Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Powerless Academic

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

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

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

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Attn: Bedans and Red Lions fans. Let’s cheer and drink beer




“When I would approach the coliseum, my foolish heart would thump wildly. A loss could mean the campus would be in mourning. The heroes got to the mountain top.”

-Rene A.V. Saguisag
Former Senator, San Beda alumnus

Umpa! Umpa! Umpa! Umpa!
Beda Beda Beda Beda Fight Fight Fight!
Hey U Kim Kum Kawa!

I KNOW SO LITTLE ABOUT BASKETBALL. All my life, I have played hoops but once, and that was in freshman high school physical education. It was a fifty-second stint briefly punctuated by a traveling violation. I never tried again.

But then, in the past ten years, since I stepped in the hallowed grounds of San Beda, I have always been an ardent supporter of the Red Lions and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Even now that I am working, I would not think twice of taking a leave from work so I won’t miss an important game, the same is true with many of our alumni; PLDT/SMART Chair Manny Pangilinan would certainly agree. And, why not? Some people go to spa parlors to regain spent energy. We go to the NCAA games.

I still know so little about fouls, violations, and the rudiments of basketball. I usually wait for other Bedans to clap before I do. (Sometimes I cheer, by mistake, for the opposing team), but I have mastered the art of shouting “defense!”, have memorized every letter and note of our cheers and yells, and have also gotten used to going home with a heavy heart after watching the Red Lions lose in games that they could have handily won.

For twenty eight years since their victory over Ateneo in 1978, the Lions never won a championship. Those were decades of heartbreak and despair. But even the darkest of sagas do end. The story changed two years ago when lady luck smiled and the opposing team’s buzzer-beater shot failed. We won the do-or-die match by a balding man’s hair strand. We grabbed the championship. Our battlecry, End 28 at 82!, was prophetic. We ended 28 years of defeat in Season 82.

I was lucky to be at the Araneta Coliseum when it happened. For a while, I could not believe that we had actually ended nearly three decades of title drought. I only realized that we made it won when a stranger embraced me tightly and we both wept. Indeed, it was a night when you could embrace anybody in red.

From the coliseum, Bedans trooped to the Mendiola campus where a glorious feast was to happen. Food and spirits were flowing like manna and rain from the heavens. Now proudly hangs in my bedroom is the 2006 championship shirt signed that historic night by our heroic cagers, including the gentle giant from Nigeria—Sam “The Ekwelizer” Ekwe, King Lion Yousif Aljamal, Alex Angeles, Pong Escobal, Borgie Hermida, and fellow Ilocano Ogie Menor, who decided to play for San Beda, turning down (and rightly so) the tempting offers of La Salle. This experience is one of the most ecstatic in my life, and this I will keep on retelling until I fade in the sunset (not so soon, I pray, so I can cheer for many more seasons).

Last year, the San Beda Red Lions duplicated the same feat and, in this 84th season of the country’s oldest collegiate league, are gunning for a third-straight basketball title. With either the Letran Knights or the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers (who are still battling it out in the semifinals as of press time) at the other side of the bench, the road to a glorious three-peat will not be a cakewalk. Letran, the league’s winningest, boasts of 16 championship victories against San Beda’s 13. JRU, for its part, is the league’s hungriest, having won their last championship 36 years ago, in 1972. So, the Lions can never be complacent, and neither should we, fellow supporters, if we really want to fortify our basketball dynasty.

Now based in the province, I can no longer see the Lions see action in flesh and blood. I will have to be content with watching the games live on television. But I need folks who will join me in believing. I do not want to commit the same mistake when, in a recent San Beda-Letran game, I turned-off the boob tube when there was less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter and Letran was up by 6 points. Forgetting the Animo! spirit, I was resigned to a defeat, only to find out in the news later on that San Beda had won by 2 points by virtue of a Hail Mary shot in overtime. San Beda’s neighbor in Mendiola, St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases, must have done his part as well.

And so I invite fellow Bedans and their families, Bedan-lovers, supporters of the Red Lions, and anybody whose life has been touched by San Beda, including our lawyers here who took the bar review in Mendiola (like my cousin Erme Labayog): Let’s gather together, cheer together, drink together, and, if we lose (God forbid!), weep together. Even if you are not from San Beda if you love good, intense, passionate basketball, please come… and don’t forget to wear red.

Once a Bedan, always a Bedan. Right now, I only have the following names: former Laoag City Councilor and Ilocos Publishing Corporation President Jay Ramos, National Youth Commission Chairman Richard Alvin Nalupta, K. Reyno, D.A. Bitancor, Badoc’s Atty. Philjer Noel Inovejas, Richard Co, Christianne Flores, Mr. Felipe of NCC, and my nephew Jerome Geronimo. I know that a young Fariñas, a son of former City Mayor Cesar Ventura, and a gorgeous varsity debater also attended San Beda but, alas, their names escape me. I am sure Manong Pepoc (Pastor) would also be glad to come had he not gone to the great beyond. He will be our prayer warrior up there, together with Raul Roco whose composition, the “Bedan Hymn”, we shall sing with pride, win or lose.

It will just be the beginning of a rediscovered brotherhood. I hope Ilocano Bedans can organize a group similar to UP Namnama, and contribute to the development of our locality. In the same breath, I hope our universities and colleges in the province can also fortify their sports programs and create an honest-to-goodness league where stars are born, and where school loyalties run deep.

The powwow can be held in my place or yours. It does not matter the venue for as long as we’re together (and there’s beer… and television, of course!). 09297793969 is the number to text or call.

Animo San Beda! Fight Team FIGHT!

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Of strangers and family

KNOWN WRITER Mitch Albom posits that “strangers are family just waiting to be known”. My biggest push and best reward in writing this column is the opportunity to meet more of my family.

For instance, I now have new relatives in Texas. “Auntie” Tess (Perez) of Houston writes: Your recent feature “Provincial Bliss” really touched my heart. My husband (Orly) and I have been living in US and Canada for the last 32 years now, but there’s always that yearning of coming home. We came for a visit 2 years ago, and decided that Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte is going to be our next home. We came originally from San Fernando, La Union, but Pagudpud reminds us so much of our childhood environment, and I can’t wait to come home to the “Province”. My husband and I are products of DMMSU of La Union (formerly LUSAT). We are flattered that we already gained a “nephew” in Laoag. We’re very hopeful that we will meet you someday. Meanwhile, I will be very eager to read your weekly column.

Herdy’s rikna ken nakem: I learned that although Uncle Orly and Auntie Tess’ plans for retirement won’t happen in the next five years or more, they are already helping their future community. They allowed part of their newly-purchased land in Ayoyo, Pagudpud to be used as a community fishpond. This is in close coordination with the barangay chairman. In addition, they are supporting YCAP volunteers assigned in the barangay.

Sensing that the couple prefers to work silently and without fanfare in “giving back” to their adoptive community, I am crossing my fingers that they won’t mind my mentioning in this space their noble efforts. I just want you, dear readers, to feel inspired by their generosity of soul in the same way I was moved. Thrilled I always am to hear of folks who, blessed enough, are drawn to pay it forward… people who do good for goodness’ sake, unlike politicians. Their act—a modern-day, borderless bayanihan—exemplifies the best traits of the human spirit. Mabuhay!

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Ananda, is Marcos a hero or a villain?


Dear Ananda,

On September 21, you will turn three. To us, your family, that day will always be a great cause for joy. You came to the world and brought color to our dull lives.

As a child, you are carefree, fun-loving and adventurous. Your cheerful disposition and ready smile makes you a friend to all, both young and old. Fittingly enough, your name means “Eternal bliss”.

But happiness is not what many Filipinos associate with the day of your birth. It is, at most, a day in question.

When I was still working in Manila, we would usually spend September 21 by vilifying Ferdinand Marcos, the iron hand behind Martial Law-—recounting him as a sinister dictator, a scary monster, a shame. The younger generation of Filipinos, apathetic they seemed to be, were admonished not to forget the lessons of Edsa and to value their freedoms.

When I moved here in Ilocos and taught at MMSU, the story was totally different. Everyone was lamenting at how Manila-based historians, academics, and opinion makers have been very unkind to Marcos. My colleagues, who conducted a research on how the common Ilocano recounts Marcos, attest that people here only have words of adulation on the greatness, sincerity, and visionary leadership of this great son of the North.

Was Marcos a hero? Twenty years ago, the answer was an easy NO. In 1986, Marcos was sent into exile and the nation heralded the dawn of a new era in Philippine democracy.

As I write this piece, it is September 11, the birthday of Henry Yumul—my kuya, your lolo. But it is also the birth anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos, and for which reason this day has been declared a special non-working holiday in Ilocos Norte by virtue of a presidential proclamation. Justifying the declaration, Malacañang said that it meant to “exemplify the leadership of the former president to be emulated by all leaders, youth and the future generation”.

You see, Ananda, yesterday’s villain could be today’s hero. Sociologist Peter Berger was right: the past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.

This is also true in the case of Erap Estrada, an ex-convict. In 2001, he was booted out of office on allegations of corruption. Today, however, Erap sounds like a statesman when he speaks, and Gloria Arroyo makes it possible. With corruption many times more rampant and unabashed in the present presidency, Erap now looks like a saint, and our people begin to look at Edsa 2 as a big mistake.

Don’t get confused, Ananda, Edsa 1 is different from Edsa 2. In fact, we even had a third version. This is not unexpected in a country in perpetual search of a Messiah. When Cory Aquino assumed office, everyone was in high hopes. It looked like the rebirth of a new Philippines. Alas, Cory missed that chance. Our economy dipped further, and the nation was in for more darkness, not only because of the frequent power outages during her term but more because our people, failed with their expectations, felt like flies that jumped out of the pan and into the fire. The people thought Marcos was the enemy and that everything will turn out right without him. They were wrong.

Still, Cory Aquino, simply by ousting Marcos (thanks to a disloyal military, the church, and the US of A), has been extolled several times as a hero, landing in the cover of Time Magazine, and being listed alongside Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama as Asian greats. Never mind that the Mendiola massacre that killed militant farmers happened during her time, and never mind that a toothless land reform program resulted to the death of tenants in the Cojuangco family’s Hacienda Luisita.

Fidel Ramos came later and promised us the gateway to dream paradise that was Philippines 2000. The life and of Mang Pandoy (God bless his soul!) is a sad proof that we were, then again, just taken for a ride. Then Erap, then Gloria… until the next Messiah. The 2010 elections is just around the corner and candidates are now beginning to posture themselves as the hope, the answer, the future. I have a suspicion that Juan de la Cruz will again fall in the same trap of empty promises and blatant lies. Redemption remains elusive.

The Marcoses are back in power and in style. Imelda who, to this day, is innocent in the eyes of the law, remains graceful as a swan. She has bounced back in good form. The Marcos children and kin have returned to power as well. They have moved on.

But how about Cory? It escapes me, Ananda, why Cory Aquino, to this day, cannot find it in her heart to forgive the soldiers who were implicated in the assassination of his husband 25 years ago. We all know that those lowly soldiers, if indeed they participated in Ninoy’s murder (the solicitor general opines that they did not), were just pawns of still undetermined masterminds. These foot soldiers have languished in jail for over two decades, and their families have tremendously suffered as well. Cory has become president, her son Noynoy is now a senator, and Kris Aquino has long been torturing us with her annoying presence on television—what else could Cory ask for?

Meanwhile, the remains of Marcos remain in a refrigerated crypt. His being laid to rest still depends on public opinion and political alliances. Erap would have given a green light to a decent Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani had he not chickened out to public opinion. If only Erap knew that he would be ousted anyway, he would have done that one brave act. It appears that the Marcoses are now allied with the Arroyo administration, but the president from Pampanga has enough controversy to last for ten lifetimes, the least that she needs is another reason to be hated all the more. “It doesn’t matter the place anymore at this point in time. If you’re a bayani [hero], you are a bayani wherever you are,” intimated Imelda Marcos recently. You see, wisdom comes with age. Hey, don’t ask me about Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Love is known to defy reason. It is enough to think that Marcos loved us Ilocanos dearly, and that it is but fit that we show our love for him in return. Marcos was no saint. Like everyone else, he too had his own share of excesses and shortcomings, but to say that all he did was evil sure sounds unfair. You will soon be aware that we, members of your family, also have our own share of follies. I am confident though that our love for each other is enough to help us see the best in each one. Be inspired by our feats but make sure you learn from our mistakes.

But let’s call a spade a spade. To me, at least, Marcos was an outstanding social architect. He knew just exactly what he wanted for our country and he had a blueprint on how things can get done. From infrastructure to participatory democracy to Cultural Revolution to educational reforms and values reorientation, Marcos did more than his fair share. One of my students at MMSU commented that Marcos was not a good leader because everything he did was only for selfish ends. It made me wonder if the student knew that his enjoyment of excellent education in the state university is due to the late president’s labor. It is either that his remark was born of ignorance or that his English professor needs to clarify what “selfishness” means.

What then is the truth about Marcos? “There are no truths, only interpretations”, says the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. To tell the truth is to tell a lie. We Ilocanos have every right to write our own version of history, but we have no right to brand other versions as lies. There are as many truths as there are many people who search for it.

You can only convince a person whose loved one disappeared for eternity (desaparecido) due to political reasons during Marcos’ time that Martial Law was a gift from heaven as much as you can make people, whose lives Marcos brightened, believe that his regime was a time of darkness.

But even people’s deepest convictions change. Uncle Gerry, who was a student activist during Martial Law, was incarcerated in the 70’s for joining the resistance movement against Marcos. Today, he is one of the staunchest defenders of the former president. You should only talk to Uncle Gerry about Marcos if you have at least five hours to spare, although I still doubt if such time would really be enough for his narrative on the greatness of the man whom Carlos P. Romulo extolled as “The quintessential Filipino”.

I am not sure, Ananda, how your generation would look at Marcos. But let me warn you: don’t believe everything that you read in books. All the more should you be cynical about the information you get from media. Remember that even popes commit mistakes. Yes, you should not even believe everything that I am saying here. As man’s search for truth is a lonely and painful sojourn, we can only provide you with tools of discernment. The world is unkind to the vulnerable and weak of heart.

You were born on September 21, a day of many questions. But when we see you play, hear you laugh, witness you explore the world, and watch you sleep soundly at night, we shed off our cynicism, forget about the painful crisis that besets our land, and begin to believe that, yes, there is still hope.

Ananda, you are an answer.

Happy 3rd birthday, dearest child. We love you.

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Provincial bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards and God Bless.

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

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

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