“It unifies the many hats I wear.”
There are five things I am immensely grateful for in my life.
First, the education I have been fortunate to have, the best in the world;
Second, my Christian faith and the fact that I belong to the Catholic Church which, even as it is imperfect, has never failed me in the more important matters like dealing with suffering, sickness, and death;
Third, my nuclear and extended family – the fact that I am a husband, father, son, brother, cousin, uncle and friend which makes everything I do in law, governance and politics personal;
Fourth, my role as a governance practitioner, social innovator and mediator of public disputes, a good place to be in a conflict-ridden society with problems that keep repeating themselves; and
Fifth and last, but definitely not the least, which unifies many of the hats I wear, my being a teacher.
Starting with this article, I begin a series on my calling as a teacher. Why did I become a teacher? The answer for me is simple and clear. It is about paying forward and making a difference. Teaching has always been a call, a vocation.
Teaching is paying forward. I consider myself to have been very fortunate for the opportunity to attend the best schools in the Philippines and the world – Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro for my basic education, Ateneo de Manila University for my philosophy degree, University of the Philippines for my first degree in law, and Yale Law School for my masters and doctoral degrees. These schools taught me skills and more importantly values that I in turn now share with my students.
From Xavier University, I learned the basics of writing and computing (I was not very good with the latter). It instilled in me a love for reading. As early as grade school, having a Headmaster like the late Fr. Theodore Daigler, SJ showed me how music and drama could bring a mind and soul to faraway places, making one dream of traveling to unimaginable great places (turns out I ended up being able to visit many of those places). How could I forget Miss Teodoro who, in second year high school, made us read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince?
With religion teachers like the late Fr. Tony Cuna, SJ, who surprised our senior high school class one day by teaching us the meaning of the Eucharist while actually celebrating the sacrament, Xavier University gave me the first experience of what my faith and religion really meant. And how could I not be grateful to the young Jesuit Scholastic Alex Benedicto who was my first guide when I got conscientized and became aware of the social problems and conflicts of the Philippines?
From the Ateneo de Manila, I was taught to think and about thinking (an amazing experience, the first time you became aware of and understanding thinking) and how to apply that thinking to real life problems like I-thou relationships and social and political problems (plenty of them in the Martial Law years).
The most important lesson I learned from my years studying philosophy in Ateneo comes from the late Fr. Roque Ferriols, SJ, who taught me Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and introduced me to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Because Fr. Roque also taught or inspired the professors who influenced me the most – Dr. Ramon Reyes, Dr. Leovino Garcia, Prof. Ramon Sunico, Dr. Manny Dy, Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, and now Court of Appeals Justice Pablito Perez – I consider myself his student not only in these two subjects but in many other subjects as well.
Fr. Roque, through Sulyap/Glimpses, his memoirs as a young Jesuit during World War II, has been my most important teacher during the pandemic. We are living in wartime conditions now and Fr. Roque is guiding me in this time, especially in dealing with death, suffering, and grief, as well as in seeing hope in the darkness.
I still remember that day when Fr. Roque lectured about truth as aletheia (disclosed or revealed Being) as understood by the Pre-Socratics and by Socrates, emphasizing how little the truth was compared to the whole of reality but because truth was our only connection to reality, there is a demand to be faithful, even die for it. I do not exaggerate when I say that this lecture by Fr. Roque changed my life and sent me to many quests and pilgrimages seeking the truth and what is right.
I consider my crossing to law a necessary detour and not the end point of my professional journey. I still hope to end my working years as a philosophy teacher and give this same gift of insight to students as Fr. Roque and my philosophy teachers gave it to me.
I am proud of many of my first philosophy students. Many are leaders now in society, including in government, politics, and business, in Jesuit universities and other academic institutions, social development organizations, etc. Quite a number also joined the Jesuit Volunteers, inspired in part by what they saw in me, and continue to be close to me.
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