Showing posts with label Personality Sketches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Personality Sketches. Show all posts

Conversations: When she lets her guard down

She sorted several keys in a plastic box, separating the old from the new. It was her second night in Ipil Residence Hall, but she said she will soon get used to it. A ceiling fan creaked above the counter, its artificial wind brushing her long hair. She wore a grayish sweater over her signature navy-blue uniform, and peeking from the left collar is her nameplate—Editha L. Piedad, 168 Security and Allied Services, Inc.
Edith, a nickname she had since elementary, had just been assigned to the co-ed undergraduate and graduate dormitory after serving more than four years in Kalayaan Residence Hall. The reshuffling of dormitory security guards placed her in Ipil, a stark contrast to Kalayaan which housed the newest faces in the University of the Philippines.
“I have less work here than in Kalayaan. I don’t need to whistle every now and then to call the attention of a noisy group. But the happy atmosphere is missing,” Edith said after labeling the last key Rm. 129 E.
A native of Tugegaro, Edith has been working in NCR for more than 20 years. She has been among the first batches of clerks and cashiers in SM City North Edsa after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. When her contract expired, she applied and became a regular employee in Uniwide for three years, until it closed because of bankruptcy. Uniwide paid its employees for compensation, but Edith again found herself hunting jobs in the streets and offices to survive the city.
“I graduated AB Economics but never got to practice my course. Those were difficult times, especially in the province. You get hold of whatever available job, even the low-paying ones,” Edith said.
The closest she got to being an economist was her secretarial work in the provincial capitol of Cagayan Valley. She had to leave that job, however, to join the flock of Ilocanos trying their luck in the city.
In 1997, Edith’s wanderings led her to a security firm in Cubao, Quezon City. She enrolled herself in a 2-week security guard training course, giving her a first taste of the industry that has sustained her for nine years. They were taught self-defense and firearm handling, and were subjected to a rigorous physical fitness program. After two weeks of crunches, push-ups and joggings, she was given her first post—the Sucat Branch of Banco de Oro.
“It’s not my first post that’s memorable. It’s actually the resident guard at my first post,” Edith said with a smile, referring to her husband, Dante Piedad, whom she met in Banco de Oro’s Sucat Branch.
Edith opened the counter’s drawer and took a makeshift key holder containing about a dozen keys of varying sizes. She strode past the counter to the iron door of the dormitory, the jiggling of keys following her footsteps. She had opened and locked dormitory doors countless times, but Edith still remembered her first night in the university at Molave Residence Hall.
March 22, 2003, 7 p.m.—Edith was a reliever guard at Molave. A reliever is a contractual guard with a six-month cycle of work and rest, she explained. Molave is rumored haunted by dormers and guards because of its rundown condition. Some university legends also say the dormitory was once a hospital with the basement serving as morgue.
Despite the warnings and taunting from her fellow security guards, Edith said the noisy and nocturnal students of Molave were more bothersome than the supposed ghastly occupants of the dormitory’s basement.
“They said strange sounds are heard from Molave’s basement. When I guarded the place, I only heard cats and students,” Edith said with a laugh.
After Molave, she was stationed to several other buildings around the university including the College of Law and Yakal Residence Hall. Edith stayed longest in Kalayaan, taking the night shift and once in a while the morning one. She was partnered to a senior guard and one or two relievers.
Edith took her white ceramic mug from the counter’s cabinet, tore a sachet of San Mig Lite Coffee, and paced the lobby to the graduate wing to get hot water. She walked back to the guard’s counter, wisps of coffee aroma trailing her and filling the room. A whirlpool of coffee was visible while she stirred. She took a sip but her face contorted as if to say the coffee was too hot for her tongue.
“A guard’s main enemy is sleep. In Kalayaan, I was allowed to take a nap but Ipil is different. I need to stay awake because there is no curfew,” Edith said.
Her night duties in the dormitory begin at 7 p.m. She takes the post from her partner and starts by making rounds, one wing at a time. Edith takes care of Ipil’s eight wings, housing more than 300 residents from different provinces all over the country. She checks corridor windows and light, function rooms, electric fans, the kitchen and the students.
Edith said her unholy hours start around 2 a.m. when students begin to sleep and only a handful stay in the lobby to watch action or anime series. Around this time, too, she starts her waking routines. She drinks coffee, soft drinks or other caffeinated drinks, listens to rock music, walks around or even sweeps the floor. She said her secret is constant movement, aside from caffeine, to keep herself from falling asleep. She also sleeps at home before her shift to store energy.
“When the world is awake, I sleep. And when everyone’s asleep, I am wide awake,” Edith said with a tone of irony. “I guess being a night shift guard demands a different lifestyle. I have no regrets, except that I don’t get to be with my children when they’re awake.”
Edith’s duty ends after 12 hours at exactly 7 a.m. During this time, her two daughters are preparing to go to school. She usually reaches their house in Balara on time to bid them farewell. After sending them off, it is her time to enjoy the comfort of her bed and pillows.
“A guard’s life? It’s not so interesting. We guard buildings and walk around with batons, a flashlight, arnis stick, keys, a pistol sometimes, and a lot of courage and self-defense skill,” Edith said between yawns.
“Not so many are interested to find out what we do or how we work, so I’m happy when one or two students chat with me until the wee hours in the morning. They get to know a guard better, and all the more, I see my job’s purpose.” Edith wheeled out of the counter; a resident was knocking at the iron door. She had to open it to let him in, and close the door again like she had done countless times in different UP dormitories.

Abdulmari Asia Imao in the crossfire of ideologies

Photo from

The legend of the Sarimanok lives on among the Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao in Southern Philippines. To them, this mysterious bird is a messenger, swooping down from the heavens to catch fish which it delivers to the Sultans as words from Allah.

There are many versions of the story. One tells of a beautiful and kind daughter of the Sultan of Lanao who was taken by a majestic bird. According to this version, Sari, a well-loved princess of the Maranaos, won the heart of a deity-prince who transforms into a giant rooster with glittering feathers of varying shades.

Unlike the ordinary fowl, however, the creature rules the sky like an eagle and has magical powers. The prince, in the form of a bird, appeared before Sari and all the people of Lanao on her 18th birthday. Speaking to them in their native tongue he said, “I have come to take the maiden whom I love.” As if in a trance, Sari approached the creature and they disappeared into the skies.

The Sultan missed his daughter so much that he commissioned the best artists of the kingdom to make a replica of the bird. He ordered the people to look at the monument with reverence so that they will never forget Sari. In honor of his daughter and the magnificent creature (which in their local tongue is called a
manok), he called the woodcarving, Sarimanok.

Sari lives on among the Moros, and with her the cultural and artistic symbol that is the Sarimanok. Yet there is an unusually low appreciation of this national heritage.

In fact, even the recognition as National Artist of a sculptor who devoted his art to the Sarimanok took years to happen because of a gulf in perception of what is considered art between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Islamic outskirts of Mindanao.

In 2006, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) awarded Dr. Abdulmari Asia Imao the National Artist Award for sculpture, the first Muslim to be given the country’s highest recognition for artistic and cultural achievement and contribution since its creation in 1972.

This happened only after the intervention of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which, according to political analysts, was a strategy to gain favor from the Muslims who comprise majority of Southern Philippines. In fact, without the president’s hand, Imao had no chance of the award after he failed to make it in the first shortlist prepared by the NCCA.

As to his skills in sculpture, no doubt Imao is a master. But he is also highly trained in painting—being an apprentice of National Artist Napoleon Abueva— and in metal casting and photography. He graduated Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1959 at the University of the Philippines, and three years after, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture at the University of Kansas.

Compared to other sculptors, however, Imao’s fusion of Islamic art, design and culture in his oeuvre make him standout as an artist who employs techniques of the West to make unmistakable Eastern Islamic works.

But the 73-year-old artist admits that his decision to focus on his native culture came only after he has travelled the United States, Columbia and Europe, seeing with his own eyes the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Dali, among others.

Returning to the country in 1963, he determined to master Moro culture and arts, observing and learning from the Maranaos and T’bolis; at the same time, teaching them about modern bronze casting techniques.

Imao describes his art as bearing three distinct motifs—the Sarimanok, the fish, and the okir, or aesthetic curvilinear designs. As an artform, the okir, ukit in Filipino—meaning “to carve” or “make designs upon”—can be feminine or masculine in execution usually on wood which is abundant in Mindanao or in brass.

The overall sculpture takes the form of either the Sarimanok or the fish, or a combination of both and is adorned with elaborate okir patterns and designs. Some of Imao’s works bearing this style are displayed in the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman and at the National Museum.

The artist is also a researcher and a professor, documenting photos of the Sulu people, tribes and art for local universities like UP and the Ateneo de Manila, as well as for international fellowships.

With such contributions to Muslim art through sculpture and paintings, and the Moro people through his researches, why did Imao fail to make it in the NCCA shortlist in the first place?

UP Prof. Felipe de Leon was among the panel of judges at the NCCA on the year Imao was recognized a National Artist, and he offers this simple answer: Majority of those who adjudicate in the National Artist Awards belongs to subcultures with Western orientation that do not appreciate the Moro or Muslim art.

“The lumad, Moro and folk subcultures are the most Asian. They are the least Westernized. Unfortunately, those who run the National artist awards belong to the pop and academic cultures which are the most Westernized!” De Leon said.

Focusing on the academe, he added that the university culture which is undoubtedly a colonial legacy, espoused the concept of “individualistic art” or “art for art’s sake.” This is contrary to indigenous art which is “communal,” “participatory” and “extemporaneous.”

“The indigenous craftsman is not known as an individual artist. He is the community’s artist. That’s how communal Filipino art is. But the more you belong to this culture, the less likely 
you’ll be hailed a National Artist,” he lamented.

De Leon even revealed that the judges’ Western taste goes beyond art and is sometimes directed towards the artists themselves. He says that they are Western in the sense that if the artist is not articulate or fluent in English or if he is not formally educated in an art school, or if he uses unorthodox media, they consider them pseudo-artists and their works inferior.

For Dr. Abraham Sakili, among the authors of Imao’s nomination papers for the National Artist Awards, culture plays a big role in the delay.

“You cannot isolate the judges’ cultural belongingness in their choices…Culture is the primary influence in their decisions,” he said.

Sakili added that because of cultural imprints on people, objectivity is a myth in the entire selection process. And he also believes that one reason has something to do with Imao’s affinity.

“We cannot deny it. There is a negative stereotype against Muslims in the Philippines,” he said.

Because of these attitudes some members of the NCCA have lost hope on the National Artist Award and instead turned to the “Manlilikha ng Bayan Award” which specifically recognizes the contributions of indigenous artists.

If he were to judge, De Leon said Imao is deserving of the National Artist Award, but he said there are also several other Muslim artists who match or even surpass his craft and contributions that will never be called National Artists because they embody an art concept that is foreign to most NCCA judges.

For Dr. Sakili, the variety and the level of expertise in Imao’s works make him very deserving of the award. In addition, peer reviews of his sculptures, a criterion in the National Artist Awards, are overwhelmingly positive, not to mention his several awards like the “Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) sa Sining”, and the Presidential Medal of Merit for his contribution to culture and arts.

De Leon said, Imao is fortunate because though he belonged to the Moro subculture, he was exposed to the academic and popular, elevating his status—at least from the point of view of the elite circles of Western-oriented Filipino artists—as more or less “one of them.”

But as to his roots, native worldviews and experiences, Imao is not one of them. He belongs to a league of artists who integrate art in daily life.

Coming from a remote island in Pata, Jolo, Imao has known sculpture since childhood being born into a family of balangay or boat-makers, woodcarvers and entertainers.

He recalled in one of his writings, “Once I caught a fish. I was so fascinated about—its shape, scales, pigment and its glossy snout. I brought it home but as soon as the aroma of cooking drifting from the kitchen skewered my nostrils, fat tears ran down my cheek. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and Mother had to comfort me all night long.”

In an island where no other form of leisure or entertainment existed, Imao learned to appreciate the sights, sounds, smell and the texture of nature. His first attempt at serious sculpture was inspired by the vast ocean around their community. He carved trophies for local swimming competitions.

From his hometown, fate brought Imao to UP with the help of several people. Tomas Bernardo was once in charge of a Philippine Navy exhibit in Jolo. He noticed how fascinated Imao was with the paintings on display. Because of that, he offered to help him continue his schooling in Manila.

Upon reaching the metropolis, he sought scholarship from UP but was rejected. His spirit did not waver; instead, he sought the audience of then Pres. Ramon Magsaysay who was giving out scholarships to deserving students.

Though he never got to talk to President Magsaysay, a palace official, Jose Ansaldo, noticed him in Malacanang. Ansaldo was moved by the young boy’s persistence after seeing him coming back to the palace everyday in the hope of securing a scholarship. In exchange of washing his five cars daily, the official financed Imao’s schooling in UP. From then on, the National-Artist-to-be garnered several scholarships and grants, giving him the opportunity to learn art all over the world.

It took three nominations and the intervention of President Arroyo before Imao finally joined the ranks of the likes of Bienvenido Lumbera, Napoleon Abueva, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, among others.

“Imao’s works are enough to make him National Artist. So why do we still need Malacanang to intervene?...I have seen the credentials of the other awardees and Imao can match or even surpass them. So I raise the question, ‘Why just now?’,” Dr. Sakili said.

Imao is a glaring proof of how the monopoly of a dominant worldview and ideology can defeat the development of Filipino culture and the pursuit of national identity which can be described as very diverse.

For an award that supposedly aims to recognize "preeminent achievements that have enhanced the Filipino's cultural heritage," it is puzzling how the truly Filipino art in the lumad, folk and Moro subcultures fail to make it to the top. Instead, the Western notion of fine arts continues to become the standard.

For the sultan who waits for his daughter’s return, hope is embodied in the Sarimanok woodcarving. For a nation that struggles to put together its history, culture, and identity, Imao is a piece of the puzzle representing the Philippine Islamic roots. 

His recognition, though veiled by politics, is one step closer in bridging the gap of art perception between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Moros of Islamic Mindanao.

At the same time, his story is a warning that unless Filipino art boldly treads its indigenous past and lineage, it will never find the identity it seeks.

The Coffee Painter

She was in her dream—a fairy falling; no, drowning in the sea. Her hair swirled about the water, but her face looked calm. Deeper and deeper she went, but no one witnessed her death. She was silent, trapped in her own time and space. Yet, she was described beautiful.
Around this time, her creator was a nobody—a teacher who quit teaching, an artist who earned nothing, a painter who experimented with what some called an “illegitimate” medium.
“That painting,” Sosie Plata pointed at the drowning fairy, “that made her cry. What you’re seeing, I think, is her third try.”
Sosie, the mother of coffee painter Sunshine Plata, described her daughter as a go-getter. Sunshine never stops until she finishes what she determined to do, she said. She had been like that even when she was young. And though the attitude sometimes caused rifts among the four siblings, it undoubtedly pushed Sunshine beyond her limits.
“In that painting, she saw defects in her first try… ‘Why won’t it dry up?’ she would ask. But she did not stop until she perfected the process,” Sosie added.
Finally, on Sunshine’s third try, the colors became distinct. They were no longer just brown. The entire work came to life with different shades of brown.
“I myself got so amazed,” Sosie recalled, her eyes that of a proud mother’s. “She can really come up with beauty in this whole brown material. I saw that it was talent that was coming out. This is so unique.”
For Sunshine, however, it would take another year before her craft caught anyone’s attention. The drowning fairy hung silently above the family piano from 2007 to 2008. It would be joined by a number of others as Sunshine’s works accumulated, and her painting style seemingly unappreciated.
“I thought of having an exhibit for my collection but that meant paying for the venue, the food, the flyers and the invitation. It was too much for me that time,” a bubbly Sunshine said.
Then she thought of asking help from the food giant, Nescafe. After all, she was using their coffee product for her paintings, she said. To her delight, the company liked the idea. As exchange to their sponsorship, Nescafe asked Sunshine to paint for them a farmer harvesting coffee grains. This painting became the face of a new line of coffee products Nescafe launched.
That night on January 2008, a one-woman, one-night-only painting exhibit was held at Casino Espanol. There were 33 coffee paintings, all bearing Sunshine’s signature. People poured into the hall, praising her works. One by one, the paintings got sold—a total of 27 by the end of the night.
“I was so shocked!” Sunshine said of the exhibit’s outcome. “My whole life I only wanted an exhibit, just a small one for my family and friends. It didn’t matter if people wouldn’t buy. I just wanted it.”
After her initial success, the family offered to display the remaining paintings in the galleries of SM Megamall to give Sunshine continuous exposure. Owners, however, were reluctant because of the medium—coffee. They were nervous of “experimental” art because of their reputation and the money involved.
“None of them wanted to take Sunshine’s art because they didn't think it’s a legitimate medium,” Sosie recalled. “I asked, ‘What, then, is legitimate?’ and they would say, ‘oil, paint and watercolor’.”
“That was a setback for us. We really felt downtrodden after the experience,” she added.
For Sunshine, however, giving up was never an option. She had gone that far and was determined to push through. She continued painting and scouting for sponsors. She did not give up on the medium for in her own words, “I wanted it so badly.”
“I wanted my remaining paintings sold so I emailed Ripley’s. ‘Maybe they hadn’t found coffee paintings yet,’ I thought. And after 24 hours, they bought two of my paintings,” Sunshine said.
Her works were featured in the Martha Stuart’s Show, then by Reuters. From then on, the coffee painter became somebody and her works were known the world over.
“At first when she was experimenting on the coffee painting, it’s…a wait and see thing,” Sosie said, “I know she has talent for the arts but trying it on coffee…is this possible?”
Sunshine first got the idea of coffee as a medium after seeing a 19th-century signature in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. According to its caption, the signature was at least a hundred years old.
“If this signature lasts a hundred years, then if I paint with coffee, it’s going to last as long,” she said.
True enough, studies were made showing that coffee as paint can last at least 70 years before fading begins to show. Long after this ingenious artist is gone her works will still be appreciated by generations of art enthusiasts.
“To this day I'm not a master yet because everyday’s a learning experience. Maybe I'm a lot better now than I was in 2000,” Sunshine said, putting aside her latest painting—her version of the Virgin Mary.
Nine years ago she made her first coffee painting. It was the façade of the University of Sto. Tomas. In the same university she finished Psychology, after being rejected in Fine Arts. She was just in her second year then, and though she really wanted to purse her passion for the arts, her father persuaded her to take a practical course.
“Papa said I just take med school because it’s practical…but whenever I see fine arts students copying buildings and enjoying themselves, the more I felt out of place in my course,” Sunshine said.
At one point she thought it was alright to just turn her passion into a hobby. Even if she did not make it to Fine Arts, she could still produce paintings. However, it would be much of a burden to her parents to support her in this plan.
“An oil paint costs 500 pesos. You’ll need at least three—red, blue and yellow… This is an expensive hobby, so I really sought a cheaper alternative that’s permanent and at the same time unique. Then, I discovered coffee” she said.
Sunshine’s first coffee painting hung beside the drowning fairy. They are just two of the several coffee works adorning their home in Marikina. Most of Sunshine’s crafts are about fairies and women, and distinct to her style are the curves and swirls all around them. Some of her paintings even looked like mosaics because of repeated patterns, dots and lines.
“Secretly, before, I used to want to be a fairy. I really fancy that character from the children's fairy tale—Thumbelina. She's the size of a thumb. With my small frame I can relate to her when she likes to be free and explore different places,” Sunshine said.
Among her fairy paintings was a giant work of a swan. Parts of it appeared to be damaged. Sunshine said molds grew on the painting because of a defect in the framing. There was not enough breathing space, causing moisture to seep into the work.
The painting stayed at home, however, not because of the molds but because it belonged to her mother. Sunshine made it for her—a long overdue gift.
“‘Nanay this is for you…watch and see,’ Sunshine told me. Then, when she finished it, it was such an accomplishment. Even if no one else could see it, even if I’m the only one who could appreciate it, I’m already happy,” Sosie recalled.
Her daughter is now a full-time coffee painter. From simply channeling her creative juices in her illustrations as a pre-school teacher, Sunshine now has freedom to paint the things she wants. For those that she really liked, it takes her only a day, though some commissioned ones can take as long as a month.
Everything paid off—the frustrations, the failures, the long nights of painting, the decision to pursue the medium, the tenacity to go on.
Asked about the secret of a successful artist, Sunshine could only borrow this saying:
“When love and art come together, you create a masterpiece.” 

A chance to sell

In the afternoon, Ate Rose usually slouched on Yakal’s front steps, her eyelids struggling to stay open. Her hands fluttered every now and then, frustrating flies that followed her tray of food. She was laziest in the afternoon.
But this afternoon was different. Ate Rose was wide awake. She paced Yakal’s front yard with her karyoka’s, lumpias, banana cues and kamote cues nestled on a tray on her head. She looked happier than usual.
“Maaga kayong natapos ngayon, ate, ah (You finished early today, ate),” a dormer greeted her.
“Hindi, pupunta akong oval; maraming customer doon (Not yet, I’m going to the oval; there are more customers there),” Ate Rose beamed back; folds and lines bordered her lips and forehead.
Thousands of students and alumni flocked to the University of the Philippines’ Academic Oval that afternoon. There were jokes, laughter, endless chatting and exclamations in the air. It was a festival. Classmates and friends trotted towards UP Pep Squad. Teachers and alumni dived towards Ryan Cayabyab, jostling one another for a coveted camera shot. Umbrellas mushroomed around Oblation, the owners braving the 4 p.m. heat to watch hundreds on parade. Large speakers boomed a song, looping it endlessly.
“Isang daang taon na tayo,
Dangal ka ng Pilipino
Sentro na ng pagbabago.
UP ang galing mo.”
The crowd swallowed Ate Rose. She paused to look at UP Baguio’s delegates, but she quickly tore the gaze when a student asked for karyoka. The afternoon was a busy one for her. She was oblivious of UP Manila’s street dancers in black spandex, waving and swaying lazily. She did not hear UP Los Baños’ centennial hymn, her ears keen only to the words, “Ate, magkano ‘to? (Ate, how much is this?)” She did not see the sky divers in aerial acrobatics because she busied her eyes with the coins on her palm.
The afternoon sun turned to orange, then murky scarlet in a smoggy skyline. Quezon hall burst into glitters, the words, “UP @ 100” tearing through the growing darkness. The crowd did not diminish, but Ate Rose’s tray now contained only a few banana cue rejects. She was happy with her day’s sale. She sat under an acacia tree near Quezon hall, coins reflecting a waterfall of Christmas lights cascading from the tree.
Ate Rose forced her way out of the raging crowd, satisfied. Behind her, torches burned one by one, marking year after year of UP history. The laughter, shouts and chatters continued. The crowed jittered as the night grew deeper, then, a boom. Bright scarlet lights outshined the night stars. Green flames and balls of blue danced in the sky. Up and down, flames came to life and died. Balls of fire hovered in the air like snowflakes. The shouts were silenced. Only the alternating booms and flashes were heard and seen. It was breathtaking.
The day was over. Thousands were satisfied with the fireworks. Ate Rose was also satisfied, but not because of the lights, the parade, the skydive or the fireworks. She was satisfied with her day’s earnings. It was just another event, a chance to sell.

Leaving but not completely

Her mother told her to take Education. She disobeyed her and enrolled in a course she did not know. In time, she learned to love that course and found herself practicing it as a profession. Bernadette Lucas saw her life in the environment. Soon, however, she may struggle with the memories of the environmentalist that she was.
Badeth, as her friends call her, finished high school at the Belgian-owned St. Michael Academy in the cold mountains of Kalinga. Though a graduate of a Catholic school, this daring character, whose almond eyes lit up when she talked, refused to box herself. Badeth enrolled in the Benguet State University (BSU) in 1996 where her uncle was the president. There, she started to sow her dreams.
“It was BSU’s first time to offer Environmental Science (Envi Sci),” Badeth said in Filipino, her voice full of enthusiasm. “I had no idea, but I took the course because it’s new, and I didn’t want Education.”
Envi Sci brought her to places she never imagined. She trekked steep mountainsides to reach denuded forests for tree planting. She held bamboo torches to light their paths in cave and cliff explorations. She also lived in indigenous communities without electricity and learned to set primitive traps. Badeth understood how to harvest and treat poisonous root crops for dinner and drank morning dew to quench her thirst. She lived virtually away from technology to find her place in nature.
These experiences expanded Badeth's horizons beyond BSU’s four-walled classrooms to accommodate rural living, local culture and environmental appreciation.
“Envi Sci is very broad. It has a bit of engineering and architecture. It is both intellectual and physical. But because I was younger then, I saw the activities as adventures and side trips,” Badeth recalled. They were more than adventures, however, for Badeth’s experiences showed her what she wanted to do in life.
Pioneering environmental development
Ovate-leafed plants in plastic pots surrounded her table at the farthest corner of the room. She had paperwork neatly piled with different shades of green marking headings and subtitles.
Badeth was wearing a blue-green blouse that day, and her hair was neatly tied in a ponytail. She had just come from her weekend rounds at the Lorma Medical Center.
“It’s now my fifth year as environmental management specialist and agricultural technologist,” Badeth said, her eyes matching her lips’ smile. Though no longer as active on fieldworks as before, Badeth still serves the Environment and Natural Resource Office (ENRO) of San Fernando City, La Union. She takes care of program planning and monitoring, pollution, coastal resources, solid waste management, reforestation and land use planning.
“I was with the pioneer group of ENRO. Our start wasn’t easy because everything was in experimental stage—trial and error. The office was also undermanned. We studied prototype environmental projects, conducted researches on our own or with DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources),” the 28-year-old Badeth recalled.
Five years after, however, their office has achieved a lot. They have planted one million mahogany, gemilina and lanzones trees in urban and rural areas of the city. They have even bagged the first prize in the 2004 national search for the model barangay for their accomplishment in solid waste management in Lingsat, one of the biggest barangays in San Fernando. Aside from these, ENRO’s successful clean air program is nearing 100 percent tricycle engine conversion to mitigate ozone depletion and air pollution.
“From the time we started, San Fernando has improved a lot. For me, it is living up to its motto as a clean, green and beautiful city—the Botanical Garden City of the North,” she said. “These things, I’ll miss them a lot when I leave.”
Learning from the environment
There was silence, and for the first time, Badeth’s face distorted to tell of her struggles. She reveals that she is currently a third year Nursing student in Lorma Colleges, a provincial nursing school in La Union.
“I’m an environmentalist and I love my job, but my relatives and friends abroad are pressuring me,” she said, failing to hide the melancholy in her voice. “I have tried many times, but I just can’t finish Nursing because of my passion for the environment. But I’ve reached this far so they’re compelling me to finish the course.” When Badeth does finish her second course and gains enough experience, she will join other Filipinos working abroad to help with her family’s finances.
“My decision wasn't spontaneous. It's a product of several events; after all, everything is interconnected,” she said.
Badeth used their programs to explain what she meant. “We plant trees to prevent soil erosion, but we can't stop them from reducing air pollution and greenhouse gasses.” She said the connection exists because one action leads to another—domino effect. “We make several decision but the outcome is unknown. It can be good; it can be bad. ” she said.
How bad? Badeth used Cordilleran mines as example. She said their deep excavations caused widespread deforestation leading to landslides. These landslides destroyed natural habitats of plants and animals, ultimately causing their extinction.
“Though I’m not thinking that my decision to take Nursing will end up bad, there’s still the possibility,” Badeth confessed. “Bad, in the sense that I might find it difficult to start from nothing again. After five years of full-time environmental work, I'm wondering what’s waiting for me next.”
Still optimistic, still an environmentalist
Her five years in San Fernando’s ENRO were the most fulfilling years of her life, Badeth said. “When you see your projects materialize, wow!” She paused, her face went into transition—blank to happy to proud. “They give you strength; your achievements give you strength.”
She has barely two years to do what she enjoys best, but Badeth is optimistic. She said, “Even if my focus shifts from nature to people, I’ll still be an environmentalist because the interconnection remains.” She says the only difficult thing is making others understand that an environmentalist is not limited to nature.
Her “heart belongs to the environment” but that does not mean working for people detaches her from it. “I focus on socio-ecology. That’s Envi Sci with a social twist,” Badeth explained. She will soon shift from nature to people but Badeth says she will always be drawn back to her “first love.”
Badeth has been a part of ENRO’s environmental advocacies right from the start. She, together with her team, fought tough cases, presented pros and cons of controversial projects and highlighted negative effects of uncontrolled industrial booms. Thus, leaving an office and a group she has considered family is one difficult decision.
“I just tell myself, the connection is circular,” Badeth puts her thumb and index finger together and starts to draw a circle on the table. “If I leave at this point and continue life, continue moving, inevitably I’ll find myself where I started,” she moved her hand and traced a circle. “If that’s what happens, sooner or later, I’ll be back here, working for ENRO.”