Grassroots & Governance

Because I was probably promoted too fast in my earlier schooling and am a natural rebel, I was not always an exemplary student. However, because I was blessed to have been sent to exemplary schools, and gifted with many extraordinary teachers, I was fortunate nonetheless to have learned from the best. To this day, I often think of my dedicated teachers all the way back to my kindergarten days, to whom I owe so much.
The teacher whom I often remember, and to whom I pray for guidance is Sr. Celine Marie of Maryknoll College, whom I acknowledge was the one who taught me how to really read and write. Against my rebellious nature, she made us write a daily journal, submit a book report once a month, and write a precis of difficult reading materials which she assigned as weekly readings. She went beyond just reading our outputs. She took the trouble to sit us down and give feedback on what we could do better, and hopefully, best. I often felt that she considered mediocrity a crime, or even a sin!
My high school English teacher in the province was Mrs. Gervacia Ponferrada Arce who was painstaking in motivating us to write our compositions and helping us to improve our English. When I visited her in her classroom almost thirty years later, she actually remembered me, and broke out into tears! Sr. Anne Marie of Maryknoll, our math teacher, was well known as a terror. Fortunately, in my youth, math was my favorite subject, so I somehow survived her toughness.
In grade school, we had a civics education (“Good manners and right conduct”) teacher named Mr. Bitque who also happened to be the scoutmaster. He seemed to have taken to heart the Boy Scout values of trustworthiness, courtesy, bravery, and reverence to the point where I was inspired to join the Girl Scouts! I also took to heart his emphasis on doing one’s duty for the sake of others.
The teacher who blew my mind and expanded my mental horizons was Fr. Joseph Goertz, SVD, dean of the College of Liberal Arts in the University Of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu. He taught us philosophy and introduced us to the thinking of Jean Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was actually, at the time, restricted reading. Because the European priests were so broad-minded, I was somehow able to peep at Chardin’s restricted books with the cooperation of Fr. John Vogelgesang, the head of the huge USC library.
At the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), my marketing instincts were sharpened by extraordinary professors Peter Garrucho and Dr. Ned Roberto, both of whom eventually became my professional colleagues. Professors Victor Lim and Gasty Ortigas helped me sharpen strategic thinking.
It was at AIM where I developed my faith in the case method as the most effective learning methodology because it challenges the student to freely analyze, diagnose and prescribe solutions and approaches to complex managerial problems without relying on doctrine or textbooks.
Perhaps being blessed with great teachers is why, intuitively, I have tried to give back by trying to be a good teacher in one way or another. In fact, my first regular job was as a high school and college teacher in a missionary school in a provincial town. Writing this column, in a way, is often like teaching, using the case method.
To this day, almost 60 years later, I am in touch with Dr. Patricia Milan, one of my most outstanding high school students. Dr. Milan earned a doctorate degree abroad and became a state university president and leading expert on indigenous trees in the country. Aida Tan, another high school student in Baybay, Leyte, was honored as the “most outstanding Carolinian” when she went to the University of San Carlos in Cebu. It is said that success as a teacher is best manifested when your students surpass your achievements!
Having been a student and teacher, I have deep appreciation for what a teacher can do as a key agent in human development. Our people, after all, are our most important assets, and the raison d’etre for the institution which we call democratic government.
Democracy is, after all, of the people, for the people, and by the people. The quality of our citizenry determines our success as a nation, and of government as an institution. Our teachers certainly have a critical role to play in ensuring that our people are effective agents for a better life for their community and the nation.
The election fever is heating up. And senatorial surveys are revealing that questionable characters like Jinggoy Estrada seem to be up there among those likely to win. His father, a convicted plunderer, and former president is running for re-election as Mayor of Manila. Non-performers like Lito Lapid are also in the likely winners list. Then we have responsible and clearly qualified candidates trailing in the surveys. We have a House of Representatives that actually considered removing the post of Vice-President for no sensible reason other than politics.
Let’s face it, our government is a mess. And our electorate certainly needs to be better educated. Moreover, to borrow a phrase from senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, our judiciary is “in shambles.” The people charged with ensuring adequate rice supply seem to have messed up; and it is the poor who are paying the price for their incompetence, or who knows, corruption.
Why are we in such a mess? It seems to me that one of the major reasons is because we have neglected our educational system. We paid our teachers so little for so long that we failed to attract the best and the brightest into this noble profession. It is so sad that so many of our teachers ended up working overseas as housekeepers; or selling longaniza or underwear on the side to make ends meet. All these, even while working nights and week-ends to do lessons plans, check papers and compute grades.
The present administration gives more importance to policemen and soldiers by paying them more than our teachers. Surely, there is something seriously wrong with our values system. It is time to give fair and higher value to the difficult and crucial work that our teachers have to do to ensure that our children and their children turn out to be more discriminating voters and responsible citizens than we have become. Paying them enough so they can live in dignity is one big step.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.