OUR TEACHERS, OUR MODERN-DAY HEROES

I and another colleague went to Calbayog City in Samar last weekend ready to turn over the teacher’s kits to the 250 public school teachers that our group, Team Pilipinas, had managed to raise a sufficient fund for. (The recipients were mostly assigned in the remote and far-flung schools either in the islands or the uplands of the province.) We were ready to serve as the bridge between our generous donors and our chosen recipients. We were ready to have a personal encounter with our teachers who are largely overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. We were ready to celebrate with them the National Teachers’ Month and the upcoming International Teacher’ Day on October 5.

What we were not ready for were the stories that they generously shared with us – stories that tugged at our heartstrings and made us realize anew why our teachers should, indeed, be put on a pedestal as our country’s modern-day heroes.

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David Refuncion teaches in Mabini I Elementary School, a school situated in one of Calbayog’s farthest mountains. His first assignment, he has been teaching there for three years now.

David, along with seven other teachers from their clustered school, has to travel for eleven hours just to get to his students – two to three hours aboard a multicab, then a habal-habal and, finally, a boat, before he would have to walk across rivers, rice fields and hills for another six to eight hours. Their travel becomes longer, riskier and more challenging when they do it under the pouring rain because the water in the river rises and its current becomes strong, and the mountains and rice fields they navigate become murky and slippery. Armed conflict between members of the NPA and the private armies also poses a serious challenge to them and the entire community.

Adrian Benecario, from Calilihan Elementary School, has to regularly contend with landslides during his 5-6 hours of travel on foot just to reach his students.

Both young teachers are witness to how their students are living in abject poverty.

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The supplies that Sir David brings with him from the city to the barrio.

They have students who walk miles barefoot and are used to attending classes on empty stomachs. There are those who can’t afford to buy something as basic as paper and pencil, and just have to rely on the generosity of their classmates. There are those who use plastic grocery bags for their school bags. (There was this one time when the teacher was cleaning up after his last class. He saw a crumpled plastic bag and, thinking that is was trash, he put it in the trash bin. A few moments later, one of his students went back and asked in their local dialect, “Sir, have you seen my bag?” to which the teacher replied, “I didn’t see any bag here. What does it look like anyway?” “A plastic bag, Sir.”) There are those who have to skip classes because their parents need an extra hand in the farm. And when someone in the village gets sick, the parents automatically turn to the teachers for medicines because the nearest health center is miles away.

There’s also no electricity in their place so the teachers have to use flashlight or kerosene lamp when they are working on their Daily Lesson Log (DLL).

However, the worst and most heartrending story that they shared is that of some of their female students, the youngest of which are in Grade 3, who have to quit school altogether because their parents are forced to marry them off. They do it for two reasons: to rid themselves of the burden of feeding another mouth, and for the “payment” that they will receive from the man who will be their daughter’s husband. For P30,000 (which is usually given to them in installments) and a small pig or goat, these little girls are given away to any man who has the capacity to pay.

As a mother myself, that is the story that really broke my heart.

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The call in the wake of Typhoon Usman that nearly wiped out the barrio where Ma’am Mary Jane and Ma’am Mariah Kim teach.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane Ebardone and Mariah Kim Oite are co-teachers in Cag-Anahaw Elementary School. Previously, they would reach their school by bamboo rafting for four hours, climbing four mountains, and crossing a treacherous river that snakes around those mountains. But since the river has gotten shallow due to landslides, they now have to walk all the way to the barrio where they teach. They have to be extremely careful, though, as paths can be steep and slippery, and one misstep can cause them to stumble down cliffs.

Cell signal is weak and unpredictable in the village so they attach a string to their mobile phones and hang them to anything that is high enough for them to get a signal.

Last December 28, 2018, the barrio was wiped out by Typhoon Usman.

Their school, that sits atop a plateau, is one of the few structures that survived the catastrophe. The floodwater, though, still managed to reach the roof of the covered court. It was only through the bayanihan of the neighboring communities that Barangay Cag-Anahaw was able to slowly rise back up.

Although it was hard for the two young teachers to accept that their students could not go to school because they had to be with their families in picking up the pieces of their shattered lives, they fully understood the situation. After all, given the choice between education and survival, any one of us will certainly choose the latter hands down.

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The church that also serves as the school for Sir Ricky’s students

Another two teachers that we talked to, Ricky Balat and Rhio Amor both teach in an island where illiteracy rate is among the highest in Calbayog. Their barangays also belong to the poorest.

Between the months of August and February, when the most intense monsoon winds blow, the islands get more isolated from the rest of the city because no boat dares to head to the open sea. During that season, there is scarcely any food. People have to make do with wild grass and any available root crops.

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Fried camote, Sir Ricky’s lunch during the habagat season when no boats dare leave the island.

Aggravating the teachers’ situation in the islands is the seeming lack of support that they get from the government. They do not have a school so they teach their students inside the church. They do not receive any books, too.

The students’ houses are a long walk from the “school” and the unpaved roads that they tread are typically rough and muddy. Sometimes, there are even snakes slithering about.

My fellow Filipinos, the monthly salary of our entry-level teachers is only Php20,000. Some of them, like Sir Ricky and Rhio, do not receive regular hazard pays or hardship allowances despite the risks that they are made to face on a daily basis just to do their job. They are even required to make cash contribution for unit meets, competitions and other events. And they buy their supplies from their own pockets.

After all the deductions for taxes, GSIS, Pagibig, and all sorts of loans that they have previously availed, the teachers are left with a meager take-home pay. Yet, they still try to help their students in any way that they can.

Asked what they would request for should there be generous souls who would be ready to grant their wish, none of them expressed a desire for themselves.

School supplies for the students.

Slippers for the students.

Playground for the students.

Classrooms for the students.

Books for the students.

Asked why they continue to do what they do, they have a ready answer. They love teaching, they love their students, they love the community.

For them, it is enough that their students greet them with happy faces and toothy grins whenever they reach the village after a very long trek. The fruits and vegetables generously given to them in exchange for the medicines and other supplies that they provide for the parents are more loaded with sincere gratitude than the automatic thank yous that they are used to receiving. But, most of all, it is the realization that, in their own ways, they are making a difference in the lives of the children and their families, that keep them going. Day after day after day.

If that is not heroism, I don’t know what is.

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MAKE A STAND WITH TEAM PILIPINAS!

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A friend messaged me today. Mas okay daw ang mga fb posts ko dati noong puro about family, parenthood, marriage at nakakatuwang mga kwento ang isini-share ko. Tigilan ko na raw kasi ang politika. Kung hindi, dadami lang daw ang wrinkles (at kaaway!) ko.

Ang sagot ko sa kanya?

Bes, nami-miss ko na rin ang time when I was always inspired to write and share articles about the joys of being a mom, a wife and a woman. Nami-miss ko na ang panahon when days would pass by na walang malaking ganap sa paligid natin. Nami-miss ko na ang pakiramdam na paggising sa umaga, I wouldn’t have to wonder with dread, “Ano na naman kaya ang mga mangyayari today na hindi kagandahan?”

Ngayon kasi, bes, the time demands na magbasa, magsulat at mag-share tayo para makapagmulat ng mga kababayan natin na walang alam, walang pakialam, o pinipili pa rin ang maniwala sa mga kasinungalingan.

Look around us.

Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang pagpatay in the name of a fake drug war.

Wala pang nahuhuling drug lords. Yung mga umamin, pinakawalan. Yung mga convicted, ginawang witnesses laban kay Sen. De Lima, at pinawalang-sala.

Bilyun-bilyong halaga ng droga ang hinahayaang makapasok sa bansa.

 

Ang mga mahihirap, lalong napapahirapan dahil sa TRAIN law.

Bagsak ang ekonomiya natin.

Mahal ang mga bilihin.

Ang mga trabahong dapat nakalaan sa mga Pilipino, sa mga Tsino ibinibigay. Kaya ang mga OFWs, patuloy na nagpapaalipin at naaabuso sa ibang bayan.

 

Mas grabe ngayon ang korapsyon sa gobyerno. Harapan at walang pakundangan. Nariyan ang magkakapatid na Tulfo, sina Lapeña at Faeldon, si former DOJ Sec. Aguirre, si Bong Go at ang pamilya nya, si Solgen Calida, ang mga Villar, ang pamilya ni Sec. Diokno, ang mga Konggresista with their budget insertions, at marami pang iba.

 

Tinatakot at pilit na pinapatahimik ang mga personalidad at institusyon na lumalaban sa mga abuses ng administrasyong ito. Binabaluktok nila ang batas, at ginagawang tama ang mali at mali ang tama.

 

Pinipilit baguhin ng ating mga politiko ang Saligang Batas upang maproteksyunan nila ang kanilang pangsariling interes.

 

Ang mga kilalang plunderers, pinalaya na at ngayon ay mga kumakandidato para makabalik sa kapangyarihan. Habang ang mga batang paslit, gusto nilang gawing criminally liable at makulong kapag lumabag sa batas.

 

At ang mga teritoryo natin sa West Philippine Sea? Hayun, pinapabayaang kamkamin ng China. Bes, ilang taong ipinaglaban ‘yun ng Pilipinas sa The Hague. Naipanalo na natin ‘yun. Pero ngayon ay isinusuko ng administrasyong ito ang ating karapatan at pinapayagang i-harass ang ating mga mangingisda sa ating sariling katubigan.

 

And that poor excuse of a man na nakaupo sa Malacañang? Wala siyang ginagawa kundi bigyan ng kahihiyan ang Office of the Philippine President that he should be representing! Ang mga ipinagmamalaki niya lang na accomplishments ay ang kanyang mga fake wars.

Fake war against illegal drugs.

Fake war against corruption.

Fake war against poverty.

Fake war against oligarchs.

Fake war against incompetence.

 

Ngayon, bes, sabihin mo sa akin. Dapat ba akong manahimik? Baka naman panahon na para imulat mo ang iyong mga mata, pakinggan ang hinaing ng mga kababayan nating namatayan at naghihirap, at gamitin ang iyong boses upang kundinahin ang mga hindi makatao at hindi maka-Pilipinong nangyayari sa bayan natin.

Samahan mo kami, Bes.

Make a stand.

The way I see it, laban na ito ng mga tunay na nagmamahal at nagmamalasakit sa bayan versus mga traydor sa bayan. So, ang laban namin ay laban nating lahat. At kailangan nating maipanalo ang labang ito.

Bago pa mahuli ang lahat.

TEAM PILIPINAS CANDIDATES, KILALANIN NATIN!

They go by many names.

Fence sitters. Spectators. Onlookers. Bystanders

They are mostly passive, indifferent, detached, apathetic, neutral, and complacent.

Their favorite lines are, “Huwag na tayong makialam dyan. Wala rin namang mangyayari.” Hindi rin naman tayo pakikinggan.” “Pare-pareho lang naman ang mga namumuno sa bansa.” “Hindi rin naman magbabago ang buhay natin.”

Mali po.

We should all be concerned, active, interested, participative, involved, engaged.

The way our government is run should be our concern dahil kung anuman ang kahihinatnan ng bansa natin, tayo ang apektado. Ang buhay ng mga anak natin ang apektado. Ang mga susunod pang henerasyon ang apektado.

Sa mga nangyayari ngayon sa ating paligid, we can’t afford to be silent.

We have to make our voices clearer, louder, and stronger. And, together, we can possibly make a difference. We can effect change. We can reclaim our people and our country.

Kaya’t sa nalalapit na eleksyon, suriin nating mabuti ang ating mga kandidato. Huwag na tayong magpaloko. Ang mga corrupt, mga trapo, mga political dynasts, mga incompetent, mga supporters ng mga polisiyang maka-China, anti-people, at anti-God — there’s a special place reserved for them at, definitely, hindi iyon sa ating mga balota.

Ako, tumaya na. Ito ang aking mga kandidato na dadalhin ko sa Senado. Kilalanin nyo sila.

Sa abilidad, kalidad, integridad, at kredibilidad, hindi sila matatawaran.

Ang laban nilang walo ay laban ng bawat Pilipino!

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