By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Even before lockdowns stopped face-to-face learning, Filipino children were already kulelat overall in international tests on basic core competencies, i.e., in reading comprehension, science knowledge and math skills. The lockdowns have further worsened this deplorable situation. Pediatric vaccination rates against COVID lag further behind those for seniors and those with co-morbidities. Thus, most face-to-face summer classes and workshops won’t be happening for the third straight year.
Meanwhile, ever-busy trolls continue to revise Philippine history, dating back to the first Marcos Administration. Gaps in the DepEd curriculum itself enable ignorance, distortions and lies. Since 2002, grade school Social Studies or Sibika/Araling Panlipunan, has been lumped under MAKABAYAN, together with Home Economics, Physical Education, Health, Music, and Arts. They make up 1/5 of the curriculum with 4/5 devoted to the core competencies: English, Filipino, Math and Science—however, most learners obviously fail to master them, as our international academic ratings show.
With its scanty 20% share of the education curriculum, MAKABAYAN supposedly develops a healthy personal and national self-identity, and gives students “an adequate understanding of Philippine history and the politico-economic system, local cultures, crafts, literature, arts, music, and games.” Our achievements here are questionable.
If you are a woke Boomer (born post WWII to the early 1960s) who actually lived through Marcos Martial Law in the 1970’s to the 1980s, or a Gen Xer (born in the mid-60s to late 1970s) who came of age in the post-Ninoy Aquino Assassination years, having your grade school age kids or apo home this summer is an opportunity to teach them the truth about the Marcos Martial Law years, and why we must continue to protect our democracy, especially with Marcos Jr. on repeat. The Aklat Adarna NEVER AGAIN set of 5 slender picture books is a useful teaching aid. Learning must be interactive. To be most effective, don’t have the youngsters read these books on their own. Story-telling is one of the best ways to teach and also to relate to the most important kids in your life.
The Aklat Adarna NEVER AGAIN bundle is suitable for children old enough to appreciate the nuances of authority, of fairness, and of social justice. “EDSA” (kuwento ni Russell Molina; guhit ni Sergio Bumatay III) is the most lavishly illustrated, and sparsely worded, but also the most symbolic. It needs a prior sound grounding in the EDSA People Power I event. Watching YouTube videos together about the 1986 People Power, and explaining why it happened, is a good starting point. “EDSA” is better appreciated by the more mature who grew up hearing their parents talking about their own EDSA People Power experiences, or who might have been taken there as very young children. Similarly, “THE MAGIC ARROW” (Story by Bolet Banal; Illustrations by Korinne Banal), an allegorical retelling of Ninoy Aquino’s exile, return and assassination, also requires a firm historical foundation in the larger than life events of that time. These books are visually pleasing, but require a certain sophistication and past familiarity, so they are not the best ones to start with.
Also quite abstract is the political primer “ITO ANG DIKTADURA.” The inner cover and frontispiece are illustrated with cartoon dictators, including Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Given that our society actually values unquestioning obedience (bawal ang pasaway) and that those who question authority are derided as pilosopo—(“Ay–basta ayun na yon!” is an acceptable answer)—this book also requires a certain independence of mind and faculty for critical thought in the adult who is reading it to their precious child. “ITO ANG DIKTADURA” is a translation of vol. 2 of the Spanish series “LIBROS PARA MAÑANA,” published 20 years after the end of the long-lived fascist regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. It took Mother Spain that long to transition to a more functional democracy, so we must not get discouraged.
I recommend starting with Augie Rivera’s two books: “SI JHUN-JHUN NOONG BAGO IDEKLARA ANG BATAS MILITAR” and “ISANG HARDING PAPEL.” Both stories tell of the experiences of elementary school age children with the harsher, darker elements of the far from golden Marcos Martial Law years, and are very human and relatable. Be prepared to read them over and over, as they do work on several levels.
“SI JHUN-JHUN NOONG BAGO IDEKLARA ANG BATAS MILITAR” is about the unrest of the First Quarter Storm. During the violent dispersal of a rally for workers’ rights, Jhun-Jhun’s beloved older brother Jaime, a factory worker, is taken by the military, and never seen nor heard from again. With Jaime’s disappearance, Jhun-Jhun is forced to grow up too quickly. He can no longer play in the streets after school hours with his friends. With their breadwinner gone, he must sell newspapers in the early morning, then saging na saba in the afternoon, to help his grieving mother. Jhun-Jhun’s story asks our children to empathize with, and to imagine how it is for those children who live sa looban, in informal settler communities, with no playground but the streets. These are children whose parents cannot afford to buy them Aklat Adarna books (the NEVER AGAIN bundle costs almost as much as the daily minimum wage). Their parents probably do not have the leisure time to read to them either. It would also be worthwhile to discuss why workers like Jaime join strikes and mass actions in the street, and what are more effective ways to change society for the better. The lesson on tatsulok goes beyond geometry.
“ISANG HARDING PAPEL” deals with 7-year old Jenny’s loss of her mother—not through death, but through her long imprisonment as a political detainee. We witness Marcos Martial Law through young Jenny’s eyes. We feel the intrusiveness of the searches of their persons and belongings at the military Camp, and the oppressiveness of the curfew. The love and strength that sustain and connect Jenny to her mother Chit, and to her maternal grandmother Lola Priming, humanizes rebelde as real people. Jenny cherishes the little flowers made from paper scraps which Chit gives her after every visit. They symbolize hope, joy and beauty in the midst of deep suffering and injustice. “ISANG HARDING PAPEL” has a happy ending: Jenny’s mother Chit is set free with the EDSA People Power Revolution.
As a new chapter in our story as a nation unfolds, we must remember and speak our truths out loud, so as not to fall into darkness and lose our way.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction–but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.