Education for Sustainability by Rev. Brother Armin Luistro
Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat. It gives me much pleasure to join you this afternoon but first a correction, I am not a presidentiable, so don’t ask me difficult questions.
It is a privilege to join you this afternoon, especially in the presence of Chief Justice, the greenest of them all, sturdy, Reynato Puno. He will share with us the most important jurisprudence that will keep you out of jail so I hope my message will keep you inspired all the way to whatever keeps you passionate.
Upon the invitation of one of my greatest idols, Nina Galang, who has been a real advocate of the environment many years ago when it was not yet a part of the lingo of many men and women, when no one yet was talking about it seriously. Thank you, Nina, for leading us through those very difficult years.
I enjoy joining you because first of all I come from a green school and I love the color green. But one of the advocacies that I share with you, coming from the education sector, is actually an advocacy that I have no choice but to actually support. So I was asking myself, why am I addressing you this afternoon coming from the education sector? The real answer is that there is no education unless we start with an education for sustainable living in an environment that nurtures our young people. I cannot think of any presidential platform or program that is not embedded and standing on an environmental program. After all whatever economic benefits we aspire to give our people, today and in the future, we’ll have to survive in an environment that allows us to be sustainable here and through the next generations of Filipinos.
Thank you for inviting me here also because I know that in this hall many of you are very familiar. Several of you have partnered with DepEd on many small and big programs. However, when I look at the profile of those who are here today and those who attended in the last 3 days, I realized that some of the most committed and passionate Filipinos are here. People who have given themselves, their whole being to an advocacy that maybe at one time or another has not been fully understood by our own people, has been dismissed, set aside, or thrown under the rug.
When I look at you and the panel of speakers who have graced this hall, I realized the most committed Filipinos are actually here with sheer passion, a lot of heart but with so much hope in a land that carries maybe some of the most beautiful scenes and
ecosystems in the whole world. You are the face and the heart of environmental sustainability in the Philippines. Many of you have been doing this for years, not without scars and many times, despite the bureaucracy in the government. So thank you very much for leading the way.
I was going to say that all the presidential candidates were invited for one reason or another. You may be disappointed that they are not here, but from another angle, you can look at it this way, why ask the person on top to lead? You have shown us that a real advocacy can start from the bottom and that there is real strength in the advocacy towards sustainable environment and a sustainable Philippines. Don’t look elsewhere; don’t even look at the President of the Republic of the Philippines. You have been the leaders all throughout these years. Hang on and claim that leadership.
But I have a concern and maybe a challenge for these many groups, if you look also at the landscape of environmental advocacy in the Philippines, there are many small groups and many countless advocacies all related to the environment. Each one of you is connected with at least one and some of you struggling in several, which are part of the light and the shadow of environmental advocacy in the Philippines. Many good hearted souls, many small initiatives, the question is will we be able to sustain it? If you ask me, one of the biggest challenges is what you are actually facing today. I was asking myself, why is this the first Philippine Summit on the environment? Shouldn’t we have done this many decades ago?
One of the challenges, at least from my perspective of environmental advocacy in the Philippines is to be able to connect every single one of those initiatives and to bring together good, kind-hearted, passionate advocates of the environment towards one green convergence. Sometimes Filipinos are good in starting initiatives. We run out of steam, ala ningas kugon, because we are unable to connect and secondly, like real Filipinos we are unable to agree on a common platform, a common synergy that will bring us together.
One of my hopes is that this first summit will bear fruit in a real green convergence where we don’t always have to agree with everything but if we identify the top priorities where each one of us will have a niche or a share to contribute then maybe our advocacies will be a little more sustainable.
I have not had the chance to review the recommendations that will be presented to you towards the end of this summit. One of my ulterior motives is to be able to push for a secretariat or at least a clearing house where people like me or ordinary Filipinos can access so that we could be in touch with your networks and make it easy for us to connect an advocacy that is closest to us. Sometimes when we meet, people would wish to support an advocacy. It is difficult to look for a common clearing house where I could go through a menu list of things and events I can support. From the point of view of DepEd, it will be one marvelous gift that you could give to the nation if you could give such a portal, hopefully, if not at least a physical secretariat with people who can actually connect us with programs that we could pursue together with all of you.
I come here this afternoon to also propose, since it is close to Valentine, a special love affair between you and your advocacy and DepEd. The bureaucracy of DepEd has 46,000 schools. Name me one barangay in the Philippines where there is no public school.
Do you want to source a native tree that you can only find in the Mountain Province or Benguet? You don’t know anyone in that place. If you connect with DepEd, I can tell you one principal or teacher who knows how to source a rare endangered native tree. Do you want to do trekking along the coast lines most visited by typhoons? And maybe you don’t know anyone in that area. I can give you a school. You have to sleep in a classroom setting, bring in your own tent, and maybe toilet paper, but our schools are welcoming sanctuaries where you and your advocacies will always find a warm home. But more than just an infrastructure, if you map the 46,000 schools in the Philippines, every single one of the issues, concerns, anxieties related to the environment are actually experienced, day in or day out, by our students and teachers. Volcanic eruption, forest fires, flooding, tsunami, name it we have it in our log book. If you wish to connect with real people who know the environment, you know that you have a friend and a contact in DepEd.
But DepEd, being the biggest bureaucracy like this summit, is also much challenged by the same light and shadow of the volume that we have. For example, many years ago, every school in the department is supposed to have a “Gulayan sa Paaralan” project. I actually go in my surprise visits to public schools, to the so called, Gulayan sa Paaralan. I go during school days and I go during summer days, I go during days when the principal is there, and during Fridays when they are out of the school and I realized that a program like Gulayan sa Paaralan started as a very good initiative. The question is the same question you are facing today, how do I sustain it?
Why is it that some schools, even in urban centers, are able to push to continue even during the dry summer months and have crops that yield harvest from their Gulayan sa Paaralan initiative? Why is it that there is a school somewhere in Iloilo, where the Gulayan sa Paaralan initiative, which is a small little garden in the back of the school, has become the actual vegetable garden of the whole barangay? So much so that even on weekends, the mothers and surprisingly even the fathers, come to school not to pick up their children but to actually pick leaves and harvest crops from the school.
Part of what we need to do is to put together and assess, maybe monitor, these small initiatives, not only from DepEd but from even all the NGOs gathered here and put together in a book the big question of sustainability. I’ve been telling our principals, if I give you a seed money of Php10,000 this year, can you assure me that Gulayan sa Paaralan becomes an income generating project so that at the end of the school year, you will have enough and will not ask for a second tranche to support your next gulayan?
I realized that part of the target is that we have been teaching our students and our schools to do the planting but we have not successfully connected them with the community outside and made that deep connection between the hard work of planting and the income generation that is a requirement of any sustainable project. If we keep our environmental advocacy confined to one small setting and not connected with the bigger world outside as in the lessons of an ecosystem, nothing will really work. It will be a good initiative, but it will never ever survive.
The good thing with the department is that we are the favorite target for any societal problem. You see a student using a Philippine map to mop the floor, and what news do you get from the television and radio anchors, “Tell DepEd to put in their curriculum, respect for the flag.” To any societal problem, the knee-jerk response is to put in the
That is well and good but I have learned a lesson from the ecosystem that once you confine those lessons to a small limited parochial setting and you do not provide a bigger environment where they can be moved from a nursery into the real world where there is no support system, nothing is really sustainable much like NGO initiatives. We need, and the biggest challenge for us is to connect and to come together and to tell graduates of schools after we train them in the values that will sustain the environment.
Now move from school to a corporate setting. Is there a framework? Is there a sustainable environment in the corporate setting where those values taught in school can be practiced, and from the corporation, into the bigger world of the local community?
One of my dreams is that if I have 46,000 schools and Ime Sarmiento gives me a list of the 3,600 native trees, I will be able to map for every school the native trees that I want our students to collect and to grow in a nursery and if I can connect with the secretariat of this green convergence, then I will put that in a website where any single one of the 3,600 native trees can be sourced from at least one of our 46,000 public schools. Now I was thinking, I can only do that and make it sustainable if people who wish to plant native trees will also be willing to pay the students who will do the seedlings and grow them.
After my 140 days in DepEd, I wish I could join you in your many advocacies. I wish part of what we could do together is to actually connect with the many programs that a bureaucracy like the DepEd can actually do.
Our teachers are great men and women but only very few are known. Most of them only land in the national news as “nagtitinda ng longganisa” or “nangungutang ng 5/6” but I don’t know if you have heard teacher William Moraca. I don’t know if you have ever been to Barrio San Jose, General Santos. You’d have to walk around 8 hours to go to Klolang Elementary School.
Klolang means freedom. They use it as their peg to say that Klolang Elementary School is free from water and free from electricity because they have no water and they have no electricity.
We assigned teacher William to the school. He was a frustrated engineer. Aside from teaching students in a classroom, he researched and researched after school hours on how he can bring power and water to the school. He developed a wind power generator and brought the first powered lamp to the school. Since he was generating more power than the school needed, he connected the houses of the sitio around the school; but he was not happy with that. After, he did more research and started a magnetic-field-run water system, pumping water into the school. Since he had more water than the school needed, all the houses around the school area started to draw water from the school community. That little initiative started many other advocacies.
From planting to an ecotourism program that has now become an income generating program for the school. I’d love to get you to walk 8 hours to visit Klolang Elementary School and see wonder teacher William, who now has been promoted as principal and is threatened to be transferred to a bigger school. Thankfully he refused. The
real story is the barangay wrote me a long letter saying that their hero should not be removed from the school because he is the only one, not even government, who brought water and electricity to their Klolang Sitio.
Dear friends, I share with you this wonderful story because I am so sure that many of you, in the little initiatives that you have started, have also a thousand stories to tell. We need those good stories to share with everyone else and as we end our green convergence tonight, know that you have a department that will continue to work with you and walk with you in the days to come. We are offering our hand in marriage, to you and your network. Do contact us. We’ll be happy without a dowry to join you in our search for a better Philippines.
Maraming salamat po.
February 11, 2016
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