. No cell stands apart from the body. As the Tagalogs say, sakit ng kalingkingan sakit ng buong katawan. You individually can make a difference to the health of your family, your community, your country, and the world as a whole.

This is my prescription for you. Stay healthy. Keep the world healthy. As many have said before me, do not just change the world. Be the change the world needs. Be change itself.

Usually, when I say goodbye to someone, I say, see you soon. I will not say that to you today, my dear young nurses, because the only reason I will see you again is if I have been admitted into a hospital and you are doing rounds with me as your patient. I don’t want to see you again, so I will just say, I am very glad that I have seen you today and that you have made it and that you are now, undoubtedly, indisputably, clearly, deservedly, and proudly, FEU graduates.