Archive for July 2008

Between Honesty and Hope 3

July 31, 2008

When Behn Cervantes was detained with us in Bicutan prison, he mounted a play, a modified version of Aurelio Tolentino’s Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas. Part of the preparations was a series of discussions where he shared his ideas and experiences on theater and the performing arts.

I remember one insight he shared now that Girlie and I are feeling anxious and nervous the day before the opening of my first solo art exhibit tomorrow at the GSIS Gallery.

“The day/night before the first performance is the most difficult,” Behn told us. “You think of everything that could go wrong, no matter how well you prepared and rehearsed.”

The feeling is almost a ritual anxiety, even dread: Those whom we invited to the opening night won’t make it. The GSIS building is too far from our Quezon City friends. Most do not know the way. It’s Friday night, and there are a lot of other events. The traffic is heavy.

Thankfully, friends call us to confirm that they are coming to the opening. They share our excitement, and some even want to buy a painting, except they tease us that the prices may be too high for their pockets in these hard times.

Then Girlie worries that all those she invited will come, and the food will not be enough! GSIS is providing snacks, part of their support for the arts, but Girlie wants to know what they will serve. She calls her in-law from Bulacan to bring empanadas and ensyamadas, to make sure there’s enough to eat.

Am posting this blog as a way of relieving anxiety, just before we ride a van that transports the 10 feet by 3 feet mural that I painted in 1984 in Bago Bantay. I retouched it yesterday, and it conjured a lot of memories. I re-wrote the three quotes, two from the Bible, one from Philippine proverbs, that are part of the painting: I have come not to bring peace but the sword. Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword. Ang taong nagigipit, sa patalim ay kakapit. The mural’s title is “Notes for a Theology of Struggle.”

Iting Isberto, a co-detainee in Bicutan, met Girlie yesterday at the GSIS to plan the opening program. When she saw two paintings, “Freedom Fire” and “Pumipiglas” she said that memories of our detention in Bicutan came flooding back. She kindly agreed to pitch in for her husband Mon Isberto of Smart who will come a bit later. Mon was one of the four detainees in the room I was in, and I asked him to join National Artist Napoleon Abueva and Senator Noynoy Aquino in cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

If we get lucky, maybe even Pampanga Gov. Among Ed and Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca can make it. Too bad that Naga City Mayor Jessie Robredo can’t. Lalli Diokno of Sining Sibol who is co-organizing the exhibit wanted to invite more prominent politicians, but I said I prefer those with whom I am comfortable. “They will more likely buy, since they can afford,” he argued. But I said that I called my exhibit “an artistic meditation” and I want those whom we invite to be those with whom I share life’s conversations. Anyway, others can view the show on their own time, later.

Will try to blog again about the paintings themselves and the meditative texts that accompany them. For now, let me post the brief intro that Girlie is having printed on a tarp to be posted at the entrance of the exhibit:

Between Honesty and Hope – an artistic meditation.

Forty years ago, in 1968, I was ordained an SVD priest. I understood and lived my mission, then and now, as working with the grassroots in their struggle for justice.

it is an option that has led me to many paths. it has also generated many images and themes, some of which I have sought to express in the paintings and drawings on exhibit.

The texts are gleanings from life’s lessons, on living, loving and learning between honesty and hope.

Weekend in Zamboanga

July 30, 2008

Over the weekend, I was in Zamboanga City at the Lantaka Hotel “by the sea” for a Synergeia workshop. Fifty-four prospective Instructional Managers from Jolo, Patikul, and Siasi in Sulu went through the orientation and training that 102 IMs underwent in Cotabato City one week earlier.

This August, all of them will organize learning groups of out of school youth in their barangays and study the three modules of the Literacy for Empowerment course that I designed for Synergeia. Hopefully, they can finish the course before the start of Ramadan in September.

Like the participants in Cotabato, all the IMs from Sulu are college graduates. One even had a double degree, and there were a couple who graduated cum laude.

But as Nene Guevarra told them last Monday before the closing ceremonies, Synergeia looks first to the heart. She asked them, “Why do you want to be IMs? Why do you want to help the out of school youth?”

I tried to capture the spirit of their individual answers in a pledge that they signed at the end of the workshop: Panata sa Paglilingkod.

Ako ay pinagpalang nakapag-aral hanggang sa mataas na antas. Mahalagang biyaya sa aking buhay ang aking edukasyon.

Dahil sa aking pagpapahalaga sa edukasyon, nais kong makatulong sa mga kabataang, may pagnanais na mag-aral. Hangad kong magkaroon sila ng pagkakataong matuto, sa loob at sa labas ng paaralan.

Nagpapasalamat ako sa pagsasanay sa akin para ipatupad ang programang magbibigay sa mga kabataang nasa labas ng paaralan ng kaalamn at kasanayang kailangan nila para sa kanilang buhay.

Sa araw na ito, aking nilalagdaan ang isang panata ng paglilingkod sa mga kabataang nasa labas ng paaralan.

Magiging kaagapay nila ako sa kanilang pagtuklas at pagpapaunlad ng angking kakayahan. Magiging katuwang nila ako upang lumakas ang kanilang tiwala sa sarili, at manatiling buhay ang knailang pag-asa sa kinabukasan.

The IMs and the out of school children and youth they will serve were on my mind as we waited in the airport for our flight back to Manila. I listened intently to the SONA and its claims, its promised programs, and its programmed applause. Nene teased me for being masochistic.

I know that politicians’ words have been continuously devalued. Still, I remain interested in public formal pronouncements. We can use them to exact accountability. At the very least, they tell us what are priority issues and concerns.

Realistically, I did not expect any mention of the out of school youth and alternative learning systems for them. These are still relatively invisible and marginalized. But I was disappointed that there was no mention even of formal education and the government’s commitment to Education for All.

Transformative Learning

July 25, 2008

Yesterday afternoon, Girlie and I dropped into the Far Eastern University for the first time. I had been invited to speak at the biennial conference of the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Science. Benilda Villena, VP of Enverga University and our friend from the 70s, is current APCAS president.

The theme of the conference is Transformative Learning, and I initially wanted to share my latest readings into neuroscience. The findings into what happens to our brain when we learn are exciting and should inform how we design workshops and classes for that matter.

Even if I limited myself to the findings summarized in Brain Rules which my sister Yen kindly bought for me, I found it hard to prepare my talk. Fortunately, Benilda gave me a topic that is relatively easier for me to prepare – Lifelong Learning for Social Transformation. “It’s your life’s work,” she said later, to explain why she asked me to speak on it.

Still, I downloaded the summaries of the 12 Brain Rules and gave them to the participants as bonus. At the start of my talk, I shared with them the first Brain Rule, that physical movement helps us learn, to introduce the energizer.

The theme reminds me of the slim book of Brian Murphy of Inter Pares in Canada, Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World. I was expected to reflect on my experiences in social activism, and I did, including the adjustments from the politics of resistance to the politics of participation after EDSA 1986. But I dwelt longer on my insights into education work, particularly in the formation of grassroots leaders, in order to engage the participants in their own field of formal higher education.

Sometimes I describe the work I do with the Education for Life Foundation as “alternative higher education” for the grassroots, and even as “liberal education” for grassroots leaders.

Obviously, the more immediate association of social transformation is “committed action.” Young student activists who dropped out of college would quote the 60’s slogan – Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education. Later, one of Marx’s theses on Feuerbach resonated even deeper with them – Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.

The truth borne by those slogans and aphorisms remain valid. But I explained that the political context within which they got popularized was that of repression and resistance under martial law. But after 1986, how do we re-interpret them in a situation that offered possibilities of reform, but not radical revolution?

I agree with the observation that there was also a shade of anti-intellectualism engendered in young activists by their experience with irrelevant studies and conservative, even authoritarian professors. But even in the movement, the educational work tended to focus on progressive content ( analysis and political strategy ). The methods and the underlying theory of learning, on hindsight, were not equally progressive. Freire’s critique of the “banking method” can apply not just to conservative education but also to education within the revolutionary movement.

That is one of the reasons I think for the difficulties faced by activists in adjusting to the changed political situation. At some point I half-seriously suggested that we need to also use the reverse of Marx’s thesis – Activists have sought to change the world. But to change it effectively, we need to understand it.

Part of our response was to revive and promote the theory and practice of popular education or “pop-ed.” Initially, this was welcomed mainly for its methods – participatory, lively, even fun. As one of ELF’s leader-graduates report, the mayor in his home town appreciated their training activities simply because they were not boring.

But a deeper appreciation developed beyond the methods to the theory and the assumptions of popular education. After Freire, the other major influence on my thinking on this is Grundtvig from the Danish folkehojskole tradition. One of the Danish folk high school teachers would say, “First we enliven them; then we enlighten them.” They also had a quote I really liked, which turned out to be as old as Plutarch – “Learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. They are torches waiting to be lit.”

Another Danish teacher wrote that “We wind up our students like watches. Then they continue running on their own.” It’s a good metaphor for lifelong learning, but the prevalence of digital watches has made it obsolete.

I ended my talk with my favorite list of 10 Laws of Lifetime Growth. I linked “Make your learning greater than your experience” to the philosophy and method of ELF – Hango sa buhay. Tungo sa buhay, Habang may buhay, and the Life History Workshop or Kwentong Buhay.

The 10th “law” is as good a guide for transformative learning as any – “Make your questions bigger than your answers.” Answers close a stage of the discussion. Questions open doors and windows for further exploration and discovery.

Literacy for Empowerment

July 21, 2008

It’s hard to believe that a week has passed since my last blog posting. That was from Amsterdam, in transit from the board meeting of the Global Campaign for Education.

I have just come from a three-day workshop in Cotabato City, for 102 Instructional Managers from the Synergeia project sites in mainland Mindanao. A similar workshop will be held in Zamboanga next weekend, for the three project sites in Sulu.

I can’t remember when was the last time I visited Cotabato City. Probably during my years as TESDA director-general. I asked about the halal restaurant of the Bangsa Moro women’s coop, which I had supported. I wanted to sample their meals, but was told that it has closed.

In between sessions, I had snatches of conversations with veterans of the MNLF and MILF struggle. It’s a sobering and inspiring experience to listen to their stories. I took some comfort from the weekend news about progress toward a peace agreement.

In her talk to the participants, Synergeia president Nene Guevarra explained the EQuALLS 2 project, which is funded by USAID and implemented in selected sites in ARMM by three organizations.

Synergeia’s area of responsibility are three towns in Sulu – Jolo, Patikul and Siasi, and eight other sites in mainland ARMM – Marawi City, Ganassi and Kapatagan in Lanao del Sur, Paglat and Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, and North Upi, Barira and Buldon in Sharif Kabungsuan.

The project seeks to accomplish three Intermediate Results or IRs. The first seeks to mobilize the community to improve the performance of the formal schools. The second seeks to improve the teaching of English, Math and Science. And the third seeks to improve the relevance and quality of training for out of school children and youth. Our workshop for IMs is under IR-3.

When Nene asked me to help out in implementing IR-3, she said, “This is your chance to test your ideas on Alternative Learning Systems on a larger scale.” She told the participants that Synergeia has focused on improving formal education, but that my advocacy within Synergeia was to also address the out of school youth. The number I usually cite is that for every 100 children who enroll in Grade One, only 45 finish high school.

However, the limited resources of Synergeia did not allow it to address the out of school youth. She added that the strategies for improving the school-based formal education are clearer and have results to show. Education programs for out of school youth tend to be sporadic and not systemic, and Synergeia’s chosen approach to improving education is to be strategic and systemic.

EQuALLS 2 gives Synergeia resources and opportunity to “walk on two legs” toward Education for All in its project sites. But Nene cautions against having too high expectations. She had just come from an “education summit” in Kapatagan, and shared stories she heard from the teachers. One had to swim across a river and ride a horse to reach her school. Volunteer teachers were paid only 1500 pesos. Teacher items were for sale at 180,000 pesos. Many teachers had to make do with one textbook.

Some years back, during my field visit to Naga City for the National Literacy Awards, Mayor Jessie Robredo said, “I know you are concerned about the out of school youth. But I want to focus first on improving the formal school system, to prevent further drop-outs.” He added that if schools perform as they should, we will also have a more realistic sense of how many children and youth need to be offered an alternative learning system.

The argument makes sense, but the existing out of school children and youth, and advocates of ALS can’t wait till the schools perform optimally. We have to make do with whatever limited resources are available to offer the OSCY a second chance at education.

Synergeia has conducted a rapid community appraisal in the 11 sites to have baseline data on how many OSCY are there in every barangay, and how many are interested to join the different ALS courses – basic literacy, PEPT (preparation for placement tests for those who want to re-enroll), A and E for high school equivalency, and skills training for livelihood.

Quite a number wanted to take part in all four courses! What to offer first?

For those whose goal is to get a high school certificate, the A and E course has 150 modules which takes 10 months, ending with a nationally administered test. Realistically, this is is an option for a smaller number. We expect that many more will opt for skills training for livelihood, and we took advantage of the visit to Cotabato to meet the Maguindanao TESDA director to work out arrangements for community-based training.

Given the low literacy level in the ARMM area as a whole, it is the challenge of basic literacy that we needed to address first.

Except for my summer stint with the Mangyans as a young seminarian in the 1960s, I have no experience in conducting basic literacy classes. My work with ELF is focused on functional literacy and beyond.

So I checked with the DepEd about their 27 basic literacy modules and was told that they are being revised; nine are finished, with the others in progress. The Literacy Coordinating Council made their collection of old modules available.

I also got valuable help from ELF leader-graduates. Carling, Helen, Tay Ben of the Paaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales (PBAZ) shared their modules and methods, and offered advice from their wide experience in conducting basic literacy classes for Aytas. I also checked with Romy in Pampanga about their work with the Aytas and DANGLE’s identification of keywords drawn from their life environment, along the lines suggested by Paolo Freire.

After all the consultations and research, Synergeia had to make a choice. Clearly, the functional literacy modules of A and E are too advanced for the prospective learners. But few of them would need the basic literacy course as such, and may even drop out if we offer the usual basic literacy modules.

Father Nebres of Ateneo, chair of Synergeia, provided useful guidance: “Let’s offer a course that will increase their self-confidence and socialization skills.” If we relate that to the five learning strands of functional literacy, that would be the fourth strand – Self and Community. He added that the last thing we should do is to give the learners a basic literacy test, since that is a sure turn-off.

So we needed to offer a basic course, as an entry course to the other course like A and E and skills training, but not the usual basic literacy course. And it should be something that can be done within the 15 learning days ( group sessions and individual mentoring ) that was in the approved program.

I proposed that we adopt the starting method used by ELF in our Grassroots Leadership Course, which is the Life History Workshop or Kwentong Buhay, where the learners follow guide questions in reflecting on their life and exchanging their learnings from life. The first module will focus on Ako at ang Aking Komunidad. This will be mainly oral – speaking and listening, but we can use it as an indirect validation of their capability to read and write, by asking them to read the questions and write short answers, after they had done the kwentong buhay.

But more important than the validation of their literacy level is the impact that we have experienced of the kwentong buhay. By making their own life experiences the content of the module, we affirm in practice what we tell them is the philosophy of education that we follow, which is learner-centered and life-centered.

The second module will use the same kwentong buhay method ( with some reading and writing validation activity ), but the guide questions focusing on two topics we have developed in the ELF course on leadership and entrepreneurship – human capital and social capital. Rather big words, but the Pilipino is easier to appreciate: Ang aking unang puhunan sa buhay – Pagkatao at Pakikipagkapwa. The third module is Komunikasyon, which includes basic tips and exercises on speaking in front of a group. This will also help them prepare for their graduation ceremonies which should include some demonstration of what they have learned.

The main contents of these three draft modules were subjected to discussion and critique by the prospective IMs in Cotabato. The participants in the Zamboanga workshop will do the same. After the first learning groups in the different sites have gone through them, we can do the final revisions.

So what do we call the course? It is not basic literacy, but it is not functional literacy either, at least not according to the A and E standards. In the last moments before the start of the workshop in Cotabato, I recalled a UNESCO project whose name may just fit – Literacy for Empowerment, or LIFE.

Transit Thoughts in Amsterdam

July 14, 2008

Thanks for small blessings. I have a few minutes at the KLM lounge in Schipol, and surprise, surprise, there is free internet for 30 minute sessions. Checked my e-mail and here is a short blog.

During our board meeting of the Global Campaign on Education (GCE), one item was the theme for the 2009 Global Action Week. We decided in the World Assembly in Brazil that it should be about Youth and Adult Literacy, partly because it is one of the most neglected goals of EFA 2015, and partly because 2009 is when CONFINTEA, the international conference on adult education will be held in Belem, Brazil.

We brainstormed about the main message, not necessarily the final tag line. David Archer came up with the most welcome suggestion – Open Books, Open Doors. The message lends itself to visible symbolic actions that the GAW seeks to do. School doors can be open to out of school youth and adults who are either illiterate or neo-literates. Various buildings – public and private can also open their doors, which can allude to literacy (basic and functional) as ways to lifelong learning.

During the stimulating exchange, I thought Paolo Freire would be smiling at us, since he had a slogan along the same spirit – Read the Word, Read the World.

Toward the end, someone posed a thoughtful question and challenge; I think it was Kailash, GCE president: We have been increasing our mobilization during GAW, reaching probably 7.5 million in 2008 once the validation of data is done. But part of the numbers is because school children can be mobilized; they are organized in institutions, and teachers can lead them in activities. “But adult illiterates and learners are not organized, so with out of school youth,” he observed. “Now that they are the focus of mobilization, how do we involve the school children to get the same numbers and more?”

That led me to respond that we can and should mobilize the school children, not just to welcome the out of school youth and adults into their classrooms for some joint activities e.g. reading and writing. More important is to deliver the message that the main means for promoting literacy, among youth and adults is for them to finish basic education. That is the finding of the FLEMMS survey in the Philippines. But of course, there should be other programs for reaching learners out of school.

Unfortunately, formal basic education and literacy programs for out of school youth and adults are not usually seen as “two legs walking toward EFA.” Those in the formal system care little for out of school youth and adults. Those in out of school literacy programs, or alternative learning systems, do not seek synergy with the schools.

It is time for them, and us, to see each other as complementary approaches, toward EFA 2015 and beyond EFA, to lifelong learning. That should be a topic when we meet with Synergeia about the EQuaLLS program in Muslim Mindanao.

Time to go. Time to board.

Last Night in London

July 14, 2008

Saturday and Sunday, I have been cooped up in the Hotel Barbican for marathon meetings of the board of the GCE – Global Campaign on Education. It’s our first face to face meeting since we got elected last January in Brazil, and our next will be January 2009 in Bangladesh, so we have a full agenda, with more than 30 items and papers to discuss.

After our last session, we hied off to an Italian resto. On the way back to the Barbican Hotel, I spotted this internet place. As soon as we got off at the hotel, I walked back so I can post a short blog before I fly back home tomorrow.

The hotel’s internet access was down the past two days, and I couldn’t check my e-mails or post a blog. But for the next 15 minutes (the place closes at 11 pm), here are some quick snapshots.

At breakfast last Saturday, the hotel had free copies of TIME magazine for early risers, and I took my breakfast while reading the piece on Nelson Mandela’s “Secrets of Leadership.” It’s an inspiring and instructive breakfast read. I agree with the writer that he is as close as we have for a contemporary “secular saint” especially with his beatific smile. I smiled at his self-description as a “trouble maker” whose time in prison tempered to maturity. I think back to my own time in prison teaching me “patient impatience.”

Our board meeting had its routinary moments, but also some good debates, with just enough emotions and heat to give it spice and keep me awake despite jet lag. Later, I told Kailash, GCE president, that some of the debates reminded me of Mao Zedong’s quip, “Without contradiction, there is no life.” By that standard, our board meeting is alive. But the contradictions are non-antagonistic, since they are disagreements on how best to achieve shared goals and visions.

For a number of years, the GCE has been most visible during the April Global Action Week. Why April? Because it was in April 2000 that the renewed commitment to Education for All by 2015 was adopted in Dakar, Senegal. I had a good conversation this morning at breakfast with Gorgiu who comes from Dakar, and I hope he can come sometime to the Philippines to tell us about his work in Senegal and across Africa, as coordinator of ANCEFA.

But part of the growth and evolution of GCE is its more nuanced focusing of its campaign. The general awareness-raising through globally coordinated and highly visible activities will continue, and we hope that the 7.5 million mobilized this year will reach 10 million in 2010. But these are not just geared to support the advocacy to make G-7 countries give their needed share to fill the financing gap in the South. The first goal of the GCE has been defined as focusing on governments in the South to commit the resources needed to achieve EFA. The benchmark figures are 6% of GNP and 20% of the national budget.

In the early years, EFA tended to be understood mainly as universal primary education. In Brazil, the GCE emphasized that all the 6 EFA goals should be addressed, espcailly the most neglected goals of cutting adult illiteracy in half and providing youth and adults appropriate learning opportunities. This becomes more urgent in the run up to CONFINTEA 6, the international conference on adult education which will be held in Brazil in May 2009.

Also, beyond simple access and completion, the GCE wants to give emphasis on quality of education and learning outcomes, and reaching the unreached.

There are many stories to tell and conversations to narrate in some future blogs. But for tonight, let me sign off and catch a bit more sleep before waking up early for the trip to Heathrow 4. I guess I will be back in the Philippines before my body adjusts to the jet lag, so I don’t need to re-adjust and can face the work I had to leave behind for this quick trip to London. I arrive Tuesday morning, and in the afternoon, I will be at the La Mesa Eco Park to discuss the idea of making it an Eco Academy. The next day, we meet with Synergeia on its work in Muslim Mindanao to provide relevant and enhanced learning for out of school youth. And there are the last few paintings I have to finish for my solo exhibit that opens on August 1.

It just occured to me that I am also celebrating the anniversary of my blogging. One year ago, on July 12, I posted my first blog. Checking the number of postings, I average one every other day. I hope that the momentum continues. Thank you to those who tell me they read me regularly. I encourage you to also post your thoughts and join the conversation in cyberspace.

Good night.

Early Memories and Stories

July 11, 2008

Just before flying from Manila, I had 30 minutes of free internet service at the lounge, but the text somehow got lost when I posted it.

Am now in transit at the Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, and I have another 30 minutes of internet access, though not free; it’s 6 euros. But I thought I should repeat the text before I arrive in London and drop off immediately to sleep.

Thinking back to my childhood, my earliest memory was of taking my first steps, tentative and wobbly. Someone was holding me from behind (was it my mother?) and she let go of me. I walked half falling forward a short distance to another woman whose arms extended to catch me (was it my mother?). I remember the color of the cement floor, a red-brown binaldosa, shiny from the floor wax.

That is the only memory I can retrieve from my earliest years. It was in the sala of our house, near the public school. Our house is not there anymore.

The next memory is still from that house, but probably three or four years later. One of my mother’s two brothers, Kuya Villing, was shaking the nipa walls of the sala in grief. My father had just died. it was just after sunset. Then another snapshot – people were passing me over from one side of his coffin to the other at the cemetery. It’s supposed to be a custom, but the precise meaning eludes me.

There is an even earlier story about me, from the time I was in my mother’s womb, told by the other brother of my mother, Kuya Delfin. The school near our house was used by the Japanese occupation forces as their garrison. My father’s eldest brother, Tiyo Omes was the guerilla leader, in touch with the Allied Intelligence Bureau. My father was part of the secret support network.

One of the Japanese officers (I don’t know his name) showed some kindness to my mother and other members of the household, partly because they knew how to sew, and would repair the uniforms of the Japanese soldiers. When my mother was pregnant with me, she got quite sick. The Japanese officer gave her the medicine that helped her recover.

When some Japanese solidarity activists visited me in prison, I told them about this and reflected on the contradiction between feeling grateful for personal assistance by a Japanese officer to my mother and me, and resenting and resisting the Japanese occupation. They expressed their regrets and remorse, but I wasn’t really expecting that. I just wanted to tell the story.

Another story comes from my mother, about the Americans coming into our town. “I cooked fried chicken because they wanted that. In exchange, they gave dried apples and other rations which I fed you,” she said.

Japanese medicine and American dried apples. Could be a metaphor for our early encounters with the world outside the Philippines.

it’s still July 11 here in Europe, though its early July 12 in the Philippines. Technically, my 65th birthday is longer than the usual 24 hours.

My 30 minutes are up. Will walk to Gate D 14 for my flight to London Heathrow. At least this time I won’t have problems choosing what occupation to claim at immigration – educator.

Turning 65

July 11, 2008

It is the first hour of July 11, and I am officially 65 years old. I really don’t know at what hour of July 11 I was born in 1943.

This is a very short blog.

In a few hours I will fly by KLM to London via Amsterdam. The board of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is having a face to face meeting July 12 and 13, and to arrive on time for it, I need to travel on my birthday. It’s a strange prospect – celebrating my 65th birthday up in the skies. I hope that is not a sign that I will soon leave my earthly existence.

During the long flight, I should have time to reflect on my life (birthdays are occasions for looking back and spending time to think). I hope to post a longer birthday blog from London.

Life and Love in a Learning City

July 5, 2008

This weekend, Girlie, Ayen, and I are in Lucena City for a gathering of the Villariba clan. We are celebrating the 60th wedding anniversary of Cesar Viilariba and Flotilda Collantes – Tatay Iba and Nanay Nene.

The 60 years of loving partnership has produced 13 children (Girlie is the second child, the first girl), and as of today, 44 grandchildren (including two partners) and 5 great-grandchildren.

As our contribution to the anniversary celebration, Girlie and I co-edited a book of Tatay’s essays on education and historical vignettes, with some contributions from the Villariba children and their partners: Girlie and Ceres (the doctor of the family) wrote about Nanay Flotie. Mina, our newest PhD, wrote on caring for the earth in crisis. Sonny, the eldest, wrote a piece on the future of the coconut. Girlie and I compiled some of our blogs under the theme of “Lucena as a Learning City” and on “Learning into the 21st Century.”

After a series of brainstorms, the book title we decided on is Life and Love in a Learning City: The Villariba Clan of Lucena.

The title bears the influence of Stephen Covey’s statement that all human beings want to achieve four things: To Live. To Love. To Learn. To Leave a Legacy.

The other influence is the idea of a “Learning City” which I brought home from a conference on lifelong learning in Korea, and which Girlie and I have been advocating to the educational institutions and the city government of Lucena. We hope that one of the Villariba legacies is for Lucena to declare itself a learning city and develop the corresponding programs for it.

One of the ideas Girlie is exploring for Lucena as a learning city is “glocalization.” How do we develop the potential combination of Lucena residents with the overseas migrant communities of former Lucena residents? It is not just remittances and investments we should be thinking of, though they are part of this combination. More important are the ideas and skills and other learning resources.

Even among the 13 Villariba children, there is already room for exploration. Melo lives and works in San Francisco USA; he came home with Maebel and their two children Mikey and Kathy to celebrate their own 25th wedding anniversary. Deeda also came home from New Jersey, with Jason and their two children Jillian and Julia. Heidi and Bobby came home after decades of living and working in Arizona, but their two children Olivia and Kathrine are studying in New York. Caloy has worked for a time in the Middle East, and is preparing to return there. One of Liza’s sons, Peter, is working as a male nurse in Scotland.

Come to think of it, even Girlie and I have spent more than four years in Europe, working with Philippine solidarity groups and Pinoy migrant communities.

During the anniversary mass at the Carmelite monastery chapel, Obie’s wife Corcor was constantly in tears. I thought she was just being sentimental, since I also felt a surge of feelings when Iba and Nene slowly walked down the aisle, while the Enverga University choir sang “The Impossible Dream.” But afterwards, she explained that she was thinking of her mother and father who have both passed away, and missing them.

I could relate to that. In the swirl of clan celebrations and the clicks of digital cameras and celfones, my mind would travel from time to time to Naujan, where my mother is bed-ridden with her diabetes and wounded foot. Our nuclear family is so small, just my mother and sister Yen who is there with her now. But she will soon have to leave, back to the work that awaits her in Puerto Rico.

At least my mother has eight brothers and sisters, and two of them, Bel and Foy, both unmarried, give time to be with her. A brother, Delfin, also stays in Naujan half of the year, when he is not with his children in the USA; he drops by regularly. Two sisters, Dely and Remy are now visiting from Canada and the USA.

Between thoughts of Naujan and Lucena, I could appreciate the sermon of Bishop Marquez who begged off from a mass scheduled in Manila to preside over the anniversary mass. I thanked him afterwards. He graciously replied, “This is a rare event.”

He dwelt at length on how having many children are a blessing. For those who chose to have only one or a few children, he cited a quote from a parent (though in another context): “Babawi na lang kami sa aming anak.”

Parts of his sermon got me thinking about population policy and the church’s official position. But I brushed away my reactions and instead thought of my eldest son Yeyi, who lives and works in Singapore. Her loving wife Minette is into the seventh month of carrying twin sons in her womb. I wonder how many more children they will plan to have.

At the lunch program which we co-emceed, Girlie asked me to reprise an idea we explored some years back for our good friends Cha and Chuchi. They were activists who didn’t want a civil or church ceremony, despite their devout parents’ pleas. Finally, they arrived a compromise, as a first step. (Years later, they eventually agreed to a formal wedding).

We asked ourselves then “What are wedding ceremonies for?” The loving, courting, and intimacy are mainly private, best done and appreciated by the partners involved. What do governments and churches have to do with this?

The idea we worked on is this: Before there were governments and churches, there were communities, even wider than family and clan. It is to these communities that partners present themselves, to seek acceptance and support for their love and commitment. Later, at formal weddings, it is these communities that governments and churches are supposed to represent.

Today was not just a clan celebration. It was a celebration of a community, of friends and colleagues in what we hope will be our shared dream of a learning city.

Good Bye Elma

July 1, 2008

It’s past midnight. Girlie and I have just walked back to our place from the Claret chapel where we attended the wake of Lota Encio.

Tonight was the first time I knew that her baptismal name is Lota. I have known her only as “Elma” of Sarilaya, an organization of grassroots and activist women.

There were other things I got to know about Elma only tonight. When we arrived at the wake, Cora, one of Lota’s classmates from high school, was sharing stories about her as friend and campus leader, which other classmates affirmed with their own remembrances.

Lota had a disability, a curvature of the spine which made her look like a small child even as an adult. Her younger sister Myrna said that their mother enrolled them together so she could look out for Lota and protect her against harassment. But Lota proved to be made of strong stuff, and there were no sob stories about her school years. She excelled academically and exercised leadership, wrote for the campus paper, directed plays, organized events.

She comforted and defended friends during times of trouble, but had her mischievous side too – playing matchmaker and finding pleasure when her pairings worked out. The only recurring complaint, expressed with affection, was that she wouldn’t allow any classmate to copy her exam answers.

Her classmates’ portrait showed another side of Lota’s person that those of us in activist circles didn’t know. But it was the same essential Lota that came across in their retelling – intense energy, fiercely loyal friendship, always looking out for others. Her activist involvement only brought another set of “others” to her expanded circle of concern and commitment.

A former comrade of Elma came all the way from Nueva Ecija to tell a pithy but meaningful narrative about their work in the movement. I could only marvel at the territory she covered, from Aurora province, to Rizal, to Central Luzon up to Pangasinan.

Susan, who took care of her during her last months was an living testimony of grassroots women whom Elma helped awaken about their rights and potentials. Her detailed telling of Elmas last days was moving in its simplicity. Up to the end Elma was thinking of others rather than her own plight. Her last uttered prayers were for the women whom we worked with, and for people with disabilities.

When I got the text messages about her death, one of Joey Ayala’s song came to mind, the one about how we measure the value and meaning of a life.

Lota touched a lot of lives through her friendship and activism. But integral to the best years of her life was her involvement in the revolutionary movement. The grand goals of the movement have not been achieved and it has fissured into conflicting tendencies. What does this mean for her now that she is dead at 52, and for those of us who live and have served as she did?

Shall we comfort ourselves with the words of the character played by Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison Country? “We had dreams. They didn’t work out. But it was good to have them.”

Quire unexpectedly I was asked to speak a few words. All I could say was what Girlie and I were whispering to each other as we recalled our all too few encounters with Elma. She was present at many learning conferences of ELF. When we told her about the learning portfolios we were developing for grassroots leaders and educators, she wanted to make her own life portfolio. We had a long discussion about developing a grassroots leadership program for women, based on the experiences of ELF.

She was not only hungry and thirsty for justice. She was equally insatiable about learning. Not merely for self-development, but so that she could serve the grassroots women more effectively.

I thought of what Charles Handy, the management guru, wrote about the funeral of his father. He thought that his father’s choice to be a pastor was too modest and lacked ambition. Compared to his father, he thought he had more income and fame, especially through his books and lectures. But when his father died he was astounded at the number of people who came to the wake and the funeral, each one with a story of personal appreciation of his father.

He wondered, with his books and his career, if there would be half that many people who would go to his funeral because they were personally touched in one way or another by his work.

On our way out, Girlie asked another activist if Elma had ever been arrested by the military and detained as a political prisoner. As far as she knows, Elma evaded arrest despite her continuous revolutionary involvement. Ironically she was arrested and detained by the movement she served with dedication and commitment. She was a victim of suspicion and suffered even torture, until they acknowledged their mistake and released her.

Did she ever forgive them? Most probably, though it would not have come easily. Did she regret her revolutionary involvement? Most probably not. Almost without pause, she picked herself up and went back to organizing women through Sarilaya. Although she started with urban poor women, she eventually went back to her first love – the rural communities.

Walking back home, we silently felt the sense of loss, but also the warmth from hearing stories of Elma’s life. We shared the thanks expressed by those who spoke at the wake, for the blessing of having known Elma and what she stood for.


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