BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
In Robert Bolt’s play ‘A Man for All Seasons,” a chapter opens with exchanges between two men.
Sir Thomas More: “Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.”
Richard Rich: “If I was, who would know it?”
Sir Thomas More: “You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.”
More and Rich went their separate ways – one to martyrdom; the other bright young buck to pelf and power and pufft!
My first teacher was Concepcion Abeto Zaide. I learned my ABCs on my mother’s lap and my first impressions were from her stories. She patiently taught me how to write my name to get into first grade at Padre Faura. She would later let me recite elocution pieces like The Victor at Marengo and other declarations of Brutus and Mark Anthony to her fellow Torres High School teachers and to her students. When she transferred to the Fugoso annex of that Tondo public school, I experienced the breathing fragrance of the kutsero’s stable. But in her world, the universe surely and steadfastly revolved on its axis.
My third grade teacher Mr. Amado Recio’smegaphone voice boomed and led the school prayers at the Padre Faura chapel. He was as straight as his starched khaki trousers; but he was also a role model as scoutmaster. Another scoutmaster, Mr Eugenio Nicdao, was our 6th grade class teacher; and we looked forward to his class. He championed us and tangled with Mr. Emiterio Asuncion (teacher of 7th graders), winning for us the right to wear the same black trousers at graduation. Like a little bit of sugar which made the medicine go down, good teachers make learning, not only painless, but something that we looked forward to.
In high school, we metamorphed from short pants into trousers and put away the uniforms (white shirts-and-khaki-shorts) for low-waists slacks and Banlon T-shirts; our class parties even included girls from across the creek. Severino Estrera taught us Latin via Gallic Wars and Julius Caesar’s campaign dispatches. I was not in the class of Fr. Ramon Mores, SJ, but he gave me pasang-awa at summer remedial class for Latin, (despite my declining my verbs and conjugating my nouns).
Gualberto Ronidel Ocampo, aka GRO, taught biology (“ol-op-oc-tro-tri-ab-fa-aud-glo-va-ac-hay”) and Tagalog/Pilipino rhyme (“ba-ka-da-ga pa-sa tao”) with mnemonic resonance. His appliqued barong was a fashion pace-setter and his class was always entertainment as a Lope K. Santos protégé.
The Fish Club (“Jesu Christus Filius Dei”) of Fr. Raymond Gough, SJ, taught us the holy mass as the perfect sacrifice. Fr. Dennis Lynch, SJ, was student counsellor who did basketball and gave prizes for everyone; and he was the father confessor with the longest queue. Onofre Pagsanghan (spelling Filipinized) gave us Shakespeaean theater; (and I made it as one of the mob crying to read Caesar’s will.)
Jesuit scholastics like Fr. John Van Bemmel, Fr. Charles Tooker, and Fr. Paul Lemaire continued to be our mentors and role models. Fr José Blanco and Fr. Natividad, were our “White Christmas” exports to Indonesia. Fr. John Gordon’s 4A Class was high life in high school. But when we got too big for our britches, he gave us a quiz where no one got perfect score. He also taught us another lesson by not bringing in the “bomba” to win the Christmas package drive that our class traditionally won. By doing so (and in many other ways), he prepared us for the world we would enter and how we should place ourselves in it. He also founded Challenge House, an incubator for priestly vocations.
In college, Fr. Harry Furay, SJ, taught us Contemporary English (distinguishing it from Shakespearean or Biblical). He also introduced contemporary authors and acquainted us in pitfalls of commas (pause, meaning, and timing) to explain the vagaries of the English language. Tony Manuud took us to the giddy heights of English language, with appropriate bon mots that we tried on girls (but without the same effect). Rolly Tiño did the theater at collegiate level what Pagsanghan did in high school; and Mayolo Torres (“Ya, todavia, no”) arrived fresh from Spain to teach us the language of Cervantes.
Celso Novenario was a brilliant mathematician, whose misfortune was students who could not keep up with him. (Rei Ozaeta claims to have earned a rare 2 in a forest of 4s and 5s that were rained on us.) English prof Gene Lachica decoded in one hour what I could not fathom in one semester under the Novenario Nerd. I passed conditional exams twice – the first semester for algebra, and repeated in semester for statistics. Had I been in Lachica’s class, I could have upgraded to mathematician. Or learned sooner that teaching is a gift, and that one can be a mentor or tormentor.
Fr. Michael McPhelin, SJ, former dean of the Fordham University School of Business, was the economics guru who taught us the market and was available consultant to the practitioners of the trade. Fr. Horacio dela Costa SJ, taught European history and how the Philippines and the Catholic Church related and contributed to our history. Fr. Lino Banayad SJ, was our ethics and philosophy professor. He dusted our catechism to be able to teach at Marikina public school, and inoculated us against Blue Seal and intramurals within the faculty house. Fr. Roque Ferriols SJ, arrived testing the waters, but did not bring us to sokotidino. We missed his teaching philosophy in Filipino, and his determination to impart the necessity of pagmuni-muni (genuine thinking of one’s situation) that he infected in his students. He was perhaps better appreciated by Fr. Banayad and masticated by Jojo Buñag. Whether we digested or overdosed, our mentors take credit or blame for what we have become.
Aniceto M. Sobrepeña, president of Metrobank Foundation, Inc., and executive vice president of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, announced the four outstanding teachers of 2019: Dorothy S. Tarol, PhD, Master Teacher II, Special Education-Integrated School for Exceptional Children (Iloilo City); Cristina B. Cristobal, PhD, Special Science Teacher V, Philippine Science High School; Ricardo T. Jose, PhD Professor XII, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman (QC); and Eva Maria C. Cutiongco-Dela Paz, MD, Professor X, College of Medicine, UP Manila. The four worthies each received a gold medallion, ‘The Flame’ trophy, and P1 million cash prize. This is the 11th edition of the National Teachers’ Month, which is commemorated from 5 September to 5 October 2019. The logo shows a student and a teacher reading together, recognizing their invaluable role and expressing our gratitude to our teachers – to whom we owe a debt we can never repay.