Message to the Graduates
on the occasion of the
Bro.  Armin A. Luistro FSC, DepED Secretary
2 April 2016


Why be a lowly chicken in the backyard eating worms when you can be a great eagle soaring great heights. Like the enigmatic King of Fruits that smells like hell but takes like heaven, I would instinctively associate Davao with the mighty Pithecophaga jefferyi– Hari ng mga Ibon. I realized recently that, coming from Batangas, this great mighty Philippine eagle in decades past used to soar over Taal Lake but as a young boy I never had the chance to see this great eagle. Quite frankly, this is uncharted territory for a Batangueño green blooded archer and I can only approach your sacred ground unshod and only after humbly surrendering my arrows at the foot of Mt. Apo, now burning, but still the King of Philippine peaks.
King of Fruits, King of Birds, King of Philippine Peaks.
When I entered the university, parking pa lang, malaki na. Mabuti na lang at nakabisita ako sa inyong Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. There I saw greatness intersecting beauty in Davao as it is in the Ateneo. I just realized that everything here is mighty and robust and hovering and, like Iñigo de Loyola, I can only lie prostrate before greatness convinced that it is only from this perspective that conversion and transformation can take place. We wait in hope for the great Philippine eagle to soar once again even as we celebrate with the latest batch of Blue Eagles before they spread their wings and take flight. Don’t ever be a lowly chicken.
Ateneo de Davao University President Rev. Fr. Joel Tabora, Holy Cross of Davao College President Msgr. Julius Rodulfa, Mrs. Rowena Varela, Rafa and the family and friends of USec Francis Varela, the distinguished members of the academic community, esteemed guests, my beloved DepED family, the Jesuit community, beloved parents and graduates: Maayong hapon kaninyo nga tanan.

I am profoundly grateful for the honor conferred by the university and share this joy with the academic community of Holy Cross of Davao College and the Varela family.
Ateneo de Davao remains a critical partner in education reform. You may not know it yet but Ateneo and the whole community supported DepED in its first culturally sensitive Senior High School for T’boli students in Lake Sebu one year before our nationwide implementation. It is a modern curriculum that is K to 12 compliant but also deeply grounded on the cultural heritage of the T’bolis. This is very much like your chapel which weaves the Christian tradition with essential values inherent in the local culture as well as the community’s aspiration for excellence.
Ateneo de Davao has also pushed for a little project, which very few people know about, partnering with another association to mobilize a small group of Madaris Volunteer Teachers. They are sent to some of our farthest and hard-to-reach Madaris where they teach DepEd secular subjects such as Mathematics, Science and History.
Over dinner last night, we were excitedly discussing how Ateneo de Davao is now capacitating several of our schools in a new project on shoe-making. This is part of the DepED SHS specialized curriculum. Why be a chicken when you can soar like an eagle?
When I look back at the challenges USec Francis and our team had to face in the department, I realize now that the most difficult task was not sourcing the budget or convincing our legislators however unnerving those tasks may be. For after all, the Aquino administration has been increasing our budget yearly from P175b in 2010 to its current level of P436b this year or an increase of 147%. We got not just overwhelming majority votes but an almost unanimous favorable vote from both Lower House and Senate for the needed legislation for universal Kinder and the K to 12 program. In the Lower House the votes were 198 ‘yes’ and 8 ‘no’. One cannot imagine why a group of critics are still accusing us of not holding enough consultations.
As in any reform, almost every educator and stakeholder have their own version of how to manage the change and their own respective timetables. But we had champions like Fr. Joel and the leaders of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) who supported us, critiqued our earlier drafts and worked with the other stakeholders towards building a consensus. Sa Pilipinas ang pinakamahirap na hamon ay papaano tayo mapagkakaisa. The K to 12 reform will need to be refined over time and continuously improved as institutions adjust to the needs of learners and the ever-changing landscape of societies. While there can always be better ways of implementation, some of which we can really only realize in hindsight, definitely despite the criticisms, the country IS ready for K to 12!
The biggest obstacle is not in legislation or budget, but in our mindsets. We are trained to make do with what we have and remain as chickens in our backyards. When we first announced the reform in October 2010, the program was received with much skepticism and initial resistance.
“Bakit magdadagdag tayo ng dalawang taon?”, “Taon taon na lang tuwing Hunyo, ang nakabandera sa mga dyaryo ay tungkol sa kakulangan. Kulang sa teachers, classrooms, textbooks—Bakit magdadagdag pa?”, “Kaya ba ito ng Pilipinas?” Part of the reason why things do not move well is because we shoot ourselves in the foot and we tell ourselves that what has been part of reality cannot but be part of our future.
When we started in the department, part of the perception was that DepED is one of the most corrupt government agencies. May mga teachers na nagtitinda ng longganisa (pero sabi ko luma na ‘yan kasi pasa load na ngayon). May mga nagsasabi na bago makapasok bilang isang guro sa DepED, kailangang magbayand ng P30k o kaya’y P70k. Last week I received an anonymous call from ComVal, saying that he is a hired killer and someone contracted him to shoot me. But since they could not agree with the price for my life, they came to me “para tapatan”. Mabuti na lang ako ang pinaka mahirap na Cabinet Secretary. Ang sabi ko sa aking staff: “Sabihin mo hanggang ten thousand lang ako”. Hindi na muling tumawag ang gustong pumatay sa akin.
But how does one fight corruption? How does one truly start a reform? Sa Pilipinas, kapag makikinig kayo sa radio, wala naman tayong ibang maririnig kundi: “wala ng pag babago”, “ganito na tayo noon, ganito parin ang Pilipinas”. Sometimes these words become a self fulfilling prophecy. When Usec Francis died, we grieved not only because we lost a friend, a father and a colleague, but because we also lost one who fought hard to start the reform. I remember being with Francis in Subic with some of our Superintendents, and i was telling them that it only takes one person to change the department. It also takes one person to destroy the reputation of the department. I told our superintendents, it would only take one picture of one teacher inside a casino and the whole department is put in a basket of spoiled tomatoes. You only need to take one picture of a teacher harassing a student, and all 700, 000 teachers are already tainted. But this afternoon, I think it is good for us to remember that there are actually Filipinos who are willing, ready and able to start a reform. Francis was one such Filipino. Today I also remember that the sacrifices of a public servant can be experienced by the whole family. I know what Rowena and Rafa went through when the salary of Francis dived to 10% of what he used to earn in the private sector.
I have exactly 90 days left in the department. And one of the greatest decisions I have made was not to stay in my office in Pasig, but to do unannounced visits to the farthest schools where I met the most committed and dedicated persons I have met in my life: teachers who share their salaries so that their own students can eat for the day; superintendents who share their own bonuses so that teachers ca have a little more share. It is unbelievable that very few from the government are seen as heroes and heroines today. But it seems to me that this is what the Ignatian aspiration is all about. Will you remain a chicken? Or will you soar great heights? Is your diploma enough for you to brag about? Or are you called to do something more? To be more? To love more? Not for yourselves but for Christ and for others. That seems more relevant today in an election season of empty promises from aspiring candidates and a growg nmber of exhausted or indifferent voters. I know at least five people who told me that they will not vote in the coming elections. They said: “wala naming pagpipilian”, “Kahit sino naman sa kanila, ganun pa rin ang Pilipinas”. At a time of disillusionment, you are called to be eagles. You are called to proclaim the truth: Kaya naman ng Pinoy, kaya naman pala ng bayan.
In 1965, Dr Dioscoro Rabor from Silliman University was largely ignored when he disclosed the endangered status of the Philippine eagle.He published it, discussed it with many stakeholders. He was ignored. Today, whenever the Philippine Eagle Foundation releases eaglets hatched and bred in captivity or recently rehabilitated, the nation celebrates and watches with mixed emotions as we are reminded once again of our sins against the environment but also of the power and capacity within to change the dire prediction of doom and bring about hope and transformation.
Fellow Ateneans, show the world that being an Atenean is more than just an entitlement. Take that leap of faith and fly. This time I will not be green with envy as you soar the heights nor will I need to have a hunter’s obsession to kill. Happily, with my Ateneo de Davao University credentials, I can now join you as we conquer the blue skies where magis reigns. Daghang salamat sa tanan.

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