National Book Awards for 2005 Books

21 August 2006 at 6:56 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

The 25th National Book Awards, for books published in 2005, will be announced by the Manila Critics Circle at the Manila International Book Fair on Aug. 31, Thursday, at 4 p.m., at the World Trade Center. All finalists, as well as former winners of the awards, are invited to attend the awarding ceremonies. This year’s awards are sponsored by the National Book Development Board and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Esther Pacheco will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, only the second one given by the Circle. The first was given to Gloria Rodriguez in 1992.

Citations will be given to four sets of books: Angono, Rizal, by Ligaya G. Tiamson-Rubin (UST Publishing House); Kultura Mangyan, edited by Antoon Postma (Mangyan Heritage Center); Makata sa Cellphone, by Frank G. Rivera (UST Publishing House); Ubod series (National Commission for Culture & the Arts).

Here is the list of finalists:

ANTHOLOGY: Philippine Speculative Fiction, edited by Dean Francis Alfar.

ALFONSO T. ONGPIN AWARD FOR BEST BOOK ON ART: Anita Magsaysay-Ho, by Alfredo Roces; Tanaw, edited by Ramon E. S. Lerma.

AUTO/BIOGRAPHY: Bababa Ba? … Bababa, by Jose Abeto Zaide; Don’t Ever Tell Me You Can’t, by Celia Ruiz Tomlinson; John F. Hurley S.J., edited by Jose S. Arcilla, S.J.; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando; Light a Fire, by Eduardo B. Olaguer.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS: The Bangko Sentral & the Philippine Economy, edited by Vicente B. Valdepeñas Jr.; Making Your Money Work: Pera Mo, Palaguin Mo! 2, by Francisco J. Colayco; Pwede Na!, by Efren Ll. Cruz; Setting Frameworks, by Elfren Cruz; The Way We Work, edited by Ma. Regina M. Hechanova and Edna P. Franco.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: Baha!, by Eugene Y. Evasco; Elias and His Trees / Mga Puno ni Elias, by Augie Rivera and Mike Rivera; The Yellow Paper Clip with Bright Purple Spots, by Nikki Dy-Liacco.

COMIC BOOKS: Mars Ravelo’s Lastikman, by Gerry Alanguilan, Arnold Arre and Edgar Tadeo; Siglo: Passion, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan.

COOKBOOKS AND FOOD: Gabay sa Pagkain ng Gulay-Dagat, by Paciente A. Cordero Jr.; Slow Food, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.

DRAMA: 10x10x10, edited by Rody Vera and Alfonso I. Dacanay; Mga Piling Dulang Pambata, edited by Arthur P. Casanova.

EDITING: Tandoz and Other Stories, by Delfin Fresnosa, edited by Teresita E. Erestain.

EDUCATION: Edukasyong Pampubliko, by Emmanuel Franco Calairo; University Traditions, edited by Ramon C. Sunico.

ESSAY: The Cardinal’s Sins, The General’s Cross, The Martyr’s Testimony and Other Affirmations, by Gregorio C. Brillantes; The True and the Plain, by Kerima Polotan.

SHORT FICTION: Calvary Road, by Abdon M. Balde Jr.; Jungle Planet and Other Stories, by Lakambini A. Sitoy; Selected Stories, by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.; White Elephants, by Angelo Lacuesta.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A PHILIPPINE LANGUAGE: May Tibok ang Puso ng Lupa, by Bienvenido A. Ramos.

JUAN C. LAYA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Banana Heart Summer, by Merlinda Bobis; Out of Doors, by Ernesto Superal Yee.

FILM: Making Documentaries in the Philippines, by Isabel Enriquez Kenny.

FOLKLORE: Literature of Voice, edited by Nicole Revel; Myth, Mimesis and Magic in the Music of the T’boli, Philippines, by Manolete Mora; Tales from the Land of Salt, by Emmanuel S. Sison.

HISTORY: Davao, by Macario D. Tiu; Malacañan Palace, by Manuel L. Quezon III, Paulo Alcazaren, and Jeremy Burns; Patterns of Continuity and Change, by Helen Yu-Rivera; To Love and to Suffer, by Luciano Santiago; Tsinoy, edited by Teresita Ang See, Go Bon Juan, Doreen Go Yu, and Yvonne Chua; Under Three Flags, by Benedict Anderson.

LINGUISTICS: Sawikaan 2004, edited by Galileo S. Zafra and Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.

MEDICINE AND HEALTH: The Truth about Coconut Oil, by Conrado S. Dayrit.

MUSIC: Tunugan, by Ramon Pagayon Santos.

PERSONAL ANTHOLOGY: Jose Rizal, by Frank G. Rivera, edited by Arthur P. Casanova; Sakit ng Kalingkingan, by Rolando B. Tolentino.

POETRY: Dark Hours, by Conchitina Cruz; Days of Grace, by R. Torres Pandan; Misterios and Other Poems, by J. Neil C. Garcia; Pana-panahon, by Aida F. Santos; Saulado, by Rebecca T. Añonuevo.

REFERENCE: 100 Questions Filipino Kids Ask, by Liwliwa Malabed and Emylou Infante.

SOCIAL SCIENCES: Authentic though not Exotic, by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita; Kapwa, by Katrin de Guia; The Making of the Igorot, by Gerald A. Finin; The Star-Entangled Banner, by Sharon Delmendo; State and Society in the Philippines, by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso.

SPECIAL INTEREST: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga, and Dario Marcelo; Ngalang Pinoy, edited by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz; Mga Panibagong Kulam sa Pag-ibig, by Tony Perez, edited by Susie Baclagon-Borrero.

THEOLOGY & RELIGION: Pagsubok sa Ilang, by Tony Perez; A Pilgrim’s Notes, by Fausto B. Gomez, O.P.; The Prayer Our Lord Taught Us, by Jose M. de Mesa.

TRANSLATION: Fr. Francisco Coronel’s Arte y Reglas, Kapampangan Grammar and Rules, circa 1621, translated by Edilberto V. Santos.

TRAVEL: Ciudad Murada, by Jose Victor Z. Torres; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta.

BEST DESIGN: Huling Ptyk, by Pandy Aviado, Sylvia Mayuga, and Dario Marcelo, designed by Pandy Aviado and Carminnie Doromal; The Last Full Moon, by Gilda Cordero Fernando, designed by M. G. Chaves; A Pilgrim’s Diary, by Angela Blardony Ureta, designed by Ige Ramos.

A Thousand Years of Filitude

30 June 2006 at 4:22 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

In 1000 there was no Filipinas, but there were Filipinos.

There was no Filipinas, if by the term we mean the geographical colony imagined by Spanish imperialists – thinking locally but acting globally, dreaming of lives of ease among Asian beasts – more than half a millennium into the future or the independent nation imagined by Indio expatriates – still students but already writers, living in the belly of the Spanish beast – almost a millennium later.

But there were Filipinos, if by the term we mean flesh-and-blood beings as human as we now are, endowed with exactly the same minds, hearts, souls, rights, freedoms, dreams, and challenges that we ourselves now enjoy. These Filipinos, unbeknownst to themselves, were building the nation chanced upon by the Spanish imperialists and put into words by the Indio expatriates, the same nation called or to be called – at various times and by various peoples – Ophir, Maniolas, Mo-yi, Ma-yi, Sansu, San-Tao, Lu-sung, Islas del Poniente, Islas del Oriente, Islas de Luzones, Archipelago de Magallanes, Archipelago de Celebes, and of course, Filipinas.

These Filipinos lived in a global community. With their hands, they built boats, and in their dreams, they built empires. They traveled routinely to alien places such as Malacca and set up houses and shops there, even – rumors had it – slave centers. They traded commodities with the mighty Chinese and the mysterious Indians. They traded myths, fears, and rumors about the exotic Europeans, the white peoples that, in the folklore of the Tinguians and other islanders, were their very own ancestors that had gone out to see the world and soon enough – to be more precise, half a millennium later – would inevitably return to the parentland.

What kind of art did these Filipinos have? What artistic efforts have they exerted since then? In this essay, let us sketch a history of Filipino achievement in the arts from 1000 to 2000.

First, let us look at the world around Filipinas then. In 1000, Murasaki Shikibu was writing the world’s very first novel Tale of Genji, Islam was popularizing arabesque, Guido d’Arezzo was inventing the musical staff, and the Djennes were perfecting figurative terra-cottas. Just around the time corner were the great wall of Zimbabwe, the Byzantine revisionist portrait of Christ as a stern judge, the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in India, the tolling of the bells for Gregorian chant, the Sung dynasty’s greatest landscape painter Fan K’uan, the French minstrel guilds, and German manuscript illumination at Reichenau Monastery.

What did the Filipinos have that could match these paradigm shifters?

At first glance, not as much. We must remember, however, that we had already built the rice terraces in what eventually would be known as a mountain/ous province; admittedly, though, those had been around for at least – some say more than – two thousand years, mute but eloquent witnesses to the advanced engineering skills of ancient Filipinos. We might already have had primitive, though not necessarily unsophisticated early versions of songs (should we call them Ur-songs?) still sung today by playful children at home or homesick adults overseas – traditional songs such as Atin Cu Pung Singsing, Bahay Kubo, Dandansoy, Ili-ili Tulog Anay, Leron Leron Sinta, Lulay, Magtanim ay di Biro, Manang Biday, Matud Nila, Pamulinawen, Paruparong Bukid, Si Pilemon si Pilemon, Sitsiritsit, and Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing, songs later to be adapted to the rhythms and tastes of European invaders or perhaps transmogrified from memories of days of rice wine and white roses before colonization. We definitely already had what today we call the Manunggul Jar, almost two thousand years old even then, though whether the Manunggul Cave in Lipuun Point in Palawan was open to living visitors viewing the remains of their dead remained, even by then, a dead issue.

We certainly did not have illuminated manuscripts or even painting on paper. Our Chinese trading partners that had invented printing by 1000 brought only noodles but not woodblocks to our islands, and we had to wait for European plagiarists to introduce the notion of The Book as Object for our artists to come up with, say, the Augustinian Cantoral of 1659 as illuminated by Marcelo de San Agustin, or a bit later, the anonymous Anales Eclesiasticos de Filipinas in 1770, precursors of the letras y figures of the 1840s. Even the earlier Boxer Codex, not completely our own creation, was done only six hundred years after the turn of the millennium, around 1590.

But the first five or so hundred years of the last thousand were not exactly the Dark Ages for Filipinos, though they looked pretty dark to the seafaring and blind coiners of the Spanish word Filipinas. Filipinos did have a huge amount of both written and oral literature by the end of the first millennium. To cite only one example of written imaginative lore, we had the pre-Islamic Darangen of the Maranaos, so lengthy and so complex that it almost took forever in the twentieth century for Mindanao State University, the Toyota Foundation, and Ma. Delia Coronel to print heavily abridged and edited versions of it, versions that have not exactly been welcomed ecstatically by a largely Christocentric, tempocentric, and static public.

The literature printed or signified only in the mind – texts that modern postmodernists would not welcome for reversing the hard-earned poststructuralist hegemony of writing over speech – loomed large during those first five or six hundred years. Today, at least thirty or so oral epic families have survived, each family having any number of songs ranging from short episodes to what in other countries would already be hailed as full epics. Epic families considered canonical are – aside from the Maranao Darangen – the Arakan-Arumanen Agyu, the Suban-on Guman and Keg Sumba neg Sandayo and Ag Tobig nog Keboklagan, the Sulod Hinilawod, the Ifugao Hudhud, the Kinaray-a Humadapnon, the Palawan Kudaman, the Tausug Parang Sabil, the Manobo Tuwaang, the Livunganen-Arumanen Ulahingan, and the Kalinga Ullalim. We could add to the list those created much later, such as the Ilokano Biag ni Lam-ang or even the English Trilogy of Saint Lazarus by Cirilo F. Bautista, the two latter, of course, having been written and published, belonging to Ferdinand de Saussure’s right-hand or Jacques Derrida’s left-hand term.

The oral epics had one thing in common, what protostructuralist Vladimir Propp would have hailed as a triumph of his unwittingly universal grammar or morphology of all extended narratives. Everything else being equal, the Filipino epic hero – male or female – tended to leave home, to acquire the use of a magical agent, to be transferred to the whereabouts of an object of search, to start a battle, to fight for a long time, to be stopped from fighting by a female or male god, to realize that the enemy is an unsuspected blood relation, to die, to resurrect, to return home, and to get married. Filipinos then, as now, knew that no Filipino stands alone; all Filipinos – heroes or villains – receive their sustenance, strength, and salvation from other Filipinos. People Power was not a creation of the late twentieth century, as short-sighted, tempocentric, and megalomaniac come-lately would-be heroes love to announce; it was a characteristic of all Filipino communities even during the first few hundred years of the second millennium and perhaps long before then.

Those first few hundred years, needless to say, were not famous for electronic technology, or in fact, for any kind of technology – appropriate or inappropriate – that would permit ideas to cross oceans fast and pure. Scholastic philosophy, schisms, and the crusades were changing European ideology in the 11th century; the Khmers were building Angkor Wat in the 12th; Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Inquisition, Marco Polo, and Kamikaze were changing history in the 13th; Timbuktu was starting to become a cultural center and the Italian Renaissance was beginning in the 14th; the Germans were commercializing printing and other Europeans were starting to sail away from what they thought was the Old World in the 15th – but in what would soon enough be called Filipinas, there was only peace and prosperity, there was only an Eden that the great nineteenth-century novelist Jose Rizal would so aptly call lost, there was only the highest form of civilization available only to the purest of heart.

Twenty-one of our contemporaries have identified certain key events from the coming of homo sapiens in 50,000 BC to AD 1000 as shaping pre-first millennium Filipinas (Asico). Among these, so they claim, were the development of pottery (3,000 BC), writing (200 BC), weaving (AD 200), woodcarving (200), and indigenous music (500). Clearly crucial to the development of Filipinos as artists were the various foreign influences brought physically by the boat trade – the Indonesians and Indochinese (1,000 BC), the Chinese (AD 222), and the Arabs (9th century). In the period we are studying, the key events are the coming of Islam missionaries in the 1240s, of Magellan in 1521 and of Legazpi in 1565, of the Dutch in the 17th century, of the British in 1762, and of everyone else in the 1780s, including the Danish, the Swedes, and United States people (we dare not use the politically incorrect term Americans to denote US residents while marginalizing Canadians, Latin Americans, and non-Latin South Americans). Clearly, it was impossible for Filipinos to remain parochial in their everyday life and in their everyday art; from the very beginning, almost as an inherent quality, Filipino art has always been global.

Speaking strictly of art as a formal discipline, we might probably identify as the most important event in the whole millennium the opening of the first art school in the islands in 1823, the Academia de Dibujo, built around Damian Domingo, who had established its progenitor in his own house in Tondo in 1821. Domingo died in 1832, and the school closed in 1834. More lasting in influence was its offspring, the second art school, which opened in 1845; that second school had among its alumni Simon Flores, Lorenzo Guerrero, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, and Juan Luna Novicio.

But that’s coming very close to the end of the millennium. Let us retrace the thousand years by spotting its highlights. This is the traditional way of doing art history (the other way being what is sometimes inaccurately called “history from below”); let us let masterpieces, not the democratic majority, define our history as artists.

In 1584 was built Intramuros (from a precolonial structure already existing in 1519), our answer to the turn of the millennium Borobodour of the Sailendras and Angkor Wat of the Khmers. For architecture, Intramuros was indeed the be-all and the end-all of everything. It was, of course, global, because Spanish-inspired and built; it was also, of course, local, because it physically manifested the only and still remaining racist strain in Filipino life – the prejudice against people of color, the yellow-skinned Chinese and the brown-skinned Malays, both kept outside the walls. On the other hand, if we take a deconstructive view, Intramuros kept imprisoned within its walls white Spaniards and whitened Malays. Either way, Intramuros was our version of the Great Wall of China, keeping the barbarians at the gates while granting a reassuring though false self-image to the savage nobles within.

Architecture, however, did not hibernate the rest of the millennium. Far from it. Public structures, particularly churches, took up the time and energy of our architects. In 1599 – to give only a handful of examples – was built the Ayuntamiento or City Hall of Manila, in 1600 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Cagayan, in 1629 the Puente de España (the first bridge to span the Pasig River), in 1630 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion in Antipolo (by Juan de Salazar and Luciano Oliver), in 1635 the Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in Zamboanga City (by Melchor de Vera and Juan de Ciscara), in 1760 the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City (first built in 1566 by Diego de Herrera), in 1788 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion in Argao (by Mateo Perez), in 1796 Malacañang Palace, in 1823 Paco Cemetery, and in 1891 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Sebastian in Manila (by Genaro Palacios). To choose only one 20th century classic – here we use the term “classic” loosely, since classics are traditionally supposed to have existed for at least a hundred years before even being considered for classic status – we had, in 1912, the Manila Hotel by William Parsons. (All artifacts mentioned above and later are those canonized by the CCP Encylopedia as “major works.”)

We could write a volume just on architecture – and the Cultural Center of the Philippines has indeed devoted an entire volume to it in their monumental Encyclopedia – but the simplest way to be convinced that we are a race of architects is to travel around the country and to see, even in the poorest communities, magnificent cathedrals to the great glory of the Spanish Bathala or, in the final years of the millennium, to the greater glory of the homegrown Angel of the East. There is only one God, says Islam, and his name is Allah; we could say that Allah is no one else but Bathala, because the Spanish missionaries preaching the story of Jesus rising from the dead did not introduce anything new to the belief system of Filipinos, even then marveling every night to stories of epic heroes dying and resurrecting routinely. The derivative Iglesia’s original Manalo never claimed to be Allah, nor indeed neither did Muhammad, but the fascination Filipinos had for one prophet or the other cannot be wholly attributed to the fervor of foreign or native missionaries; Filipino epics all define our imagined communities as communities of imagined heroes and gods, leaders all of all our people. No major leap of imagination is required to go from an epic vision to a theological vision; for Filipinos, folklore and theology are one.

The other visual arts – if we use our own way of classifying art, admittedly not the best of all possible ways, since it does not take into account earlier ways of expressing self or society – were not lying inert while architecture was bursting at the seams. In 1734, for instance, we had Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas, better known as the Pedro Murillo Velarde Map of the Philippines, engraved on copper by Nicolas de la Cruz Baggay and Francisco Suarez. In 1800 the Pakil Crucifix, one of thousands of deconstructions of the story of Jesus’s passion and resurrection, emphasized the human passion and downplayed the superhuman resurrection, thus totally misrepresenting the Christian faith and playing to the pagan beliefs of the split-leveled population. In 1830 we had Coleccion de Trajes de Manila y de las Provincias by Damian Domingo, in 1885 El Pacto de Sangre by Juan Luna y Novicio, and in 1890 La Madre España guiando a su hija Filipinas en el camino del progreso also by Luna.

If the visual arts come, can modern literary arts be far behind? No way, Jose Rizal.

In 1593 was published the first book as object, Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. It was not, strictly speaking, our very first book; that honor belongs to Darangen, which was copied by hand, though not by movable type, from one Maranao family to another. But Doctrina opened the floodgates to what the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), in the twentieth century, would denounce as the tyranny of print; PLAC would, ironically, as the millennium drew to a close, see itself transforming from revolutionary to reactionary in the onslaught of the visually-oriented World-Wide Web.

After Doctrina, indeed, was the deluge. In 1703 (or 1704) we had Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon natin na Tola by Gaspar Aquino de Belen. In 1814 we had Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (Pasyong Genesis or Pasyong Pilapil), in 1831 Comedia Heroica de la Conquistada de Granada o Sea Vida de Don Gonzalo de Cordoba llamado el Gran Capitan by Anselmo Jorge de Fajardo, in 1852 La Teresa: Dialogo cun Pagpolong-polong sa usa ca Familia cun Banay sa Maong Ginicanan, nga Nagatudlo sa Daghanan nga Catungdanan nga Uala Maila sa Daghanan nga mga Bisayang Cristianos by Antonio Ubeda de la Santisima Trinidad, and in 1861 the greatest masterpiece of all Filipino poetry – the metrical romance Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at ni Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico o Pinturang Nagsasabi nang manga Nangyari nang unang Panahon sa Imperio nang Grecia – at Tinula nang isang Matouian sa Versong Tagalog by Francisco Baltazar. Since we are perched on mountain tops, we might as well mention Pagsusulatan ng Dalauang Binibini na si Urbana at ni Feliza na Nagtuturo nang Mabuting Kaugalian (1864) by Modesto de Castro; Ang Suga nga Magandan-ag sa Nagapuyo sa Cangitngitan sa Sala o Ejercicio sulod sa Siam ca Adlao ( 1879) by Blas Cavada de Castro; Ninay: Costumbres Filipinas (1885) by Pedro A. Paterno, published in Madrid; and Si Tandang Basio Macunat (1885) by Miguel Lucio Bustamante. In prose, we had in 1887 Noli me Tangere by Jose Rizal, published in Berlin, undoubtedly The Great Filipino Novel, until its stature was conveniently and comically forgotten by mid-20th century writers still hoping to write what had already been written. Too late these anti- or non-heroes!

The literary world did not stop though it had reached its climax in the Noli. In 1888 we had Dasalan at Tocsohan by Marcelo H. del Pilar in 1891 Rizal’s less inspired sequel El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent, and Fray Botod by Graciano Lopez Jaena, published in Barcelona. 1896 was a banner year; in that one year alone, we had Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa and Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog by Andres Bonifacio, Liwanag at Dilim by Emilio Jacinto, and Mi Ultimo Adios by Rizal. Later, already stepping into our own century, we had Banaag at Sikat (1905) by Lope K. Santos, Lidia (1907) by Juan Crisostomo Soto, and innumerable others, most of them less remarkable but not all of them not worth remarking. If we had to choose only one set of literary texts to represent the 20th century, it might arguably – vociferously arguably – be the only prose epic of our time, notwithstanding its alleged lack of (or perhaps because of its outstanding?) literary and political merits, F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Novels – Poon (1985), Tree (1978), My Brother, My Executioner (1973), The Pretenders (1962), Mass (1984), and perhaps Viajero (1993) – the only sustained modern narrative in novel form, following and keeping alive the ancient epic tradition of heroes unable to achieve heroism without the active help of the community, an achievement that in no small measure owes its success to its continuing the Rizal tradition of romantic realism or realistic romanticism.

Books and literary texts are only a small step away from the performing arts. If poetry aspires to the condition of music, then drama aspires to the condition of theater. Not surprisingly, by 1860 we had La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante by Francisco Baltazar, staged in Udyong (now Orion), Bataan, as well as Orosman at Zafira also by Baltazar, staged in Batangas. In music, we had, in 1879, La Flor de Manila by Dolores Paterno, lyrics by Pedro Paterno. That same year saw the theatrical piece El Consejo de los Dioses by Jose Rizal. A year later we had Junto al Pasig also by Rizal, a zarzuela staged at Ateneo Municipal de Manila. In 1898 was staged the drama simboliko Malaya by Tomas Remigio at Dulaang Luzon in Manila. In 1891 Recuerdos de Capiz by Julio Nakpil was awarded a diploma of honor during the first Exposicion Regional Filipina. In 1896 we had Jocelynang Baliwag; in 1898 Himno Nacional Filipino by Julian Felipe; in 1900 Ing Managpe by Mariano Proceso Pabalan, staged at Teatro Sabina in Bacolor, Pampanga; in 1902 Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Natawhan by Vicente Sotto, staged at Teatro Junquera (Teatro Oriente) in Cebu City, as well as Walang Sugat by Severino Reyes and Fulgencio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1903 Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas by Aurelio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1917 Solo entre las Sombras by Claro M. Recto, staged at Manila Grand Opera House. The first film of note came in 1919, Dalagang Bukid by Jose Nepomuceno.

If we had to choose only one musical piece to represent the last century of the millennium, I suppose we would have difficulty choosing between Donde estas, mi Vida (Nasaan ka, Irog?) (1923), by Nicanor Abelardo, lyrics by Narciso Asistio (Spanish) and Jose Corazon de Jesus (Tagalog), and Bayan Ko (1928) by Constancio de Guzman, lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus. If we had to choose only one dance event to freeze in a time capsule, we would have to single out Mariang Makiling (1939), a ballet in two acts by Anita Kane, the first dance to use a local legend and original music. If we had to choose just one theater piece, it would have to be, hands down, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1955) by Nick Joaquin, first staged in Intramuros, filmed in 1966 by Lamberto Avellana, and subsequently restaged, translated, retranslated, adapted to music, deconstructed, reconstructed, misconstructed, and so on, not yet ad nauseam and hopefully ad infinitum.

To go through a thousand years of art history is to realize that a thousand years is nothing. Filipinos have always lived sub specie aeternitatis. Filipinos have always lived beyond themselves. The diaspora of the late 20th century may have a Jewish label with a tinge of siege mentality, but the Weltanschauung of the Filipino has always been much more global and open.

What else can we conclude from our creation myths? Here is a typical creation story, as told by the Agusan Manobo and retold in English by Rosario Cruz Lucero:

In the beginning was Dagau, who set the world atop five iron pillars, one of them at the center. The sky was round and was bounded by the sea. Near the sea’s edge was its navel, a gigantic hole through which the waters rose and fell, causing high and low tides. The world was shaped like a mushroom, underneath which lived Dagau with her pet giant python. (Dalisay 1: 22)

This biologically or superbiologically female god created not just Filipinos, but everyone else, or perhaps more accurately, created only Filipinos, that then dispersed diasporically throughout the earth and became all other peoples.

From this female god (and other female gods, and some male gods as well) to the Filipinos living around 1000 is a small step for Filipinos, but a giant step for humanity. By 1000 we were, as Cecilio G. Salcedo likes to put it, citing F. Landa Jocano, a highly literate race, communicating with each other through a complex system of writing (Dalisay 2: 222). The Laguna copper plate (dated 10th century, more or less), if nothing else, signals the extraordinary ordinariness of literacy among Filipinos. It is impossible to imagine a race so skilled in engineering that it could construct rice terraces in 1500 or 1000 BC and so literate it had island-hopping communication through writing that was not talented enough to deconstruct or defamiliarize reality or, in other words, to create art.

Clearly, from a purely logical point of view, as well as from the empirical evidence of all the art pieces we have mentioned, we are a proud and artistic race, able to look everyone in the eye and to say, like feminists and postcolonialists used to say, that we had masterpieces as splendid and marvelous as any found elsewhere on earth, but alas, marginalized, trivialized, debased, and otherwise colonized in our own minds and by our own long-lost tribal mates from abroad, we now find ourselves searching for our roots, unaware that from our roots have grown the masterpieces of the entire artistic world. At the end of the day or of the millennium, it has been an exciting thousand years of Filitude.

REFERENCES

Asico, Mary-Ann, ed. 1999. 100 Events that Shaped the Philippines. Quezon City: Adarna Book Services and National Centennial Commission.

Dalisay, Jose Y. Jr., ed. 1998. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. 10 vols. Manila: Asia Publishing.

Tiongson, Nicanor G., ed. 1994. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. 10 vols. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.

(Published in Philippine Cultural and Artistic Landmarks of the Past Millennium. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2001, pp. 60-70.)


A Thousand Years of Filitude

30 June 2006 at 4:22 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

In 1000 there was no Filipinas, but there were Filipinos.

There was no Filipinas, if by the term we mean the geographical colony imagined by Spanish imperialists – thinking locally but acting globally, dreaming of lives of ease among Asian beasts – more than half a millennium into the future or the independent nation imagined by Indio expatriates – still students but already writers, living in the belly of the Spanish beast – almost a millennium later.

But there were Filipinos, if by the term we mean flesh-and-blood beings as human as we now are, endowed with exactly the same minds, hearts, souls, rights, freedoms, dreams, and challenges that we ourselves now enjoy. These Filipinos, unbeknownst to themselves, were building the nation chanced upon by the Spanish imperialists and put into words by the Indio expatriates, the same nation called or to be called – at various times and by various peoples – Ophir, Maniolas, Mo-yi, Ma-yi, Sansu, San-Tao, Lu-sung, Islas del Poniente, Islas del Oriente, Islas de Luzones, Archipelago de Magallanes, Archipelago de Celebes, and of course, Filipinas.

These Filipinos lived in a global community. With their hands, they built boats, and in their dreams, they built empires. They traveled routinely to alien places such as Malacca and set up houses and shops there, even – rumors had it – slave centers. They traded commodities with the mighty Chinese and the mysterious Indians. They traded myths, fears, and rumors about the exotic Europeans, the white peoples that, in the folklore of the Tinguians and other islanders, were their very own ancestors that had gone out to see the world and soon enough – to be more precise, half a millennium later – would inevitably return to the parentland.

What kind of art did these Filipinos have? What artistic efforts have they exerted since then? In this essay, let us sketch a history of Filipino achievement in the arts from 1000 to 2000.

First, let us look at the world around Filipinas then. In 1000, Murasaki Shikibu was writing the world’s very first novel Tale of Genji, Islam was popularizing arabesque, Guido d’Arezzo was inventing the musical staff, and the Djennes were perfecting figurative terra-cottas. Just around the time corner were the great wall of Zimbabwe, the Byzantine revisionist portrait of Christ as a stern judge, the Kandariya Mahadeva temple in India, the tolling of the bells for Gregorian chant, the Sung dynasty’s greatest landscape painter Fan K’uan, the French minstrel guilds, and German manuscript illumination at Reichenau Monastery.

What did the Filipinos have that could match these paradigm shifters?

At first glance, not as much. We must remember, however, that we had already built the rice terraces in what eventually would be known as a mountain/ous province; admittedly, though, those had been around for at least – some say more than – two thousand years, mute but eloquent witnesses to the advanced engineering skills of ancient Filipinos. We might already have had primitive, though not necessarily unsophisticated early versions of songs (should we call them Ur-songs?) still sung today by playful children at home or homesick adults overseas – traditional songs such as Atin Cu Pung Singsing, Bahay Kubo, Dandansoy, Ili-ili Tulog Anay, Leron Leron Sinta, Lulay, Magtanim ay di Biro, Manang Biday, Matud Nila, Pamulinawen, Paruparong Bukid, Si Pilemon si Pilemon, Sitsiritsit, and Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing, songs later to be adapted to the rhythms and tastes of European invaders or perhaps transmogrified from memories of days of rice wine and white roses before colonization. We definitely already had what today we call the Manunggul Jar, almost two thousand years old even then, though whether the Manunggul Cave in Lipuun Point in Palawan was open to living visitors viewing the remains of their dead remained, even by then, a dead issue.

We certainly did not have illuminated manuscripts or even painting on paper. Our Chinese trading partners that had invented printing by 1000 brought only noodles but not woodblocks to our islands, and we had to wait for European plagiarists to introduce the notion of The Book as Object for our artists to come up with, say, the Augustinian Cantoral of 1659 as illuminated by Marcelo de San Agustin, or a bit later, the anonymous Anales Eclesiasticos de Filipinas in 1770, precursors of the letras y figures of the 1840s. Even the earlier Boxer Codex, not completely our own creation, was done only six hundred years after the turn of the millennium, around 1590.

But the first five or so hundred years of the last thousand were not exactly the Dark Ages for Filipinos, though they looked pretty dark to the seafaring and blind coiners of the Spanish word Filipinas. Filipinos did have a huge amount of both written and oral literature by the end of the first millennium. To cite only one example of written imaginative lore, we had the pre-Islamic Darangen of the Maranaos, so lengthy and so complex that it almost took forever in the twentieth century for Mindanao State University, the Toyota Foundation, and Ma. Delia Coronel to print heavily abridged and edited versions of it, versions that have not exactly been welcomed ecstatically by a largely Christocentric, tempocentric, and static public.

The literature printed or signified only in the mind – texts that modern postmodernists would not welcome for reversing the hard-earned poststructuralist hegemony of writing over speech – loomed large during those first five or six hundred years. Today, at least thirty or so oral epic families have survived, each family having any number of songs ranging from short episodes to what in other countries would already be hailed as full epics. Epic families considered canonical are – aside from the Maranao Darangen – the Arakan-Arumanen Agyu, the Suban-on Guman and Keg Sumba neg Sandayo and Ag Tobig nog Keboklagan, the Sulod Hinilawod, the Ifugao Hudhud, the Kinaray-a Humadapnon, the Palawan Kudaman, the Tausug Parang Sabil, the Manobo Tuwaang, the Livunganen-Arumanen Ulahingan, and the Kalinga Ullalim. We could add to the list those created much later, such as the Ilokano Biag ni Lam-ang or even the English Trilogy of Saint Lazarus by Cirilo F. Bautista, the two latter, of course, having been written and published, belonging to Ferdinand de Saussure’s right-hand or Jacques Derrida’s left-hand term.

The oral epics had one thing in common, what protostructuralist Vladimir Propp would have hailed as a triumph of his unwittingly universal grammar or morphology of all extended narratives. Everything else being equal, the Filipino epic hero – male or female – tended to leave home, to acquire the use of a magical agent, to be transferred to the whereabouts of an object of search, to start a battle, to fight for a long time, to be stopped from fighting by a female or male god, to realize that the enemy is an unsuspected blood relation, to die, to resurrect, to return home, and to get married. Filipinos then, as now, knew that no Filipino stands alone; all Filipinos – heroes or villains – receive their sustenance, strength, and salvation from other Filipinos. People Power was not a creation of the late twentieth century, as short-sighted, tempocentric, and megalomaniac come-lately would-be heroes love to announce; it was a characteristic of all Filipino communities even during the first few hundred years of the second millennium and perhaps long before then.

Those first few hundred years, needless to say, were not famous for electronic technology, or in fact, for any kind of technology – appropriate or inappropriate – that would permit ideas to cross oceans fast and pure. Scholastic philosophy, schisms, and the crusades were changing European ideology in the 11th century; the Khmers were building Angkor Wat in the 12th; Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Inquisition, Marco Polo, and Kamikaze were changing history in the 13th; Timbuktu was starting to become a cultural center and the Italian Renaissance was beginning in the 14th; the Germans were commercializing printing and other Europeans were starting to sail away from what they thought was the Old World in the 15th – but in what would soon enough be called Filipinas, there was only peace and prosperity, there was only an Eden that the great nineteenth-century novelist Jose Rizal would so aptly call lost, there was only the highest form of civilization available only to the purest of heart.

Twenty-one of our contemporaries have identified certain key events from the coming of homo sapiens in 50,000 BC to AD 1000 as shaping pre-first millennium Filipinas (Asico). Among these, so they claim, were the development of pottery (3,000 BC), writing (200 BC), weaving (AD 200), woodcarving (200), and indigenous music (500). Clearly crucial to the development of Filipinos as artists were the various foreign influences brought physically by the boat trade – the Indonesians and Indochinese (1,000 BC), the Chinese (AD 222), and the Arabs (9th century). In the period we are studying, the key events are the coming of Islam missionaries in the 1240s, of Magellan in 1521 and of Legazpi in 1565, of the Dutch in the 17th century, of the British in 1762, and of everyone else in the 1780s, including the Danish, the Swedes, and United States people (we dare not use the politically incorrect term Americans to denote US residents while marginalizing Canadians, Latin Americans, and non-Latin South Americans). Clearly, it was impossible for Filipinos to remain parochial in their everyday life and in their everyday art; from the very beginning, almost as an inherent quality, Filipino art has always been global.

Speaking strictly of art as a formal discipline, we might probably identify as the most important event in the whole millennium the opening of the first art school in the islands in 1823, the Academia de Dibujo, built around Damian Domingo, who had established its progenitor in his own house in Tondo in 1821. Domingo died in 1832, and the school closed in 1834. More lasting in influence was its offspring, the second art school, which opened in 1845; that second school had among its alumni Simon Flores, Lorenzo Guerrero, Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, and Juan Luna Novicio.

But that’s coming very close to the end of the millennium. Let us retrace the thousand years by spotting its highlights. This is the traditional way of doing art history (the other way being what is sometimes inaccurately called “history from below”); let us let masterpieces, not the democratic majority, define our history as artists.

In 1584 was built Intramuros (from a precolonial structure already existing in 1519), our answer to the turn of the millennium Borobodour of the Sailendras and Angkor Wat of the Khmers. For architecture, Intramuros was indeed the be-all and the end-all of everything. It was, of course, global, because Spanish-inspired and built; it was also, of course, local, because it physically manifested the only and still remaining racist strain in Filipino life – the prejudice against people of color, the yellow-skinned Chinese and the brown-skinned Malays, both kept outside the walls. On the other hand, if we take a deconstructive view, Intramuros kept imprisoned within its walls white Spaniards and whitened Malays. Either way, Intramuros was our version of the Great Wall of China, keeping the barbarians at the gates while granting a reassuring though false self-image to the savage nobles within.

Architecture, however, did not hibernate the rest of the millennium. Far from it. Public structures, particularly churches, took up the time and energy of our architects. In 1599 – to give only a handful of examples – was built the Ayuntamiento or City Hall of Manila, in 1600 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Cagayan, in 1629 the Puente de España (the first bridge to span the Pasig River), in 1630 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion in Antipolo (by Juan de Salazar and Luciano Oliver), in 1635 the Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in Zamboanga City (by Melchor de Vera and Juan de Ciscara), in 1760 the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City (first built in 1566 by Diego de Herrera), in 1788 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion in Argao (by Mateo Perez), in 1796 Malacañang Palace, in 1823 Paco Cemetery, and in 1891 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Sebastian in Manila (by Genaro Palacios). To choose only one 20th century classic – here we use the term “classic” loosely, since classics are traditionally supposed to have existed for at least a hundred years before even being considered for classic status – we had, in 1912, the Manila Hotel by William Parsons. (All artifacts mentioned above and later are those canonized by the CCP Encylopedia as “major works.”)

We could write a volume just on architecture – and the Cultural Center of the Philippines has indeed devoted an entire volume to it in their monumental Encyclopedia – but the simplest way to be convinced that we are a race of architects is to travel around the country and to see, even in the poorest communities, magnificent cathedrals to the great glory of the Spanish Bathala or, in the final years of the millennium, to the greater glory of the homegrown Angel of the East. There is only one God, says Islam, and his name is Allah; we could say that Allah is no one else but Bathala, because the Spanish missionaries preaching the story of Jesus rising from the dead did not introduce anything new to the belief system of Filipinos, even then marveling every night to stories of epic heroes dying and resurrecting routinely. The derivative Iglesia’s original Manalo never claimed to be Allah, nor indeed neither did Muhammad, but the fascination Filipinos had for one prophet or the other cannot be wholly attributed to the fervor of foreign or native missionaries; Filipino epics all define our imagined communities as communities of imagined heroes and gods, leaders all of all our people. No major leap of imagination is required to go from an epic vision to a theological vision; for Filipinos, folklore and theology are one.

The other visual arts – if we use our own way of classifying art, admittedly not the best of all possible ways, since it does not take into account earlier ways of expressing self or society – were not lying inert while architecture was bursting at the seams. In 1734, for instance, we had Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas, better known as the Pedro Murillo Velarde Map of the Philippines, engraved on copper by Nicolas de la Cruz Baggay and Francisco Suarez. In 1800 the Pakil Crucifix, one of thousands of deconstructions of the story of Jesus’s passion and resurrection, emphasized the human passion and downplayed the superhuman resurrection, thus totally misrepresenting the Christian faith and playing to the pagan beliefs of the split-leveled population. In 1830 we had Coleccion de Trajes de Manila y de las Provincias by Damian Domingo, in 1885 El Pacto de Sangre by Juan Luna y Novicio, and in 1890 La Madre España guiando a su hija Filipinas en el camino del progreso also by Luna.

If the visual arts come, can modern literary arts be far behind? No way, Jose Rizal.

In 1593 was published the first book as object, Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. It was not, strictly speaking, our very first book; that honor belongs to Darangen, which was copied by hand, though not by movable type, from one Maranao family to another. But Doctrina opened the floodgates to what the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), in the twentieth century, would denounce as the tyranny of print; PLAC would, ironically, as the millennium drew to a close, see itself transforming from revolutionary to reactionary in the onslaught of the visually-oriented World-Wide Web.

After Doctrina, indeed, was the deluge. In 1703 (or 1704) we had Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon natin na Tola by Gaspar Aquino de Belen. In 1814 we had Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (Pasyong Genesis or Pasyong Pilapil), in 1831 Comedia Heroica de la Conquistada de Granada o Sea Vida de Don Gonzalo de Cordoba llamado el Gran Capitan by Anselmo Jorge de Fajardo, in 1852 La Teresa: Dialogo cun Pagpolong-polong sa usa ca Familia cun Banay sa Maong Ginicanan, nga Nagatudlo sa Daghanan nga Catungdanan nga Uala Maila sa Daghanan nga mga Bisayang Cristianos by Antonio Ubeda de la Santisima Trinidad, and in 1861 the greatest masterpiece of all Filipino poetry – the metrical romance Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at ni Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico o Pinturang Nagsasabi nang manga Nangyari nang unang Panahon sa Imperio nang Grecia – at Tinula nang isang Matouian sa Versong Tagalog by Francisco Baltazar. Since we are perched on mountain tops, we might as well mention Pagsusulatan ng Dalauang Binibini na si Urbana at ni Feliza na Nagtuturo nang Mabuting Kaugalian (1864) by Modesto de Castro; Ang Suga nga Magandan-ag sa Nagapuyo sa Cangitngitan sa Sala o Ejercicio sulod sa Siam ca Adlao ( 1879) by Blas Cavada de Castro; Ninay: Costumbres Filipinas (1885) by Pedro A. Paterno, published in Madrid; and Si Tandang Basio Macunat (1885) by Miguel Lucio Bustamante. In prose, we had in 1887 Noli me Tangere by Jose Rizal, published in Berlin, undoubtedly The Great Filipino Novel, until its stature was conveniently and comically forgotten by mid-20th century writers still hoping to write what had already been written. Too late these anti- or non-heroes!

The literary world did not stop though it had reached its climax in the Noli. In 1888 we had Dasalan at Tocsohan by Marcelo H. del Pilar in 1891 Rizal’s less inspired sequel El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent, and Fray Botod by Graciano Lopez Jaena, published in Barcelona. 1896 was a banner year; in that one year alone, we had Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa and Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog by Andres Bonifacio, Liwanag at Dilim by Emilio Jacinto, and Mi Ultimo Adios by Rizal. Later, already stepping into our own century, we had Banaag at Sikat (1905) by Lope K. Santos, Lidia (1907) by Juan Crisostomo Soto, and innumerable others, most of them less remarkable but not all of them not worth remarking. If we had to choose only one set of literary texts to represent the 20th century, it might arguably – vociferously arguably – be the only prose epic of our time, notwithstanding its alleged lack of (or perhaps because of its outstanding?) literary and political merits, F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Novels – Poon (1985), Tree (1978), My Brother, My Executioner (1973), The Pretenders (1962), Mass (1984), and perhaps Viajero (1993) – the only sustained modern narrative in novel form, following and keeping alive the ancient epic tradition of heroes unable to achieve heroism without the active help of the community, an achievement that in no small measure owes its success to its continuing the Rizal tradition of romantic realism or realistic romanticism.

Books and literary texts are only a small step away from the performing arts. If poetry aspires to the condition of music, then drama aspires to the condition of theater. Not surprisingly, by 1860 we had La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante by Francisco Baltazar, staged in Udyong (now Orion), Bataan, as well as Orosman at Zafira also by Baltazar, staged in Batangas. In music, we had, in 1879, La Flor de Manila by Dolores Paterno, lyrics by Pedro Paterno. That same year saw the theatrical piece El Consejo de los Dioses by Jose Rizal. A year later we had Junto al Pasig also by Rizal, a zarzuela staged at Ateneo Municipal de Manila. In 1898 was staged the drama simboliko Malaya by Tomas Remigio at Dulaang Luzon in Manila. In 1891 Recuerdos de Capiz by Julio Nakpil was awarded a diploma of honor during the first Exposicion Regional Filipina. In 1896 we had Jocelynang Baliwag; in 1898 Himno Nacional Filipino by Julian Felipe; in 1900 Ing Managpe by Mariano Proceso Pabalan, staged at Teatro Sabina in Bacolor, Pampanga; in 1902 Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Natawhan by Vicente Sotto, staged at Teatro Junquera (Teatro Oriente) in Cebu City, as well as Walang Sugat by Severino Reyes and Fulgencio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1903 Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas by Aurelio Tolentino, staged at Teatro Libertad in Manila; in 1917 Solo entre las Sombras by Claro M. Recto, staged at Manila Grand Opera House. The first film of note came in 1919, Dalagang Bukid by Jose Nepomuceno.

If we had to choose only one musical piece to represent the last century of the millennium, I suppose we would have difficulty choosing between Donde estas, mi Vida (Nasaan ka, Irog?) (1923), by Nicanor Abelardo, lyrics by Narciso Asistio (Spanish) and Jose Corazon de Jesus (Tagalog), and Bayan Ko (1928) by Constancio de Guzman, lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus. If we had to choose only one dance event to freeze in a time capsule, we would have to single out Mariang Makiling (1939), a ballet in two acts by Anita Kane, the first dance to use a local legend and original music. If we had to choose just one theater piece, it would have to be, hands down, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1955) by Nick Joaquin, first staged in Intramuros, filmed in 1966 by Lamberto Avellana, and subsequently restaged, translated, retranslated, adapted to music, deconstructed, reconstructed, misconstructed, and so on, not yet ad nauseam and hopefully ad infinitum.

To go through a thousand years of art history is to realize that a thousand years is nothing. Filipinos have always lived sub specie aeternitatis. Filipinos have always lived beyond themselves. The diaspora of the late 20th century may have a Jewish label with a tinge of siege mentality, but the Weltanschauung of the Filipino has always been much more global and open.

What else can we conclude from our creation myths? Here is a typical creation story, as told by the Agusan Manobo and retold in English by Rosario Cruz Lucero:

In the beginning was Dagau, who set the world atop five iron pillars, one of them at the center. The sky was round and was bounded by the sea. Near the sea’s edge was its navel, a gigantic hole through which the waters rose and fell, causing high and low tides. The world was shaped like a mushroom, underneath which lived Dagau with her pet giant python. (Dalisay 1: 22)

This biologically or superbiologically female god created not just Filipinos, but everyone else, or perhaps more accurately, created only Filipinos, that then dispersed diasporically throughout the earth and became all other peoples.

From this female god (and other female gods, and some male gods as well) to the Filipinos living around 1000 is a small step for Filipinos, but a giant step for humanity. By 1000 we were, as Cecilio G. Salcedo likes to put it, citing F. Landa Jocano, a highly literate race, communicating with each other through a complex system of writing (Dalisay 2: 222). The Laguna copper plate (dated 10th century, more or less), if nothing else, signals the extraordinary ordinariness of literacy among Filipinos. It is impossible to imagine a race so skilled in engineering that it could construct rice terraces in 1500 or 1000 BC and so literate it had island-hopping communication through writing that was not talented enough to deconstruct or defamiliarize reality or, in other words, to create art.

Clearly, from a purely logical point of view, as well as from the empirical evidence of all the art pieces we have mentioned, we are a proud and artistic race, able to look everyone in the eye and to say, like feminists and postcolonialists used to say, that we had masterpieces as splendid and marvelous as any found elsewhere on earth, but alas, marginalized, trivialized, debased, and otherwise colonized in our own minds and by our own long-lost tribal mates from abroad, we now find ourselves searching for our roots, unaware that from our roots have grown the masterpieces of the entire artistic world. At the end of the day or of the millennium, it has been an exciting thousand years of Filitude.

REFERENCES

Asico, Mary-Ann, ed. 1999. 100 Events that Shaped the Philippines. Quezon City: Adarna Book Services and National Centennial Commission.

Dalisay, Jose Y. Jr., ed. 1998. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. 10 vols. Manila: Asia Publishing.

Tiongson, Nicanor G., ed. 1994. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. 10 vols. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.

(Published in Philippine Cultural and Artistic Landmarks of the Past Millennium. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2001, pp. 60-70.)


Filipino Identity

8 May 2006 at 4:18 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Last April 4, at the architectural marvel that is the new Instituto Cervantes beside Casino Español in Ermita, Manila, a round table discussion was held on the issue of “Filipino Identity.” Fernando “Butch” Zialcita, who had just published the book Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity, and bestselling author Jessica Zafra were with me on the panel, ably moderated by Chaco Molina.

I must say at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed Zialcita’s book. It has to be one of the most significant books published in recent years. Based on solid anthropological research, the book tackles several answers to the question “What is Filipino?” and shows which of them are based on reality and which are not.

My comments on the book had to do not with its merit as a book, but with its unintended lack of appreciation for the long tradition of similar books written in Filipino. I should say this because I do not want to be misunderstood as rejecting the book. In fact, I recommend the book very highly to anyone that wants to know who and what we are.

Here are excerpts from the paper I prepared for the panel:

Since Butch Zialcita’s book does not refer to any of my books in Filipino nor to those of Virgilio Almario or Soledad Reyes, and refers only to the book in English that Bienvenido Lumbera wrote when he was still a student and had not yet fully developed his ideas in his books in Filipino, and since Butch is not only a colleague but a friend – in fact, we have known each other since college days – and therefore has nothing personal against the four of us, I can only assume that he is not that familiar with the parallel efforts being made in the field of literary theory and particularly with that area of it that is written in Filipino. Though as a literary critic I must admit I feel a bit slighted by it, I do not blame him for this oversight, since he himself says that his preference for Filipino as the intellectual language to discuss issues of identity has been stifled by the need to communicate with his colleagues and since no book can be expected anyway to be exhaustive; besides, his book is really an anthology of papers written primarily for social scientists attending conferences or reading journals.

This might be an occasion, therefore, to sketch, even at the risk of oversimplification because we have only a few minutes, how literary theory written in Filipino has approached the question of Filipino identity.

Butch says, “Whenever possible, I prefer to use the vernacular because this forces me to rethink abstract concepts in a clear, concrete way. Also, there is genuine communication.” Almario, Reyes, Lumbera, and I – and others, of course – have been using Filipino in our academic work as literary critics. Although we do not form a school of thought in the sense that we share the same views or even general philosophy, we do build on each other’s research and insights.

Almario has identified what he calls a Filipino Formalism in the practice of writing and reading poetry. He has done this primarily by going back to Tagalog critical texts written during the Spanish period. He became famous because of his early book on what he named Balagtasismo, or the tradition of poetry identified with Francisco Balagtas, the Tagalog poet who wrote Florante at Laura, which is required reading for all Filipino students in secondary school. He has moved considerably away from that book, with his later books going beyond Balagtas into the earlier traditions in Tagalog poetry.

Reyes has widened the scope of literary criticism to include not just poetry, which is the core of literature, but also previously marginalized forms, such as comic books, radio plays, and serialized novels in popular magazines. She became famous for her definition of the Filipino romantic mode, a concept that she has continued to develop in several books. Recently, she has focused on women writers that have been doubly marginalized, once because they are women and second because they wrote in unheralded literary forms.

Lumbera needed to write his doctoral dissertation, which is the book on Tagalog poetry that Butch includes in his references, in order to turn his back on his miseducation. Since then, as a professional scholar rather than as a mere student, Lumbera has moved deeply into literary theory, discovering that there is a concept of nationhood imbedded in various texts, and not only literary but cinematic and other texts.

I have myself, if I may be immodest, advocated what I call the concept of the Other Other, or Bukod na Bukod, as my latest theory book is entitled. Before my retirement from De La Salle University, I spoke at various international conferences, pricking the consciences of so-called postcolonial literary critics by assuming what I suppose is a stand strange to them, namely, that the Philippines is an ancient, first-world, and Western nation.

Obviously, we cannot debate all the issues that literary critics have been debating over the last forty years, with the four of us, if I can again be immodest, at the center of the debates. There are younger literary critics, such as David Jonathan Bayot, Caroline Hau, and Roland Tolentino, that are taking the debates into areas much deeper and more exciting than the four of us elders have explored, and the good news is that they build on what we have spent our lives doing. (The Philippine Star, 20 April 2006)

It is impossible to reconcile many of our views on national identity, but oversimplistically, I could say that we all agree that, first, it is not right to be primitivist (that is, to say that we used to be Filipino but became less so when foreigners invaded our shores); second, that there is something that foreigners did not give us (there is something traceable to our ancient ethnoepics that up to now still animates our literary and popular texts); and third, that we have always been global (even before foreign forms entered the physical boundaries of the country).

Butch can easily see how literary theory in Filipino can bolster many of his arguments.

Although we can understand the dissatisfaction Butch feels when he reads social science texts that marginalize the Philippines, we literary critics feel much more confident than he does, or perhaps than all Philippine social scientists do, because international encyclopedias on literature routinely include Philippine writers. Just look at the Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, the British (now American) traveler’s series on literature, the Fitzroy Dearborn Encyclopedia of the Novel, the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and other major references of that kind. Or look at the annual bibliography of the Modern Language Association of America, which is the biggest association of literary scholars not just in the United States, but in the world.

Or look at the important role the Philippine Center of International PEN plays in International PEN, which is the world’s biggest and in fact the only international professional association of writers. Until it ran out of funds, the Philippine Center was deep into organizing the annual Congress in Manila. In May, the Philippine Center is, in fact, organizing the 31st UNESCO-ITI World Congress and Theatre Olympics of the Nations, a clear recognition by the international art community of the sophistication and maturity of Philippine artists.

Of course, we literary critics deal primarily with written texts, though most of us also talk about non-written texts, especially Tolentino, who has a series of books out on skin whiteners, malls, and the like. Most relevant to the book of Butch is Tolentino’s Paghahanap ng Virtual na Identidad (Looking for Virtual Identity). Social scientists like Butch have to deal with reality, as opposed to the virtual world of literary and quasi-literary texts.

Let me cite another literary critic – Gemino Abad. I did not mention him earlier because he writes in English and is more accessible to Butch, although Abad also does not merit mention in the book. Abad says that the world is made up of words. Of course, Abad borrows this insight from the structuralists, who have a lot in common with social scientists, because the linguist Roman Jakobson, heavily influenced by the linguist Ferdinand du Saussure, himself heavily influenced the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss, used by Butch in his book. If the world were indeed made up of words, then it is the literary critic that we should turn to if we want to understand the world. Now, that is surely immodest.

I have to say that I enjoyed the book. It is very well researched. It is not afraid to point out the errors of others, even big names such as O. D. Corpuz, who misreads Sinibaldo de Mas. It uses personal knowledge, though anecdotal, as a counterpoint to the impersonality of much research. It is also well written, which literary critics appreciate.

One passage particularly strikes me. Butch writes, “The eighteenth-century German aristocracy derided German and German literature. They spoke with each other in French. As a result, French words abound in German, often in their original spelling. Though Frederick the Great of Prussia warred against the French king in 1757, he was a Francophile in his readings and in his speech. He confessed that ‘since the days of my youth I have not read a German book and I speak German no better than a coachman.’”

Let’s change the word German to Filipino and French to English and change the setting to the Philippines today. The passage would read: “Today’s Filipino leaders deride the Filipino language and literature in Filipino. They speak with each other in English. As a result, English words abound in Filipino or Taglish, often in their original spelling. Though Filipino political and industry leaders claim to have been independent since 1946, they are Americans in their readings and in their speech. Some, maybe most of them can truly confess that, since the days of their youth they have not read a book in Filipino and they speak Filipino no better than their drivers.”

Since literary theorists like to debunk earlier theories, I love the way Butch debunks these ideas: that Americans introduced public education, that Filipinos have a bayanihan spirit, that corruption is the main problem with our government, that Marx advocated communal property, that the elite betrayed the Philippine Revolution, that we practice a split-level Christianity, that we suffer from cultural schizophrenia, and that there is such thing as Asia.

To all my readers: get a copy of the book and find out why we are what we are. (The Philippine Star, 27 April 2006)

UNESCO-ITI World Congress

14 April 2006 at 4:46 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

March 27 was World Theater Day. The day has been celebrated all over the world since 1962 by a hundred countries, members of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), an NGO associated with UNESCO.

The Philippines celebrated World Theater Day by staging a sneak preview of the New York-bound sarswela Something to Crow About, by Philippine Star columnist and National Artist Alejandro Roces, featuring the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music and the Earthsavers DREAMS Ensemble, at the Emilio Aguinaldo College Auditorium, under the direction of Cecile Guidote Alvarez.

In May, the 31st UNESCO-ITI World Congress and Theatre Olympics of the Nations will be held in the Philippines, sponsored by several government agencies and private organizations, led by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Philippine Center of International PEN.

UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura leads a roster of distinguished world leaders and international theater artists (which include current and former heads of state, royalty, and Nobel laureates) who are invited to attend the Congress. Some 26 shows (most of them involving foreign performers) are scheduled for the last week of May at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The event includes several components, among them a World Congress, a Leaders Forum, a World Festival of Drama Schools, colloquia or symposia, theatre shows, an indigenous people’s showcase, a cinema fest, committee and project group meetings, and exhibits.

The entire event has for its theme “Ancestral Roots to New Routes of Artistic Expression: Mobilizing Cultural Diversity to Achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

Plenary and small group discussions will be held at the Manila Hotel. Shows will be held primarily at the CCP, with various Philippine theater companies staging shows in their own venues for the benefit of the visiting foreign artists and media. Drama schools around the country are hosting foreign performers for workshops and cooperative productions.

This is the first time the ITI event will be held in the Philippines. The performances are open to the public, but since seats are limited, interested parties should buy tickets at the CCP (or from the various theater groups) as soon as possible.

Here is a partial list of professional theater shows scheduled on the last week of May at CCP: Acteal (Mexico), Antigone (Lithuania), Binodini (Bangladesh), Circular Ruins (ITI), The First Man (Romania), Last Night (Lithuania), Last Night (Morocco), Los Maloleñas (RP), No Return (Finland), Panakayon sa Panalublion (RP), Panata sa Kalayaan (RP), Paris and Alexander (Greece, RP), Peregrinasyon (Australia, RP), Pilak (RP), Prison (Greece), Realizing Rama (ASEAN), The Saga of Gudridur (Iceland), The Second Will (Armenia), Shooting the Boys (RP), Tagore (Bangladesh), Taya (RP), Three Sisters in Distress (Burkina Faso), Unicornios (Peru), Unravel Noh (Japan, RP), and The Voyage Project (Hungary, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia, USA). (The Philippine Star, 30 March 2006)

On May 25, as part of the UNESCO-ITI Theatre Olympics of the Nations, The Voyage Project will be staged at the CCP. The show features professional performers from Hungary, Israel, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and the United States.

Here is a portion of Peter Goldfarb’s notes on the production:

“The theme of Voyage or Journey is perhaps the most central and abiding of all dramatic and literary motifs; its meanings and definitions myriad, vast, nearly infinite. The theme is embraced by all the seminal works of the Eastern and Western worlds – the Odyssey, the Holy Grail, the Ramayana, the Arabian Nights, and countless others. What these stories have in common is that they all reflect aspects of the human condition and embody aspirations, triumphs, and sufferings that are universally recognized.

“Certainly they have changed and diversified over the centuries as each age has seized on them and restated the themes for their particular time. But whatever the temporal and cultural permutations may have been, the essential metaphor has remained unchanged – that of the journey through life with its confrontations and overcoming of obstacles, its triumphs and its transformations. Thus was born the idea of bringing together a group of young actors, each from a country which has undergone significant political or cultural changes.

“Rooted in their personal life experience and working through songs, stories, poems, and dreams, we would then go in search of the collective and/or individual stories for our time. Geographically our voyage took us first in June of 2001 to the International Theatre Festival in Sibiu, Romania. After a month hiatus, we met again in Cividale, the ancient mediaeval town in Northern Italy.

“As the actors recounted the legends and personal stories I had asked them to gather and as the shapes and contours and rhythms of the piece began to emerge, I experienced a powerful confirmation of the intuition that had guided me to undertake The Voyage Project in the first place: that our personal stories contain within them the seeds of transformation both for the teller and the listener and that if, together with the old stories, we can simply learn to listen, then perhaps we will not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again throughout history.

“We met again the following year in Sibiu but, this time, to give our first full performance in an ancient fortress in the hills above the town. In the ensuing time, 9/11 had occurred and a young American actor joined the ensemble to recount his first hand experience of this harrowing event. Due in part to our success in Sibiu, we were subsequently invited to perform in 2003 for the entire period of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. This time the continued escalation of the situation in the Middle East prompted me to add yet another participant, an Israeli who speaks of his experience in the Army during the first Intifada.

“The message carried by the young voices of The Voyage Project has become all the more relevant and all the more poignant. Over the tragic din of conflict, they resonate as youthful testimonies of compassion which, in their intensely unique and personal way, pay homage to the human spirit and shine a beacon of hope on the essential wonder and value of being alive.” (The Philippine Star, 6 April 2006)

On May 26, as part of the Theatre Olympics of the Nations, the Viirus theatre company of Finland will present its highly acclaimed production of No Return, a play loosely based on Kafka. Here are excerpts from a review by Kirsikka Moring of the October 2005 production of the play:

“Viirus’s No Return is a splendid actor’s performance, which trusts in the ability of the spectator to imagine. All are invited – to the stage of death. Viirus’s No Return exploits all aspects of the theatre of death, but the colors are not black, nor does the music follow the score of a funerary procession. The Lithuanian composer Martynas Bialobzekis has created a musical world to the show which revels in light and joy! What an ecstatic happiness the train passengers radiate, as they travel through the pink side-scene. After all, they do not know their terminus, as we in the stands do. The performers bring to mind the dramatic troupes of the concentration camps and Stalin’s prison camps. As long as you perform you survive. And they just continue, continue.

“The Lithuanian director Cezaris has chosen themes from Amerika and Kafka’s short story A Fratricide. During the rehearsal process the final dramatization has been born out of the improvisations of the performers, resulting in a drama which repeats and alters the themes. On an empty stage, with an upliftingly light and expressively rich pantomime they tell the story of the actors. The divine music of the angelic bassoons beckons higher and higher, and for the sake of being an artist they run up the spiral staircase to the heights, always running and running. Hurrying to the train. The fine ensemble of Viirus – Robert Enckell, Dick Idman, Marika Parkkomäki, Jerry Wahlfors, Joanna Wingren and Tobias Zilliacus – exploit their journey to the full. They attune us to an intense game of theatre, in which imagining takes central stage. By the dramaturgy they repeat each other’s phrases as their own, inspired by a common experience; and as true actors they compete audaciously for the attention of the public.

“The theatre is locked. We have all been confined into a common room to experience the same. The troupe captures us, their spectators, into an experience in which the transcendental drama of bliss and joy is transformed into ultimate horror, increasing by the moment. The second act of the performance makes death tangible. With an increasing pace the murder of the clerk Wese is told, as the circumstances are described and the details of the event are disputed. The actors argue, experiment, run to their stations in different emotions. Time and time again they repeat the events to assure the correct description of them, to stay alive.” (The Philippine Star, 13 April 2006)

On May 23, as part of the Theatre Olympics of the Nations at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Armenia will present The Second Will. Here is the description of the play sent by the director:

“Here are two sisters, two illogically opposite characters. One of them has given herself to men and pleasure, and the other is forever isolated.

“Ten years have passed since the day they separated, when the elder sister left the motherland, swearing never to be back. She did not even go to their mother’s funeral. Their mother died in silence, without saying a word about the elder sister’s spiritual dereliction and indifference. The mother was sure that her younger daughter would just organize the funeral and nothing more, with no feelings.

“Suddenly, seven years after her death, the mother’s second will appears. It changes everything, and even for a very short time and with some mystery, it makes the elder sister return to her motherland.

“The memories are unavoidable. The sisters relive their story, turning their lives into a living hell. Only the mother’s second will makes them reconsider their past and future.” (The Philippine Star, 27 April 2006)

Critical Practice in the Language Classroom

23 March 2006 at 9:36 PM | Posted in News | 1 Comment

This is my keynote speech at the 35th Bi-annual Conference of the Ateneo Center for English Language Teaching (ACELT) on 11 February 2006:

Sometime in the second half of the last century, critical theory came and went, was born and died, flourished and became passé, all within a generation. Hardly anyone teaching the English language in the Philippines noticed. Had theory been nothing else but a passing fancy, we would not be the worse for not noticing. Unfortunately for English teachers, theory rocked the very foundation of language teaching. We proceed with teaching English in our own century at great risk, if we do not step back a couple of decades and check out what exactly critical theory, sometimes called critical practice, had to say about the language that we teach.

Today, allow me to provoke you into thinking about certain aspects of the English language itself and of the way we teach the English language that have become extremely problematic – that’s the critical theorist’s way of saying that we have a problem.

Let us begin with former Ateneo professor Bienvenido Lumbera’s advocacy of vernacular languages against the English language. Lumbera is the leading critical theorist of the last half of the last century. He taught practically every other critical theorist of any importance in our country. Basically, Lumbera, taking his cue from Renato Constantino, preached (I use the past tense because we are talking of the last century) that the English language was an instrument of American colonial oppression, rammed down our throats by the American invaders at the turn of the last century in order to make us, first, forget that we are Filipinos, and second, dream of becoming Americans. To counteract what African critics would later call the colonization of the mind, Lumbera proposed that we focus our research efforts on writings done in various vernacular languages, those spoken by more than 99% of our population, and ignore, if not forever then at least temporarily, those written in the English language.

After the death of theory and the birth of what critics call “internal brain drain,” referring to the phenomenon of our best students prostituting their minds and their tongues in call centers, we are less emotional than Lumbera about the English language, but we still should not forget the harm that the English language can actually do to us. If we use only English as the language of the classroom, for example, our elementary-grade children will forget that there are different types of rice (since English has only one word for rice, while any Philippine language has at least a dozen), the real nature of the rice terraces (which has a word in Cordillera languages), and the way we should relate to our brothers and sisters (since English calls everybody simply brother or sister or sibling, unlike our vernacular languages, which take the borrowed Chinese words for such relationships very, very seriously).

I shall, after mentioning each critical idea, immediately turn to the classroom to see if we can put our teaching tools where our minds are.

In the case of our miseducation due to the use of English in the classroom, we need not abandon the language while we are in the English period or subject (although, as many of you know, I have championed and will continue to champion the abandonment of English in non-English subjects). While teaching English, however, we should try very hard not to store cultural baggage in the minds of our students. How do we do this? Principally by using Philippine English. We have a dictionary of Philippine English, brought out by Anvil Publishing (sorry for the plug). Use this dictionary rather than some American dictionary. By making our children grow up knowing that hundreds of vernacular words are actually included in Standard International English, we will help them dissociate the language from the kind of American English forced on us by our once colonizers and still, at least as long as George Bush remains in power, our current colonizers.

Gemino Abad, now teaching also at the Ateneo, reacting to Lumbera, did not want to abandon English nor to return to his native Cebuano. Abad, however, realizing that Lumbera was right, did not also want merely to use English instead of Cebuano. Abad had a novel idea: using poems written in English by Filipinos, he proved that Filipinos had colonized the English language. He said that our poems were not written in English, but from English. You might recall that both N.V.M. Gonzalez and Bienvenido N. Santos – two of our major novelists last century – said pretty much the same thing. Gonzalez insisted that he wrote, in his own words, “in Tagalog using English words.” Similarly, Santos also insisted that he wrote, in his own words, “in Capampangan and Bicolano using English words.”

Abad’s idea may seem weird, but it is really quite simple. He was merely saying that our poets, who are our best writers in English, did not write the way American poets wrote, but wrote in a distinctly Filipino way. You have to read Abad’s three huge anthologies of poetry to understand exactly what he wanted to say, but we can summarize the idea. Filipinos use the English language in a way different from the way Americans use it. Abad was not talking only of grammar or idioms; he was not a linguist, prescriptive or descriptive. He was talking about the way Filipinos perceive words. Seen by a Filipino poet, the words in an American English dictionary cease to be American, but become Philippine. We have to be poets to grasp Abad’s full meaning, but we can see a little bit what he meant by giving an example he did not give.

Take the word bad. One of the definitions of this word in Merriam-Webster, which is the standard American dictionary, is this: bad, slang, good.” In the Philippines, we would never use the word bad to mean good. That’s not poetry, but just usage. If the word bad were used in poetry by a Filipino, however, the differences would be even clearer. The word, in an American poem, rhymes with mad but not with squad nor jihad, which use a different a. To a Filipino poet, however, all these words rhyme, not only because we have problems differentiating one a from another, but because madness, the military, and Islamic terrorists are all associated with, that’s right, badness, not goodness. This is a fanciful example, meant only to alert you to the interplay of sound and sense, so important in the teaching of poetry and, by extension, of words.

Foreign critics are less perceptive than Filipino critics when it comes to the nuances of language. The reason is simple: rare is the foreigner that learns more than three languages at birth, but in our country, rare is the Filipino that knows only one language. At the very least, a Filipino knows Tagalog and English. A Filipino living outside the Tagalog region, however, knows a number of languages from childhood: Fookien Chinese and Mandarin Chinese (if she or he has Chinese blood), the language of the region (such as Capampangan or Tausug), the lingua franca of the region (namely, Cebuano, Ilocano, or Tagalog), the national language Filipino, English, and if we are talking of the southern side of Mindanao with its thriving trade with Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia and perhaps even Bahasa Melayu.

Michel Foucault, for instance, who thought only in French, simplistically declared that “language is power.” This is true, if we take a simple example. Let’s say that I go to one of you right now, any one of you, someone I have never met before, and say, “I love you.” What will happen? When that person goes out of this room, everybody will suddenly pay attention to her or him. When I walk out of this room, that person will avoid me, for sure. I have, in other words, merely through the words “I love you,” which of course I do not mean, affected the behavior of one person, and of the rest of you when you meet that person. Language, in itself, divorced from the intentions of the one using the language, is power.

Why is Foucault’s idea important in the classroom? Obviously, because anything we say as teachers can be held against us. We have to be extra careful when we use English, because we are supposed to be the models of language use. Feminism (I mean that second phase of it that focused on what feminists call “man-made language,” that is, language of men that was made by men and for men), called our attention to the way language has disempowered women, one half of the world’s population. If we consistently use male pronouns or nouns to exclude females, we are drumming into our students’ heads that men are more important than women.

Today, we call this “political correctness” or “non-exclusive language”; we used to call it simply “sexist language.” For example, if you say “woman poet,” you imply that poets are supposed to be male, and poets that are female are only exceptions to the rule. If you say chairman, you imply that chairs should be male; changing chairman to chairperson merely calls attention to the change in gender, thereby reinforcing what you mean to downplay. The word chair is sufficient, because it is an old word, used in Congress when someone stands up to say, “May I address the chair?”

Foucault’s contemporary Jacques Derrida has been unjustly ridiculed by linguists for his infamous statement that “writing precedes speech.” Like all forms of ridicule, this one is based on a complete misunderstanding. Derrida did not mean that babies learn to write before they speak; that would be stupid, and while he was clearly crazy, Derrida was far from stupid. Of course, babies speak before they write, if only because their fingers develop later than their tongues, but the language that babies speak is not considered language unless it is written down. Try writing down the sound that all newborn babies utter when they get slapped by the doctor or midwife: waaaahhhh. That is not a word, but what does the doctor or midwife say about what happens: “The baby cried.” The words the, baby, and cried are in the dictionary, printed, written down. Language, said Derrida, is what you find in a dictionary, which is writing. Outside the dictionary, there is nothing.

Was there ever a time in history when people spoke but did not write? If there was, we certainly will never be able to prove it. This is a variant of the classic question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Philosophers have written volumes about this question, but the answer is very simple: who cares? We certainly don’t care because we are not in those woods. The tree doesn’t care. The woods don’t care. In fact, as Albert Einstein so cleverly showed at the beginning of the last century, we should not even care if the earth were standing still or running at incredible speed, because the laws of physics would all still hold. Derrida’s point was simple: if we base our conclusions only on what we know, not on, as O. D. Corpuz likes to say, the facts that we invent (he says, “these are the conclusions upon which I base my facts”), all we have of language are written examples of it, etchings on stone or bamboo, not to mention the testimony of the Old Testament, a written document.

We don’t have a problem with Derrida’s insight in the Philippines, because Filipinos speak the way they write. This is a feature of Philippine English identified by Andrew Gonzalez. For example, we would never answer the question “How are you?” the way an American would, that is, with “I’m good.” We would say, “I’m fine, thank you,” because we would never ungrammatically use an adjective where an adverb should be. On second thought, we do have a problem with this, because anywhere else in the world, nobody speaks the way they write. Nobody says things like, “The president lies, cheats, and steals,” not only because their presidents most likely do not lie, cheat, nor steal, but because oral English is not so grammatical. At most, Winston Churchill said, “blood, sweat, and tears,” but he said that so that he would be quoted by all the newspapers of the time; every politician knows what is meant by the phrase “sound bite,” spelled either b-i-t-e or b-y-t-e.

We might have a problem with Derrida’s other great insight, which is that all language is self-contradictory. Every word or phrase, said Derrida, appears to mean something but actually means something else, most likely the opposite. The manifest meaning of a sentence hides its latent meaning. We must, he said, realize that a sentence is merely constructed and therefore, can be deconstructed.

Take the simple word English as in “English language.” English is defined simply as “the speech of England.” That seems simple enough, until we look back at the time the term was invented by Alfred the Great as a catch-all term for the different languages of the Germanic invaders, the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. At that time, he called it Englisc, with a c instead of an h, and pronounced en rather than in. Here we see immediately what Derrida meant: the English language does not really exist by itself, but is a mere label for languages existing before it. It is a classification, a group, rather than one thing. It is like labelling as Bisayan any and all the languages of the Visayas, such as Cebuano, Ilonggo, Kinaray-a, and so on. We can already see a contradiction: if English is merely a conglomeration of distinct languages, how can English have its own identity? How can it impose its own rules?

The manifest meaning of the word English, in other words, is that it is a distinct language. Its hidden meaning, found through etymology, is that it is only a convenient label for a group of languages. There is a contradiction there that cannot be explained away, especially when, in the classroom, the teacher is faced with the need to correct the grammar of a student.

We can imagine a similar situation when the Philippines becomes federal. How can there be a Philippines if Bangsa Moro will use Arabic as its medium of instruction, the Diliman Republic will declare as persona non grata anyone defending Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Cebu will ban the use of Cebuano in all its schools? How can English teachers impose any kind of grammatical uniformity if each student will say, with reason, that the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes, not to mention Americans, British, Australians, Singaporeans, and of course Filipinos, have their own ways of using the English language and, therefore, that there is not and cannot be one correct way of using the language?

In literary theory, there is a similar misreading of hermeneutics or reader-response theory. Some teachers, intimidated by the dropping of Western names (and I mean droppings in its pigeon sense), give in to students that claim that any interpretation of a poem is as valid as any other interpretation because, after all, all readers are created equal. Deconstruction, as Abad once admitted, makes agnostics of us all; to regain our faith, we must deconstruct our own deconstructions.

We could deconstruct the word English in another way, if we are fans of pool or, as we say in Philippine English, billiards. One meaning of the word in any standard dictionary since 1860 is “spin imparted to a ball.” This meaning comes from the French word anglé, meaning “angled” or, as we say every day we see a pronouncement from Malacañang, “spin.” The word English carries within itself the latent meaning of “lying, cheating, and stealing,” which is the Philippine English way of saying spin. We can see all kinds of implications in the insistence by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that we use English as our sole medium of instruction in all our public schools.

How does this translate into everyday practice in the classroom? Very simply, we as teachers must constantly be aware that we are living contradictions. I mean that positively, although it sounds negative. In reality, if we were to adopt Derrida’s theories, we would find no difference between positives and negatives, which are mere interchangeable poles on a binary stick. Let me cite just a few of the contradictions we display inside our classrooms.

We ask them to write all kinds of paragraphs that we ourselves would not be able to write. We ask our students to write a term paper, but we do not write a term paper with them. We ask our students to do book reports, but how many new books have we actually read in the past term? We ask students to pronounce English properly, but can we pass a test at a call center? We ask students to write a poem or a short story, but can we write one in the time we allow them? I have said again and again, ad nauseam, that we cannot give what we do not have, we cannot ask our students to do what we ourselves cannot do. If there is one thing you will get out of this keynote speech, I hope it is this: that all of you, without exception, will not ask any student to write anything that you yourself cannot or will not write. If you ask them to write a term paper, for heaven’s sake, please write a term paper yourself. If you ask your students to read a new novel every term, please read a new novel yourself every term. In fact, if you are a real English teacher, you should be reading a new novel every week. And please, please, do not ask your students to write poems or short stories if you cannot write a poem or a short story yourself. There is one classroom practice that I strongly suggest you do, and it derives from Derrida’s deconstructive theory: at the end of a class session where you ask students to write, say, a haiku, read to them the haiku that you wrote while waiting for them to finish.

Let’s return to Lumbera, Abad, Foucault, and Derrida. There is a way to put together all of their ideas into one word: english, spelled not with a capital E but with a small initial letter e.

Lumbera was one of the first, if not the first, critics in the whole world to do what today is known as Postcolonial Theory. Lumbera did not know at the time he did his now classic speeches (theorists like to call them “interventions,” if you want to use a bigger word) that he was a postcolonial theorist; in fact, at that time, which was the late 1960s, the word “postcolonial” was not yet fashionable. It even referred to the end of the series “pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial,” meaning the last or most recent of developments in time. Postcolonial now refers to the first taste of colonization; in our case, we became postcolonial in 1521. Postcoloniality is, thus, the condition of being under a colonial master, whether in cannon or stone in the sense that we found ourselves on the wrong end of the barrel of a Spanish rifle. Lumbera said pretty much the same thing as the foreign idols of the end of the last century when he said that our literature either accepted or rejected colonial influences.

The postcolonial theorists of Australia eventually caught up with Lumbera and started to call the English language english (with the small letter e), to foreground (foreground is the word theorists use to mean call attention to) the undeniable reality that, first, the English language is the world’s lingua franca or international medium of communication, and second, that every country has a different way of using the language. Linguists like to call this phenomenon Englishes, or less concisely, varieties of English. Theorists liked to use the small letter to distinguish the language that Australians and other postcolonials use from that used in Britain.

We can immediately see that Abad’s “poetry from English” runs along the same idea: the English as used by Filipino poets is different from the English as used by Hong Kong poets, Nigerian poets, South African poets, Native American poets, and so on, not to mention British or American poets. Foucault’s implied advocacy that users of language should use the language of the oppressors itself to subvert the power of colonizers, men, politicians, and the like finds practical application in the way the small letter e was harnessed as a weapon by postcolonial critics to ensure, as the Australians put it, plagiarizing from Salman Rushdie, that “the Empire writes back.” Derrida’s demand that writing precede speech is clearly satisfied by uncapitalizing the letter e. In order to understand what the postcolonial critics were talking about, we have to read the word english [uncapitalized], not just listen to it. Writing clearly takes precedence over speech.

What are we teaching in the classroom, then, capitalized or non-capitalized E/english? (If you read my speech, you will see that I spell that word capital E slash small letter e. The slash was the favorite punctuation mark of theorists, because it is unpronounceable.) What should we teach? The answer should by now be obvious: we should be teaching [uncapitalized] english. We should be teaching the language as it is used by Filipinos, not as it is used by Americans or Brits or Australians or whoever else. Do we have the tools to teach our english and not those of others? Yes, we do. And to show you that, now that I am a senior citizen, I am claiming the right not to be modest anymore, I shall recommend to you my own book, which I did with the leading authority on Philippine English, Maria Lourdes Bautista; the book was published by Anvil, is available at all National Bookstores, and is entitled A Dictionary of Philippine English. In that book, which by the way is a joke book, the word yes is defined as “maybe,” and word maybe is defined as “no.”

The moment of critical theory has gone, and we are the better for it, but to deny that there once was a Camelot of critical theory is to return to the dark ages before we were forced to reexamine our assumptions, our practices, our lives. Exactly as Socrates predicted, the unexamined life is not worth living. The uncritical class is not worth teaching. The untheoretical teacher is not worth hiring. It is one thing to say that we should no longer be teaching theory; it is quite another thing to say that we should teach language as though there had never been theory.

Let me give an analogy. Some of us, maybe many of us, have had a love affair that went sour. To say now, after the traumatic event, that we never loved the person anyway is to deny ourselves the pleasure of memory that Alfred Lord Tennyson, plagiarizing from St. Augustine, immortalized in the lines “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” We loved theory when it was around, but now that theory has left us, we should not deny the intensity of our love. We were mesmerized by the words theory invented to capture our minds, the convoluted sentences that gave us – after we deciphered them – the joy of discovery that Aristotle already identified, the names we dropped to make our students open their mouths in awe. Let us not deny that critical theory has outlived its usefulness, but it was useful. It made us realize that, both in our taste as readers and our behavior as teachers, we were sleepwalking, unaware of the damage we were doing to our students because of our inability to see ourselves for what we really were, and perhaps still are.

The conference today will focus on critical practices in the language classroom, on teaching students to think. You will have a chance to study the power relations in a classroom, the issues of class and gender as they relate to various texts, the practice itself of criticism, the hidden assumptions of arguments, and several other topics that relate critical theory to classroom practice. Do not lose sight of the woods because of the trees. We may not have snowy evenings in the Philippines, but we do stop to watch the trees fill up if not with snow then with rain.

It is much too easy to do two things: first, to get so enamored of critical theory that we start teaching theory rather than literary or linguistic texts themselves, pretty much like going to a museum and reading only the labels and signs or the tourist guidebook, but not looking at the artifacts; second, to get so annoyed by critical theory that we start teaching as though theory never mattered, which it did, or that it does not matter now, which it does. Students do know how to think, as Socrates knew a long time ago; it is only a matter of helping them think. But we teachers cannot help our students to think if we do not think first. We exist because we think. (serialized in The Philippine Star, 16 February – 23 March 2006)

Brother Andrew (1940-2006)

11 February 2006 at 4:48 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments

Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC (The Philippine Star, 2 February 2006)

His death last Sunday (29 January 2006) came as a shock because it was expected. Lying in a hospital bed for the last two months of his life, Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, had kept the hopes of his friends alive by looking like he would soon stand up and do what he had always done – look into the future and see what could be done.

Beyond any doubt, Brother Andrew was one of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived. He was an inspiration to everyone he met, and he met just about everyone.

His achievements, listed even in small print, fill up dozens of pages. He was, for example, internationally recognized for his scholarly work on linguistics. As Secretary of Education, he introduced reforms in our public education system that, until today, are changing the way millions of schoolchildren are learning.

His greatest achievement, of course, was De La Salle University. I am currently writing the history of DLSU after 1972, and it has become clearer and clearer to me that it is no exaggeration to say that, for the last thirty years, DLSU was Brother Andrew. He built it to become what it is now – a huge, multi-campus university recognized internationally as one of only a handful of Philippine universities that matter.

During the launch at DLSU in 2002 of his book An Unfinished Symphony: 934 Days at DECS, I delivered the following remarks, part of which I reprint as a way to honor him in death as I honored him in life:

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this hall, this campus, this university, a university that grew primarily because of the vision of Brother Andrew when he was its president and continues to grow academically and into a research university under his care as Vice-President for Academics and Research.

Today we close a chapter in the continuing epic novel that is the life of Brother Andrew. It is a life full of exciting chapters, and the chapter documented in the book clearly ranks among the most exciting of them. If we were to use the metaphor he uses to structure the book we are launching today, we can also say that, today, we finish listening to his playing of a short but complex musical piece in his inexhaustible repertoire of masterpieces.

By putting down in black and white his memories of and his insights into the 934 days he spent as Secretary of the largest agency of government, Brother Andrew has put a closure to this part of his life. He can now go on with the rest of his life, which, if inertia of movement applies, if the wave that defines his life continues to move across the seas of academe and of the country, should be as hectic and vigorous as these 934 days.

Allow me to hum to you a few bars from the unfinished symphony that, except for Brother Andrew’s humility, should really be called a finished one, since he finished, in 934 days, many more than 934 things.

Just like any other symphony, this one has low notes and high notes. First, the low notes. The book goes through the ones we all remember – the stormy confirmation hearings at the Commission on Appointments, the ugly episode involving Celia Ejercito de Castro, and the notorious purchase of the Expedition. It also goes through the less public ones, such as the reassignment of Superintendents upon pressure from politicians. I understand that several lawyers went through the manuscript to remove from it all libelous material. Clearly, the unexpurgated edition would have painted the events more accurately, if more dangerously.

Let us focus on the high notes, the ones that challenge composers and musicians, and, if this were an opera, sopranos. Come to think of it, perhaps an opera would be a better metaphor than a symphony, because the twists and turns of the plot of these 934 days would do proud any opera librettist.

The high notes. The first is the price of textbooks. During his term, Brother Andrew was able to cut down the price of textbooks by as much as 35% in 1999 and a further 30% of the remaining 65% in 2000 for World Bank purchases.

The second is the clothing allowance. Before Brother Andrew, corrupt suppliers would corner the clothing allowances of teachers, since all uniforms were purchased in bulk and it was thus easy to talk to and bribe only a couple of people. Brother Andrew distributed the clothing allowance to each of the almost half-a-million teachers, making it unprofitable, not to mention impossible, to bribe one’s way to a uniform supply contract.

The third high note is the number of schoolrooms Brother Andrew constructed during his term. In 1999, using both government money and money from private sector donors, he was able to build more than 7,000 new classrooms. In 2000, he built another 7,000 new classrooms.

The fourth high note is the revision of the curriculum. Brother Andrew, being an educator all his life, knew that, in all the studies of our educational system, the issue of the overcrowded curriculum has been raised. In fact, all previous secretaries of education tried their hand at solving the problem of the overcrowded, and therefore, ineffective curriculum. Brother Andrew had a novel solution to the problem: he ordered that textbooks be bought only for five core subjects, namely, Filipino, English, Araling Panlipunan, Mathematics, and Science. Although he did not abolish the other subjects, he, in effect, marginalized them by not giving them textbooks.

There’s a lot more in this book than I have given you as a teaser. There are, for instance, explanations of Brother Andrew’s stand on the loan deductions and the corresponding service fees, his close encounters with the rich and famous who unfortunately became rich and famous by corrupting some people at DECS, and not least of all, his reasons for not resigning early from Erap’s cabinet contra mundum.

Rest in peace, Brother Andrew! Although I am not the pope and cannot declare you a saint, I am sure that you are now in heaven with the Lord you devoted your life to.

Creative Solutions to Philippine Education Problems

22 January 2006 at 6:25 AM | Posted in News | 34 Comments

Fashionable these days is thinking outside the box, which is another way of describing creative thinking. Many people are surprised when I say that there are always more than two ways to look at anything. Most people are conditioned to accept two-value logic or thinking only in terms of dualisms (such as black or white, right or wrong, male or female, true or false).

Take the classic illustration of the difference between pessimism and optimism: the pessimist sees a glass as half-empty, the optimist as half-full. A creative person, however, knows that there are more than two ways to describe such a glass of water.

I can say, for example, that the glass is in the process of being completely full, because I am pouring water into it. I can say that the glass is in the process of being completely empty, because the glass is tilted towards my thirsty mouth. I can say that the glass only appears to be half-filled because light hits the glass in such a way that I squint and make a mistake calculating the amount of liquid. I can say that the glass only appears to have water in it because the water is actually painted on the glass itself; in reality, there may not be water inside the glass. I can say that the glass is really completely full of liquid, except that half the liquid is invisible because the glass is painted in such a way that half of it matches the color of the liquid. And so on.

I can even start looking at the glass from the points of view of various specialists. A physicist or an engineer will not be satisfied with the adjectives “half-full” and “half-empty,” but will want to weigh the water and the glass, calculate the volumes involved, and formulate an equation that will make the relationship between liquid and glass applicable to similar situations. A chemist will want to see if that is really H2O in that glass. A medical doctor will check if the water is potable. A painter will tilt the glass this way and that way until the light hits it in an especially beautiful way. A poet will barely see the glass and will focus only on the symbolic aspects of the water. And a child will just simply drink the water.

The point is that creative thinking offers solutions even to problems that seem absolutely hopeless or insoluble.

Let us take a practical application of creative thinking.

The Philippine public educational system always baffles the minds of non-creative educators, legislators, and government officials. Creative people look at our education problems and realize that they can be solved.

The figures are well-known. (I take my data from the excellent state-of-the-art paper entitled “Beating the Odds: A Nation Responding to the Crisis in Education” prepared recently by the Department of Education.)

For the year 2006, we need 10,549 new classrooms, 1.22 million additional seats, 67.03 million new textbooks, and 12,131 more teachers. In terms of pesos, that means another P11.30 billion added to the education budget. Because the government does not have P11B to spare, the problem appears impossible to solve. That is the pessimistic view.

The optimistic way of looking at the problem makes us feel better, and this is how the DepEd paper puts it: things could have been worse had DepEd not done what it has done. Without the initiatives started by Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, and continued by Raul Roco, Edilberto de Jesus, Florencio Abad, and OIC Fe Hidalgo, we would need even more money.

DepEd estimates that for 2006, without its creative intervention, we would have needed 45,775 classrooms, 3.17M seats, 67.03M textbooks, and 20,517 teachers, with a total cost of P28.74B. That means that government programs have saved the Filipino people P17.44B.

DepEd mentions such interventions as the new curriculum, education service contracting, multi-shift classroom policy, library hubs, early childhood education, madrasah education, inclusive education, alternative learning system, school feeding, Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP), competency-based teacher assessment standards, computerization, Schools First, Brigada Eskwela, Sagip Eskwela, Adopt-a-School, Oplan Balik Eskwela, and the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA).

The DepEd paper cannot, because of space limitations, mention all the programs undertaken by the government since Gonzalez’s time (actually, much earlier, at least as far back as Lourdes Quisumbing’s stint, from my own memory). A glance at the voluminous reports submitted every month by various regional directors during Management Committee meetings would show how innovative teachers and administrators have been in solving our educational problems.

One way of looking at the P11B, then, is to say that we should be thankful it is only P11B and not P28B. There are even other ways of looking at the P11B.

The national government need not shell out the entire P11B. If families and businesses help out, that amount can be considerably reduced. Examples come readily to mind. Private foundations put in more than P1B last year into the public school system, in cold cash, school buildings, and books. (My own foundation, Books for Philippine Schools Foundation, facilitated the donation of more than P10 million in new books and millions more in used books to DepEd in 2005.) Parent and community associations contributed millions in terms of school grounds improvement and volunteer teaching. Local governments poured in a huge, undetermined amount of money into the public school system for salaries of teachers, as well as for classrooms and textbooks. (The Philippine Star, 22 December 2005)

Creative thinking offers a way out of despair over the monstrous problems facing public education today.

Take the matter of classrooms. The government estimates that we need at least 10,549 new classrooms in 2006, mostly for public elementary schools.

Non-creative persons, who think only within two-value logic, say things like these: Either we get new classrooms or we don’t. Either the number needed is 10,549 or it is not. Either we build new classrooms or our schoolchildren will not have classrooms to use.

The trouble with such non-creative thinking is that it is futile. There is no way we can build that number of classrooms, even if we had the money (which we definitely don’t) nor the political will (which we probably don’t).

Do simple arithmetic. Divide the number by the number of days in the year. Assume, for the sake of argument, that people will work 24 hours every day, even Sundays and holidays. Assume that it takes only 10 days to construct one classroom (just to make the computations easy). How many classrooms should we finish per day? How many per hour? Add now factors found in the real world, such as the time it takes to find land, buy or beg for it, arrange for all sorts of permits, do all the paperwork in order to get the cash, take materials to the sites (remember that classrooms are needed not mainly in developed areas but precisely in hard-to-reach places), and hours when people do not work (nights, holidays, weekends, and so on). How many classrooms can we actually finish per day? For the whole year?

In short, there is no way we can build 10,549 classrooms. Non-creative persons will just give up when faced by such impossibility. But creative thinkers know better.

The first thing to be creative about is the nature of the classroom itself. Why, in this age of cellphones, computers, and television, do we need to have classrooms at all? Obviously, because being with a flesh-and-blood teacher and interacting with flesh-and-blood classmates is good for children. That is undeniable, but we can be creative about the length of time children have to be inside a classroom.

We are so used to the chalk-and-blackboard or speak-and-listen type of teaching, that we find it difficult to understand that students need not go to a school campus in order to learn. We have enough educational theories and even practical experience to know that it is entirely possible for children living in the 21st century to learn without being always inside a school building.

Already, in higher education, we have numerous examples of learning outside classrooms. The entire distance learning phenomenon (pioneered locally by De La Salle University and the UP Open University), the numerous experiments run by individual teachers in several schools (I taught an entire graduate course last term, for example, without ever meeting the students in a classroom), and the innovations done by DepEd in many schools (such as a fisheries high school I once visited where the students attended classes around fishponds) all point to the real possibility of minimizing the time students have to be inside classrooms.

What I am saying is that we do not need new classrooms at all, but need only to maximize the use of the ones we already have.

Take a look at a typical class. A lesson usually involves working with a textbook of some kind. Why does the student have to be in a classroom to read a textbook? Why can’t a textbook be written in such a way that the exercises in them can be done at home?

How much of class time is actually spent learning? There are so many things done within the classroom that simply waste time. For example, teachers check attendance, return papers, erase the blackboard, form lines, read aloud or write on the board what is already in the textbook, rearrange chairs for group work, and (in rare rich places) fiddle around with electric cords. Let us not even mention the parades, holiday preparations, and other non-essential activities public school children cannot seem to avoid.

Why not restrict classroom time to real learning time? That will cut down the time needed to be in school.

Let us assume that half of our actual classroom time now is useful for real learning. (This is a very generous estimate.) That means that students can spend the same number of hours a day in school, but need to come only half the number of school days. We immediately double the number of students that can use our existing classrooms.

If we factor in policies that DepEd is already implementing, such as multiple shifts and longer campus hours, we can see that there is no need for additional classrooms.

The problem of classrooms has disappeared. More precisely, we have shifted the problem from the building of classrooms to the rebuilding of the curriculum.

In order to maximize classroom time with minimal classrooms while still achieving the minimum learning competencies expected of students, we need to rethink our entire way of teaching.

We need, first of all, to start looking at home and community experiences as part of formal (not informal nor alternative) schooling. We need to get parents and community leaders to start becoming, in effect, teachers. DepEd’s Schools First program should then not be merely a way to raise funds for public schools. It should be a way to decrease the dependence of children on the school itself.

How do we do this? How do we reengineer classroom teaching? If you cannot list at least a dozen ways to make students learn outside the classroom, you are clearly not a creative thinker. (The Philippine Star, 29 December 2005)

The Department of Education estimates that we need 67.03 million new textbooks for 2006. Creative thinking may bring that number down.

First, DepEd must finally implement an order it issued several years ago to remove the silly practice of having several different textbooks being used for the same subject in the same classroom.

If you visit a typical public elementary or high school, you will almost surely find that the students use not one, but several textbooks per subject. The teacher cannot say something as simple as “Open your textbooks to page 10,” because page 10 will not necessarily refer to the same page in textbooks held by students.

This anomaly arose because of bureaucratic shortsightedness that has lasted for decades. Every year or so, the government orders the cheapest textbook available for a particular subject, say, Grade 3 English. One year, the government orders copies of an English textbook. The next bidding time, the government orders copies of another English textbook, because the price of this second textbook turns out to be less than that of the first one. The next time, the government orders copies of yet another English textbook, because this third and cheapest textbook may just have come recently into the market.

The books are distributed more or less evenly among Grade 3 classrooms. Of course, there are never enough textbooks for all students in all schools, so a typical classroom gets, say, five textbooks of the first English textbook. The next year or so, the same classroom gets five textbooks of the second one, and so on. Eventually, there are enough textbooks (say, 50) for the whole class, but these are not the same textbook, but different ones.

DepEd, realizing that this was not an ideal situation for learning, ordered that textbooks should be the same for each classroom. This could have easily been done. A school would have simply gathered all its textbooks into one big pile and redistributed them to each classroom – one title per classroom. Then, each teacher would have the same textbook as each student in a classroom. In the next classroom, of course, the textbook would be different, but everyone in that classroom would have the same title.

Once this order is fully implemented, there will be less need for additional textbooks. Why? Because it is not necessary, nor even desirable, that each student should have his or her own textbook.

We can find many arguments in educational theories against what is known as one-to-one textbook per student ratio. DepEd now uses a revised Basic Education Curriculum that is based on an interactive theory of learning, precisely the theory that argues most loudly against one-to-one.

If students are to learn interactively or cooperatively, they should not be isolated within the classroom. They should not be sitting by themselves, reading their own textbooks, and working at their own pace. They should be working with others, reading at a pace dictated not just by themselves but by their peers.

The best proof of this type of collaborative learning is the Japanese system, where the whole class waits until every single student learns, for example, how to solve a mathematics problem. Japanese students tutor their slowest classmates, in order that the class can move faster through the lesson. The consistent high scores of Japanese students in international mathematics tests prove that this system is much better than the American or our old Philippine system of each student learning by himself or herself.

If we do away with the superstition that there should be a one-to-one ratio of textbook per student, we can see immediately that we will need less than 67 million new textbooks this year. (The Philippine Star, 5 January 2006)

In the last century (the 20th, of course), textbooks were indispensable in classrooms. Rare was the teacher that came into a classroom without a textbook in hand and rarer was the teacher that never consulted a textbook. This was not always the case.

In most other fields of human endeavor, experts look at what they call Best Practices to see how things can be improved. If we look at the Best Practices of teaching across nations and over the centuries, we will come up with some insights that should be obvious.

The best teachers of all time are Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, and other such outstanding individuals. Although some of these teachers wrote something to remember them by, none of them used a textbook when they taught their students.

The question is simple: if the best teachers of all time did not need textbooks, why do we use textbooks? The answer seems equally simple: we are not as good as these Great Teachers.

True, most teachers in the 21st century are not going to be founders of belief systems that will influence millions of people. It is also true, however, that teachers today need not influence millions of people; they need to influence only the few students that are in their classes. To be any good, teachers must learn from the best teachers of all time.

Being Christian, I am more familiar with the teaching style of Jesus than with that of the other great teachers. What can we learn from the way Jesus taught?

First of all, Jesus never carried a textbook around. He did refer constantly to what we now call the Old Testament, but he could quote from it at length from memory. Immediately, we see what great teachers in our own century should do, no matter what they are teaching: they should know their subject matter by heart.

I cannot stand literature teachers, for instance, that cannot recite poems from memory. I cannot imagine a doctor having to read a medical textbook every time some patient comes into the emergency room. I cannot trust a plumber that comes into our house, holding a wrench in one hand and a manual in the other. Although cooks do consult cookbooks, I do not think we will patronize a restaurant where we can see the chef constantly referring to a recipe book. We certainly will never ride a bus where the driver reads any kind of book while driving.

Experts are experts because they know what they know by heart. A teacher, even an elementary school teacher, is an expert. No teacher that is really good needs a textbook.

Secondly, Jesus always taught with the materials at hand. He would point at a fig tree, look up at sparrows, walk on water to prove a point, force his listeners to think by using parables rather than spoonfeeding them, focus on a few well-chosen lessons. He never pretended to know everything (even if, as most Christians believe, he knew everything because he was divine). He never lectured on blood chemistry, on computers, or even on the scientific names of the fishes in the market. He restricted himself to things his listeners knew.

There are so many things within and just outside any school in the country that can be used to teach students. Take a very simple exercise recommended for elementary school students – constructing a genealogy. Everybody has parents or at least guardians, whether they are dead or alive, living at home or elsewhere. Instead of looking up the words father, mother, aunt, uncle, and so on in a textbook, all a teacher has to do is to ask students the words they use to refer to the people in their homes or communities. Vocabulary enhancement need not involve dictionaries or textbooks; all a teacher needs is imagination. (Okay, not every teacher has imagination, but that is another issue involving training.)

When teachers teach elementary science, they need not write on the blackboard some equation that only graduate students can understand anyway. Take the concept of being nonbiodegradable. If you were a teacher, ask elementary school students outside urban centers whether they should plant plastic and they will laugh at you; they know what nonbiodegradability means. In an urban center, make them throw a piece of plastic on the floor, then ask them to imagine where that piece of plastic will eventually end up. If the principal permits, walk with the students to the place where the janitor (or more likely, you yourself) will take the piece of plastic for disposal. Let them follow the piece as far as they can, and they can imagine the rest of the journey of that little weapon of mass destruction. We do not need a textbook to teach what is crucial to the survival of the human race.

I have watched an elementary school teacher use a glass of water to teach the water cycle (“where does the water go if we pour it on the floor?”). I have watched a kindergarten teacher read a storybook (not a textbook) in class with such dramatic effect that her pupils jumped up at the end of the reading to ask questions that would floor a literary critic.

Once we start thinking of creative ways to teach without using textbooks, we can see that the lack of textbooks in our public elementary schools is exaggerated. We do not need textbooks for every subject, and in those learning areas where we need them, we do not need them every day. That means fewer, thinner, and cheaper textbooks. (The Philippine Star, 12 January 2006)

Biography sections of libraries and bookstores are full of stories about successful individuals who never owned books when they were children. Instead, they walked to public libraries and learned the wisdom of the ages through borrowed books. F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido N. Santos – my two literary fathers – come immediately to mind.

I myself never had the money to buy books until I went to graduate school in the United States. Even in Maryland, however, I only got my own copies of books by pretending to examine them for my classes. Those were the days when publishers had not yet figured out that most examination copies never actually resulted in classroom adoptions and sales.

I built my own library of American books by going to every garage sale in the neighborhood, combing through the used books section of the university bookstore, and patronizing second-hand book stores every time I traveled out of Maryland. Those were the days when I could get a first edition of William Faulkner (the Modern Library one!) for a mere 25 cents in a flea market.

Before I went to America, I simply borrowed books from school libraries. My parents could afford only to pay my daily meals at U.P.; at that time, believe it or not, you could get a good meal for less than 30 centavos. (Well, it was some time ago!) I had to walk one kilometer to catch the bus (no point paying a jeepney driver for a walk that I needed for my health anyway). I even remember walking several times from Avenida Rizal to my home then near Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, because I did not have enough money for the jeepney fare, Avenida being out of my parent-approved house-to-school route.

Avenida Rizal was crucial to my education. It was in the original National Book Store there that I read one or two books a day, standing up! This was long before Powerbooks and other bookstores realized that book lovers want to sit down while “browsing,” actually reading, their books. I would pretend to put back the book I was reading on the shelves when a sales attendant would come near, then pick up the book again to finish it.

Of course, when I grew up, just like Imelda Marcos who bought shoes galore to make up for her lack of shoes as a child, I bought books with a vengeance. I was able to collect several thousand volumes of books. I donated all the non-Philippine books to the De La Salle University Library. I can still say with pride, especially after the Thomas Jefferson Library American literature collection was dismantled, that my collection of American literature is the largest in the country.

I sold my Philippine books (more than six thousand volumes) for a token fee to the library of De La Salle University Dasmariñas. I originally wanted to sell the collection to a foreign buyer that would have paid me enough to last me my lifetime, but loyalty to the Brothers got the better of me.

The point of this autobiographical exercise is to point out that it is not necessary to own a book in order to learn from it. Why, then, I ask again, is it necessary for every single pupil in every single public elementary or high school to have his or her own textbook?

The arithmetic is simple: if the 50 pupils in a class (I take the number to make the arithmetic easy) each had a textbook, a school would spend 50 times the price of the textbook. If that same textbook had only, say, 10 copies in the school library, every student would have access to a copy at least once every 5 turns, a turn being defined as a chance for one student to take home one copy of the book.

If each student is given the chance to take home a copy once a week (which is 5 days or 5 turns), each student would be able to finish whatever exercises are in the textbook by the end of the week. All a teacher has to do is to schedule assignments properly, such that assignments are handed in only once a week, enough time for every student to have had a chance to take home a textbook.

In short, instead of buying 50 copies of a textbook, a school has to buy only 10. What a great way to save money for the government!

The key is to stop the practice of using a textbook inside the classroom. Textbooks should be sources of information or exercises for homework, not for seatwork. Once we realize that a teacher has a lot more to do inside a classroom than rehash information already printed in a textbook, we start looking at printed instructional materials as supplementary, rather than crucial aids to learning.

In this age of easy access to information through any corner internet café, there is no need for textbooks to include everything that is to know about any particular subject. All a textbook should really have are structured exercises aimed at helping a student learn more deeply what has already been taught inside the classroom.

There are two things I’m driving at, then: one is that teachers must start teaching without textbooks on hand inside the classroom, and the other is that schools must start having working libraries that efficiently allow students to take out textbooks (and other books, of course). (The Philippine Star, 19 January 2006)

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Philippine PEN in Iloilo City

11 December 2005 at 5:57 AM | Posted in News | 6 Comments

The Philippine Center of International PEN held its National Conference last Saturday at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City on the theme, “Mapping Our Multilingual Literatures.” SM and the University of San Agustin were the major sponsors.

In his opening remarks, PEN Chair and National Artist Alejandro Roces stressed the need to remember our history, if we are going to move forward.

In his keynote speech, Carlos Palanca Hall of Famer and Metrobank Outstanding Educator Leoncio P. Deriada said it plainly and directly: “The greatest evil in the Philippine educational system is the use of English as the language of instruction in the classroom. The greatness of the Filipino is preserved in the various languages of the country.”

Calling the continued use of English as “cultural genocide,” he urged writers and teachers to master their own language before they master another’s. “We must teach in the language of the learner,” he urged. Incidentally, Deriada is the only writer in the Philippines (probably in the world) who has won major writing awards in four languages (one of which is English).

During the first literary session on “The S in Philippine Literatures: State of the Literary Art in the Center of the Philippines,” Erlinda Alburo of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City then reported on several projects (such as the compilation of a language corpus, writing workshops for farmers, and literary publications) done by various Cebuano writers’ organizations.

John Iremil Teodoro of the University of San Agustin deplored the continued dominance of judges illiterate in languages other than Tagalog or English choosing the National Artists. He cited the case of Magdalena Jalandoni, who was not declared a National Artist a few years ago only because the judges had not read her work. Teodoro pointed out that Jalandoni wrote 36 novels and Ramon Muzones wrote 61, while even National Artists in English have not written that many.

Regina Groyon of the University of Saint La Salle in Bacolod City acknowledged the influence on her life of Bienvenido Lumbera, who urged her to research on literature from her own region. She urged young writers to read the old writers in Hiligaynon, in order to heal the generational breach in our literary tradition.

A lively discussion followed, focusing on the role of writing workshops (virtual and real) in developing young writers in the various vernacular languages.

Summarizing the first session, Malou Leviste Jacob of De La Salle University Manila assured the audience that PEN would take steps to ensure that all literary languages will be given due recognition by national award-giving bodies.

In the second literary session on “Mainstreaming the Marginalized: Preserving, Promoting, and Developing Visayan Literatures,” Victor Sugbo of UP Tacloban urged DepEd and CHED to strengthen the study of local languages and literatures in the curriculum.

Melanie J. Padilla of UP Visayas reported on the extensive collections of the university of materials written in Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Aklanon.

Isidoro Cruz of the University of San Agustin questioned the word literatures as perpetuating what it attempts to challenge. He instead proposed using the old term literature to refer to any and all works written in the country.

Merlie M. Alunan of UP Tacloban stressed the need to have more literary texts available to the general public, particularly to college students.

Joefe B. Santarita of UP Visayas pointed out that, even within Western Visayas, some literary texts are marginalized – thus forming a double bind. He found “Iloilo imperialism” as unacceptable as “Manila imperialism.” He mentioned various prolific writers (fisherfolk, farmers, or otherwise non-academic) not recognized by most scholars.

The lively discussion that followed focused on the need to decolonize our own minds.

Summing up the second literary session, Frank G. Rivera pointed out that, since West Visayan literary texts have many readers, the mainstream is really West Visayan and everybody else is “marginalized.”

In the third literary session on “Reaching In, Reaching Out: Translating Our Texts into the Languages of the Global Village,” Genevieve Asenjo of De La Salle University Manila related how, in the course of her traveling around the country, she discovered that Philippine languages are very similar to each other. She also recommended that foreign students be required to study at least one Philippine vernacular language.

Amorita C. Rabuco of the University of San Agustin related her difficulties and joys translating several poems, legends, and folktales from Hiligaynon into English.

Palanca Hall of Famer Elsa Martinez Coscolluela of the University of Saint La Salle pointed out that, based on her own experience, speaking a language is very different from writing in it. She herself, speaking in Spanish, Chinese, English, and Cebuano in her childhood, could only write in English and Filipino.

The discussion that followed was extremely lively, particularly because a student stood up to say that literature was boring.

Summing up the session, Marjorie Evasco quoted Jorge Luis Borges’ concept of a literary work as forever unfinished and described translation as a way a literary text moves from culture to culture.

In the year’s Jose Rizal Lecture, Agustin Misola (who writes in Hiligaynon, Spanish, and English) spoke of his encounters with Rizal, both the Rizal of matchboxes and the Rizal of the novels.

The conference was distinguished by its use of several languages. Speakers spoke in the language they knew best (Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Aklanon, Waray, Tagalog, Filipino, or English). Interestingly enough, everybody understood each other. That proves that differences in speaking disappear when confronted with commonalities in writing.

The next Philippine PEN conference (on Dec. 2, 2006) will be held in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. All writers are invited. It’s not too early to plan. (The Philippine Star, 8 December 2005)

Quality Assurance

21 November 2005 at 9:37 PM | Posted in News | 18 Comments

The Randall Scandal (The Philippine Star, 3 March 2005)

Once upon a time, a false god rose in the British isles. His name was John Randall.

He started the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), an accrediting body established in 1997 whose mission, according to its website, is “to safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications and to encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of higher education.” As the first teacher to raise the alarm against the Randall idolatry put it, however, “the QAA is part of the UK government’s bureaucracy for controlling education.”

Randall had a gospel that he tried to ram down the throats of all British academics. He had a very strange idea that he did not want to sell to the academics, probably because he knew deep inside him that intelligent people would never buy it. Instead, he wanted everyone merely to follow blindly what he said just because he said it. He did not want consultations. He did not want to listen to anyone; he wanted everyone to listen to him. To his disciples at QAA, he was an angel sent from above, a god walking among mere academic mortals.

He thought that government should control – not support nor encourage – higher education. He wanted government inspectors to enter university classrooms, to check on teachers and students, to look at textbooks. He wanted all universities to document every department meeting and every class session, to follow standardized curricula, to adopt only one method of teaching – that sort of thing. In a country that prides itself on its academic freedom, this was, of course, anathema. Randall knew that nobody would agree with him, but using his position to full advantage, he was able to fool some of the people some of the time, but not most.

Being bright, most of the British were not fooled by Randall’s bull-headedness. The Association of University Teachers (AUT), the academic trade union and professional association of almost fifty thousand British teachers, launched a revolt against the dictatorship of Randall. The revolt was led by the heads of Oxford and Cambridge, the top universities not just in the UK, but probably even in the world.

The revolt spread not just like wildfire, but like fish and chips (or in these days, like Big Macs). Before anyone knew it, Parliament got into the act. On Jan. 17, 2001, Randall was summoned by the Select Committee on Education and Employment of the House of Commons. At the investigation, he was confronted by comments such as this: “You are part of the problem. University teachers are so worried about the time and expense and disruption caused by the QAA that they have hardly got time to provide quality education for their first year students.” He was warned about the QAA becoming “the great prescriptor.” (You can read the minutes of the entire interrogation at parliament.co.uk.)

The problem was really quite simple. Randall was no god, and his ideas were far from divine. In fact, he was dead wrong on many, if not most, issues. When the teachers demanded that they be consulted on his ideas before he did anything, Randall decided to resign. Consultation was the last thing he wanted. He did not want anyone questioning his ideas, for the simple reason that he had no answers to any questions, except to say that he felt he was right.

Upon his resignation on Aug. 21, 2001, he said to the press: “The Agency is moving to a new phase of its development, with consultation on the way in which the framework we have built will be used in external reviews and by institutions themselves. It is an appropriate time for me to consider the future direction of my career. There are challenges and opportunities that I would like to pursue outside the Agency.”

Randall, nevertheless, was unrepentant to the end. His last public comment was to compare universities to meat factories (Daily Telegraph, Aug. 22, 2001). Clearly, his desire to control universities was based on a deep disrespect and even disdain for teachers and students.

The AUT immediately released a statement: “John Randall’s resignation marks the end of an era of overly-bureaucratic and prescriptive regulation in higher education. The last five years have seen a hugely unsuccessful and morale-sapping experiment in higher education. The QAA failed to deliver a sensible balance between bureaucracy and accountability. The development of overly-bureaucratic regulation has antagonised those who work in the sector but has plainly failed to deliver a quality assurance regime that has the confidence of staff, students and the wider public.”

For intelligent teachers, students, and parents in the UK, Randall was dead. The false god had been unmasked and ridiculed out of office.

What opportunities did Randall pursue after his disastrous career in the UK? Lo and behold, Randall resurrected in the Philippines and became, in the eyes of our own Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the white god of education. CHED recently ordered all Philippine schools to follow the gospel according to Randall. Heaven help us!

The Randall Proposal (The Philippine Star, 6 October 2005)

This is a long-delayed sequel to “The Randall Scandal.”

On June 18, 2004, John Randall submitted to the Commission on Higher Education a proposal entitled “Quality Assurance of Higher Education in the Philippines.” Although CHED’s Commissioners have assured me that they are not going to implement the proposal in full but will remove impractical and inapplicable components, Randall’s final report to CHED (and to ADB and the British Council, which brought him to the country) remains the key document being used today to compel universities to toe his line.

As in any other government or consultant’s report, there are good and bad points in Randall’s proposal.

The best point in the proposal is Randall’s insistence on an “outcomes-based” assessment of universities. The jargon may be confusing, but Randall’s point may be illustrated by an example he does not use. When teachers apply for employment in a university, they are usually asked what their degrees are, how many years they have been teaching, and what research they have undertaken. In Randall’s terms, these data would be “inputs.”

“There is an assumption,” says Randall, “that, if adequate resources are present, quality will be guaranteed. This, of course, is not true, as much will depend on the effectiveness with which resources are deployed.” In our example, degrees, years of teaching experience, and publications may be irrelevant to teachers that face, let us say, a class of basketball players accepted primarily on the basis of their height.

Randall points out that universities are also evaluated in terms of their “processes (particularly the processes of teaching and learning).” In our example, teachers are usually judged by what their syllabi contain, what teaching strategies they use, how they fare in student evaluations, how they look to other teachers that observe their classes. Randall argues that evaluating inputs and processes is an immature act.

“Mature evaluation systems,” he writes, “are based upon outcomes, and in particular the learning outcomes that it is intended that students should achieve.” In our example, teachers applying for employment should be asked what percentage of their former students passed board examinations or found jobs. I myself often provoke literature teachers by telling them that they are bad teachers if their students do not, after high school or college, go on their own to a bookstore or library to read a new novel. As that often-misquoted Biblical verse puts it, by their fruits you shall know them. (Of course, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was referring only to false prophets and not necessarily to everyone else; see Matthew 5:15-20.)

The problem occurs when Randall tries to apply the principle of outcomes-based assessment to the Philippine situation. Although he admits that “CHED, as the regulator of higher education, should be less prescriptive,” he actually ends up urging CHED to be more prescriptive. Randall submits, together with his general statements about the Philippine educational system, a very detailed “Operating Handbook” that is about as prescriptive as you can get. An example: “Formal meetings should always involve at least two members of the [visiting] team.”

In fact, it is not just the prescriptive portions, but the whole Randall proposal that is wrong, because it falls into the trap of self-contradiction. He starts off by saying, in effect, that Filipinos are doing the wrong thing when it comes to quality assessment. Then, when asked what we should be doing instead, he ends up saying that we should be doing exactly what we have been doing all along.

Since I belong to PAASCU, as well as to a CHED Technical Panel, I may be accused of bias when it comes to the Randall proposal. But I still have to find in his proposal anything that either PAASCU or CHED is not yet doing. In simpler terms, what Randall is saying is this: you are doing everything wrong, but everything you are doing is right.

In more intellectual terms, what Randall has done is to assume that he has a monopoly of wisdom. When asked what wisdom that is, he has done nothing else but to point to the wisdom that we already had decades before he arrived in the Philippines.

I am reminded of a similar argument I used to have with Americans not too long ago. They would tease me about always having a cellphone, saying that in the United States, since everybody had a landline at home and there was a pay phone everywhere you looked, Americans would never buy cellphones. Today, there are affluent homes in the United States without landlines and practically everybody there now has a cellphone. In short, we were (and still are) much more advanced than Americans when it comes to telecommunications. (If you don’t believe that we are more advanced than them, go to any cellphone shop in New York and see how primitive their units there are.) No American can teach us anything when it comes to cellphones.

Randall came into our country thinking that he knew better than we did about higher education. When he realized that we knew a lot more than he did, he had no choice but to recommend back to us everything that we had already been doing. In effect, he was a false prophet, and the fruit of his labor – his proposal – proves that that both the ADB and the British Council wasted their money on him.

Hello Again, Randall (The Philippine Star, 6 October 2005)

Once again, the Randall Scandal rears its ugly head.

First, a flashback. Since it was established in 1994, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has been quietly and effectively fulfilling its mandate to promote quality assurance among the 1,605 (as of latest count) higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country.

Soon after its establishment, CHED created regional Quality Assurance Teams (RQATs, called NQAT in NCR), which included volunteer experts in every discipline. These experts usually belonged to the CHED Technical Panels, which were the private sector’s contribution to the governance of higher education in the country. Among the projects of the Technical Panels was the selection of Centers of Excellence (COEs) and Centers of Development (CODs), which were then given funds by CHED to help develop teaching and research in the Philippines.

On Sept. 25, 2001, CHED granted autonomy to 30 private colleges and universities and deregulated status to 22 others. The criteria for selecting these HEIs were explicit: They were “established as Centers of Excellence or Centers of Development and or private higher education institutions with FAAP Level III Accredited programs; [they showed] outstanding overall performance of graduates in the licensure examinations under the Professional Regulation Commission; [and they had a] long tradition of integrity and untarnished reputation” (CMO 32, s. 2001).

The reference to accredited programs is important. The Philippines has a long tradition of accreditation, which is another name for quality assurance. Accreditation was first proposed by Congress in 1949, first implemented in 1951, and repeatedly endorsed in laws and memos relating to education (such as the Educational Development Decree of 1972, the Education Act of 1982, and CMO 1, s. 2005).

This commendable tradition of quality assurance or accreditation was radically disturbed when a certain John Randall came into the country and claimed that the Philippines had never heard of the term “quality assurance.” For some strange reason, CHED forgot that it had been using the term for years and agreed with Randall!

When I first wrote about what I called the Randall Scandal, I was asked by then CHED Chair Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., and then CHED Commissioner Cristina Padolina to meet with them. They told me that they were not taking Randall hook, line, and sinker, and that they would definitely take a second look at the so-called Quality Assurance Program that he had proposed. I wrote a second column giving fair time to the two commissioners.

Strange as it may seem, although I head the CHED Technical Panel on Humanities, Social Sciences, and Communication and am an ex-officio member of the CHED University Status team, I was not told that Randall had been resurrected in a memo entitled “Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance of All Higher Education Institutions in the Philippines,” shortened to IQuAME (CMO 15, s. 2005) and in a subsequent memo entitled “Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions Granted Autonomous and Deregulated Status in 2001” (CMO 18, s. 2005). Since I do not regard myself as someone that important in CHED, I kept quiet when I found out that autonomous and deregulated universities were beside themselves trying to figure out how to prove that they had quality when they had already been pronounced to have quality.

Last Aug. 3, 26 of the 30 autonomous and 17 of the 22 deregulated HEIs wrote a strong letter to the CHED Commissioners questioning CMO 18. Here are excerpts from the long letter:

“We join the many who have expressed reservations about IQuAME as given in CMO No. 15, s. 2005, and the consultancy work on quality assurance done for CHED by Dr. John Randall. We feel that Dr. Randall’s experience and background in the British educational system are very different from our Philippine educational system and situation. As everyone knows, eighty percent of tertiary education in our country is provided by the private sector without any government assistance. We join many who have questioned Dr. Randall’s basic contention that private voluntary accreditation in the Philippines today which is ‘program-based’ does not cover ‘institutional’ concerns and looks mainly on ‘inputs’ rather than ‘outcomes.’

“We feel that more time and consultation should have been spent validating Dr. Randall’s recommendations and the instrument to be used for IQuAME visits.

“We strongly feel that making use of a new and untested IQuAME instrument is not the best way to monitor and evaluate the HEIs granted special status.

“We feel that for the review of HEIs with these special status, CHED should use the same criteria [as in CMO 32, s. 2001].”

Guess what CHED did to respond to the letter? On Sept. 28, CHED called the heads of all the autonomous and deregulated HEIs to a meeting at Richville Hotel in Mandaluyong and, wonder of wonders, distributed to all the participants a “Primer on the Quality Assurance, Monitoring, and Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions,” with this explicit note at the end of it: “This primer is based on materials prepared by Dr. John Randall, Quality Assurance Consultant, CHED Organizational Development, Asian Development Bank (ADB) Philippines 2004.”

Why CHED is allowing itself to look silly when it already looked good is something only we Filipinos living in our self-destabilizing world can understand.

Quality Assurance and CHED (The Philippine Star, 3 November 2005)

What is the difference between quality assurance and accreditation?

Nothing, if we are to listen to the vast majority of accrediting associations around the world. Here are three examples:

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation of the United States, with more than sixty American national, regional, and specialized accrediting organizations as members, uses the two terms interchangeably.

The German Akkreditierungs-, Certifizierungs- und Qualitätssicherungs-Instituts (Accreditation, Certification and Quality Assurance Institute) does the same thing.

So does the Swiss L’Organe d’accréditation et d’assurance qualité des hautes écoles suisses (Center of Accreditation and Quality Assurance of the Swiss Universities).

Of course, a few countries make a distinction between the two.

The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA), for example, looks at accreditation as something universities do themselves and to themselves; quality assurance is what an outside agency does.

By and large, however, universities and governments around the world treat the two terms as synonyms, whether what they are talking about is program accreditation (meaning that only certain programs, and not whole institutions, are accredited) or institutional accreditation (which means that a whole institution is accredited, even if its programs are not all on the same level of quality).

There are only two groups that still are in the dark about the two terms – students in Europe and our CHED commissioners.

The National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB) bewailed in 2000 that “at the moment there is no common frame in which actors of higher education can discuss quality assurance and accreditation. There are quality assurance systems actually doing accreditation and the other way around. Furthermore the aims and methods of quality assurance and accreditation differ from country to country and there are obscurities in the terms being used.”

Behaving more like students than the professionals they are supposed to be, our CHED commissioners are equally confused.

In 1995, CHED recognized that Philippine accrediting associations were already doing quality assurance or accreditation, both institutional and program. It did this through CMO 31, s. 1995 (“Policies on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence in Higher Education”), which used the terms accreditation and quality in the same breath. CHED at that time also recognized that voluntary accreditation included both programs and institutions. CHED used the term Institutions/Programs even for Level I or the starting level of accreditation.

CHED actually had no choice in 1995 but to recognize voluntary accreditation, which was first proposed by a Joint Congressional Committee in 1949. The first Philippine accrediting association was formed in 1951, and the first actual accreditations were conducted in 1957.

By the way, the initial delay was due to something very similar to what is happening to CHED today.

Francisco Dalupan and several other educators formed the Philippine Accrediting Association of Universities and Colleges (PAAUC) in 1951, preparing for voluntary accreditation done by private schools themselves, based on the objectives of each institution to be accredited. Then Education Secretary Manuel Carreon, however, following advice from a consultant named Pius Barth, wanted compulsory accreditation done by the government, based on so-called objective standards. It was only in 1957, when the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities (PAASCU) started actual accreditation, that the impasse was broken. PAASCU’s efforts were officially recognized and endorsed by then Education Secretary Carlos P. Romulo in 1967. Since then, accreditation in the country has been private and voluntary.

Early this year, CHED issued CMO 1, s. 2005 (“Revised Policies and Guidelines on Voluntary Accreditation in Aid of Quality and Excellence in Higher Education”), which removed the word institutional from the different levels, but still recognized that quality assurance or accreditation itself was being done and should be done by the already existing accrediting associations.

CHED then famously imposed the so-called IQuAME, based on an expensive, but silly study by its consultant John Randall, in two infamous memos, “Institutional Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Assurance of All Higher Education Institutions in the Philippines” (CMO 15, s. 2005) and “Evaluation of Higher Education Institutions Granted Autonomous and Deregulated Status in 2001” (CMO 18, s. 2005). Suddenly, despite having said that quality assurance, in the worldwide sense of program and institutional accreditation, existed in the Philippines, CHED said that there was a need for quality assurance!

How can the present CHED claim that schools should undergo quality assurance when many of them (though admittedly not all of them) have already been accredited and, especially in the case of autonomous and deregulated institutions, been recognized as having quality?

I have only two foreign words: ignorantia, as in “Ignorantia judicis est calamitas innocentis (The ignorance of a judge is the misfortune of the innocent), and hubris, as in Oedipus and Macbeth. I could say that what we now have in CHED is pure tragedy, but if you know your Aristotle, there are no tragic figures in that otherwise rational government agency, just comic ones.

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