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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Power of the Human Spirit

(This is the speech delivered by Dr. Josette Talamera Biyo at the Best Practice Forum of San Miguel Corporation, held in Shangri-la Hotel, Edsa, on October 24, 2003.The theme of this year’s Forum was “Will To Win.”))

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. For a high school teacher to speak before a large group of business executives for the first time is overwhelming. But it is indeed a great honor and a privilege to speak to the group of people who is responsible for making San Miguel Corporation the top food and beverage company in the country, and on its way to becoming one of the top companies in the Asia-Pacific. I am here to talk about "The Power of the Human Spirit."

Indeed, the human spirit has no limits. If you dream big, and you have the determination and the will to pursue your dream, it will become a reality. I dreamt of making stars; I was given a planet.

A few months ago, I was featured in the local, national and international newspapers. I caused a stir to be the first Asian teacher to win the "Intel Excellence in Teaching Award" in an international competition held in the U.S. Since its inception in 1997, no Asian teacher has received this award. But I think what created waves was, I am a Filipino, and I defeated 4,000 other teachers from around the world, including the American finalists in their hometown. Because of this, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Boston named a Minor Planet in my honor. There is now Planet Biyo rotating around the sun which is located between Mars and Jupiter.

What made me win in this international competition? What made me stand out from among the best teachers in the world? My road to attaining this international recognition is a very long 23 years of improving and harnessing my craft as a teacher. I consistently study and learn new skills to improve my method of teaching. I want my methods to be interesting, relevant, and fun for students. For just like any product, the measure of teaching success is clientele satisfaction.

I finished a B.S. Biology degree from U.P. in the Visayas hoping to be a medical doctor. For lack of financial resources however, I took the first job opportunity available -- teaching. Never did I regret this twist of fate. The day I entered the classroom, I knew I would be an excellent teacher.

My first eight years of teaching were spent in a rural school. For lack of teachers in proportion to the number of students, I taught not only biology, but also other subjects outside my field such as English, Music, and Physical Education. The materials, equipment, and facilities for the type of effective teaching I had in mind were absent. These challenges however did not dampen my enthusiasm for the job. In fact, I became more creative and innovative.

I believe that teaching and learning should not be confined within the classroom. Even during those first few years of teaching, I see to it that the science concepts I discuss inside the class would have social dimensions. Thus, I took an active role in school as moderator of the Rural Health and Science Education Committee. I designed outreach programs for students and teachers. Through these programs, students were trained to teach primary health care to the people in the barangays. They also taught barrio folks how to make cough syrup from plant extracts and soap from coconut oil. Students also gave lectures on environmental protection and conservation.

Those eight years of teaching in a rural school has prepared me for greater challenges ahead. Working with the children of the poor has instilled in me the importance of service, compassion, and respect for human dignity. I have learned to love teaching, and I see it as an instrument for transforming the person and the community.

After eight years of teaching however, I felt I had nothing more to give to my students. I resigned from my teaching job and enrolled as a full time M.S. in Biology student at De La Salle University in Manila. I was lucky to get a scholarship that included free tuition and a monthly stipend. To augment my stipend, I taught as part-time lecturer in the Biology department and worked as research assistant by one of the senior researchers in the university. This I did on top of my full-time MS load. I was so engrossed with my studies however, that I finished my M.S. degree in one year and five months only, after which, DLSU took me in as a full time assistant professor.

Teaching college students at De La Salle University was an entirely new experience. With modern and sophisticated equipment at my disposal, my world opened to the wonders of scientific research. However, I still value the importance of nature as a big laboratory such that in my ecology classes, I would bring my students to the seas of Batangas, the rivers of Rizal, and the lahar-affected areas of Pampanga to conduct field studies. Pursuing my Ph.D. while teaching also enabled me to conduct researches that were presented in the country and abroad.

Research is very exciting. It means sleepless nights, disappointments, physical and mental exhaustion. But the joy of discovering something new in nature makes it all worthwhile. While Manila has provided me with opportunities for professional growth, I still feel that my heart is in Iloilo. Thus, with an additional degree and one additional son, I brought back my family to Iloilo in summer of 1995.

In June 1995, Philippine Science High School Western Visayas hired me as a Special Science Teacher. Only on its third year of existence, the school welcomed my suggestions and expertise. I helped develop its Science Research curriculum and introduced some innovations for teaching the course. Barely a year of teaching at Pisay, I realized that my role was not only to teach students but to train teachers as well. This I do by organizing workshops for teachers in the region.

One day, I received a letter from the students. The letter said, "Dear Ma'am Josette, we know you are being groomed for directorship of the school, and you would want to be the director someday, given the chance. The thing is, we don't want you to be the director. We just want you to be a teacher. Pisay needs teachers like you. The Philippines needs teachers like you." Their letter touched me deeply.

When I won the Metrobank Foundation Award in 1997 as one of the outstanding teachers in the country, the Pisay community gave me a poster. The poster was a white cartolina filled with signatures of students, teachers, and the non-teaching staff. In the center was a painting of a rose, and the message which says, "You are the song that plays so softly in our hearts; that gives us inspiration to aim for greater heights and bigger dreams. Congratulations. We are so proud of you."

In 1998, I won another national award as one of "The Outstanding Young Filipino" formerly known as the TOYM in the field of Secondary Education. Last year, I won the "2002 Intel Excellence in Teaching Award" in an international competition held at Louisville, Kentucky from May 10-17.

In Kentucky, I presented to the panel of judges and to about 150 teachers from all over the world my method of teaching Science Research to my students in Iloilo. I told them that the Philippines is a third world country blessed with abundant natural resources. However, we face problems such as the rapidly declining environment and the lack of equipment and facilities for scientific endeavors. Faced with this situation, I introduced innovations and strategies for teaching the course.

These innovations included: a) building a scientific library, b) conducting field studies, c) establishing linkages with research institutions in the country, d) holding science forums in school, and e) teaching students laboratory and field techniques which would help them in the conduct of their research work.

The judges and teachers from different parts of the world were amazed that even in the absence of sophisticated equipment, my students were able to produce quality research outputs beyond their expectations.

At this point in time, let me show to you what we do in our Science Research class? (a five minute power point presentation of my class activities).

I went to Kentucky with three high school students from the Manila Science High School, and one student from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. These students competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair, which was held back to back with the teaching competition. The students from Manila Science competed for a team project in Physics, while the student from Iligan competed for the individual category in the field of Microbiology. These students were competing with 1,200 other students from around the world.

May 17, 2002 was a glorious moment for the Philippine delegation in the U.S. When it was announced that the student from Iligan won second place grand award for Microbiology, our delegation was ecstatic. When it was announced that the students from Manila Science won first place grand award for Physics, our group was delirious. When the grand award for "Excellence Teaching" was announced, and for the first time in the history of the event an Asian teacher won, and a Filipino, there was a standing ovation from the crowd as the Philippine flag was waved in the air.

The Philippine delegation's road to success in Kentucky was far from smooth. We almost never made it to the U.S. Our visa interview was scheduled on May 29 when we were supposed to be competing in the U.S. by May 10. Almost desperate, we went to the Department of Foreign Affairs for help, only to be told that the Office cannot give us an endorsement letter to the U.S. Embassy because they cannot guarantee that we are coming back.

It was a painful experience for me and the students. Anyway, we were able to get our visa on the last minute the most unconventional way, and brought glory to this country.

Let me show to you the scenario during the first day of the teaching competition.

When I entered the judging area, one table in front was occupied by the board of judges. At the right side of the room, the table was occupied by the finalist from China and her supporters. The table at the left side was occupied by the finalists from U.S. and their supporters. The center table for the Filipino finalist was empty. I sat there alone.

I went to the U.S. bringing a CD for my presentation. I also brought some transparencies and a white board pen in case my CD won't work. Coming from a third world country, I was prepared for the worst. It turned out, I was the only finalist without a notebook computer. Luckily, one American finalist lent me his computer; but before doing so, he gave me a brief lecture on the parts of the computer and its use.

I was the fourth presenter. When it was my turn to present, a panel member asked if I needed an interpreter. I said, "No thanks." A personnel from Intel volunteered to run my presentation. I said, "I can do it." After my presentation, they said, "Wow, you're so cool. You know more than us!"

What am I telling you? That despite our country's limited resources, Filipinos can compete globally given the proper training, support and exposure. Our winning at the international scene may not reflect the general condition of science education in the country. But with our concerted efforts, my dear fellowmen, we can move this country forward and show the world that we are a globally competitive race.

Last May, I was in Cleveland, Ohio to present my methods of teaching to 150 teachers from 17 countries. I also served as the team facilitator for the Spanish-speaking teachers from Brazil, Costa Rica and Argentina. Last August, I gave a demonstration lesson to educators from the third world countries of Laos and Cambodia.

Filipinos are indeed talented and will excel at the international level in their individual capacity. But as a country, we lag behind. This is because we lack the spirit of community, which is very strong among progressive nations.

When I went home to Iloilo after the competition in the U.S., my school gave me a very warm welcome. During the convocation, students and teachers expressed how proud they are of me. I told them, "I am very proud of you too. It is you who has brought me to where I am now. Our experiences together has brought world attention to the fact that hey, there's a world-class school out there in Iloilo; a school with world-class teachers and students. I told the teachers and I quote Mr. De Quiros that "being world-class doesn't mean going internationally and showing our best out there. Being world-class is passion and commitment to our profession. Being world-class is giving our best to teaching. Being world-class starts right inside the classroom."

In winning this international award, I do not claim to be the best teacher of the land. There are thousands of best teachers out there, working silently, giving their hearts to teaching, without thinking of benefits or rewards. I salute these teachers. In winning this award, I believe I was just commissioned by somebody up there to deliver the message that indeed, Filipino teachers can be world-class teachers. In winning this award, I have shown to the world that Filipinos can be world-class if they choose to be. And more importantly, I have shown to my fellow Filipinos that they can be world-class if they choose to be. That if we do our best, we can conquer the world.

During the panel interview in the U.S., one judge asked me, "You have a Ph.D. in Biology, why do you teach in high school?" I answered, "And who will teach these kids?" Another judge asked if how much am I paid for all my pains. They were shocked when I told them that I am getting a net pay of not more than $300. a month.

When your job becomes your mission, your primary concern is giving your best in everything you do. Knowing that you have contributed significantly towards the creation of a product, which can make a difference in your company and the larger community is reward in itself.

Believe in what you are doing. Believe that you can make a difference. Believing, however, doesn't mean you have to stop from where you are now. Believing is improving your skills and maximizing your potential. With determination and the will to win, your company can conquer the world.

As members of the San Miguel Family, you are lucky to take part in the production of high quality and accessible consumer products that can be found in every Filipino home. Your skills do not only contribute to the development of the country's economy, but you also bring out the spirit of fun, joy, and laughter into the lives of the people; thus helping make everyday life a celebration. Your capable hands can paint a true image of the Filipino as a people - intelligent, hard-working, passionate, fun-loving, creative, innovative, "magaling!."

You could paint one bright picture of this country and its people - by your achievements in the workplace, your teamwork, integrity, passion for success, and your discharge of civic responsibilities. You can show the world that you are the new technocrats, capable and willing to meet the challenges of the new order of market globalization. You can show the world that you are the new citizenry, capable of making this country a worthy member of the league of peace-loving nations.

Be proud!
Thank you very much.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Leadership influences basic values

By Ramon J. Farolan
Inquirer News Service

Published on page A15 of the April 17, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS I mentioned a few weeks back, the Philippines will soon be hosting the Southeast Asian Games. Much attention is being focused on preparing our athletes, on sprucing up the different venues for the Games, and on setting up security measures necessary to protect all the participants.

Somehow as we move closer to the opening day of the Games, I am reminded of an incident dating back to more than 10 years ago, when the members of the Philippine delegation to the 12th Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan paid a farewell call on President Fidel V. Ramos just before their departure. Part of the program for the day was the singing of the national anthem. Apparently, it was done in a lukewarm, halfhearted manner that it resulted in a public scolding by the President. "What's the matter with you? You will represent the country in another land and you cannot even sing the national anthem properly," Mr. Ramos said. An attempt to recover lost ground was cut short with a curt "Don't bother, you
should have prepared for this earlier."

Here were the top athletes of the nation bidding goodbye to the chief executive, and they couldn't belt out the national anthem with the enthusiasm and spirit that the occasion called for. It was possible many of them were not familiar with the words and were just going through the motion of mouthing the lyrics. Some were slouching instead of standing erect with head held high and chest full of pride in being sent to represent their country at such an important and prestigious sports event. Some were not familiar with or accustomed to the practice of placing their right hand over the left breast while singing the anthem. All these may have raised the hackles of the President and his sharp tongue put them on notice that he expected much more from the young people assembled before him.

During my service in the Armed Forces, I have witnessed flashes of this presidential temper on a number of occasions. Just when you think things are moving comfortably, he would remind you of your shortcomings to keep you on your toes.

I was not surprised that something like this happened. It is symptomatic of how we carry on in many of the activities that we undertake in our daily lives-from the way we behave in traffic situations to our inability to set aside partisan interests for the national good. We take too many things for granted, and we place individual concerns over and above community interests.

The system does not seem to sufficiently inculcate basic values like respect for the flag and the national anthem, discipline, civic duties and responsibilities. It is in the homes and in the classrooms where the kids start to learn about the history of our country, where they develop respect for the flag and anthem, where discipline can be instilled while preparing them for useful roles in the community. A lot depends on the educational system, but just as important is the role played by the national leadership.

In Singapore, energetic campaigns for simple civic duties like cleanliness, environmental awareness, polite behavior and courtesy for others, are spearheaded at the highest levels of the national leadership and have inevitably turned out to be huge successes.

One of the things that impressed me most during my stint in Indonesia many years ago was the sense of nationalism of its people. For one thing, there were no endless queues of individuals at the Dutch or US embassies applying for immigrant visas. Their athletes being sent abroad always returned home, unlike some of ours who disappeared after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. If my recollection is correct, the entire cycling team opted to stay behind.

Perhaps, this can be explained partly by the fact that Indonesia has a national ideology known as "Pancasila" or "Five Principles." These principles, which form the nation's political philosophy, are (1) belief in God, (2) a just and civilized humanity, (3) nationalism or love of country, (4) sovereignty of the people, and (5) social justice. Since its independence in 1945, close to 60 years ago, this national ideology has been drummed into the minds of every Indonesian child-from the formative school years all the way to adulthood with no letup in emphasis and dissemination. Many of the official programs attended by the Indonesian president start with the recitation of the "Pancasila" by a group of youngsters, and this would set the tone for the day's activities.

During the Marcos years, there was a 10-point national ideology that was formulated by the government, but like many projects which we start, there was no follow through and continuity that could have ensured lasting success. I know the cynics and the so-called intellectual sophisticates among us would smile at the idea of having a similar set of guiding principles for the nation. But the fact remains that some of our neighbors, who in the past appeared to be less accomplished than us, are now the ones smiling as they leave us in their dust.

Perhaps if the national leadership devotes more time and effort to the inculcation of basic values among our youth, then the spectacle of our President having to scold our national athletes for not singing the national anthem with more pride and spirit will not be repeated. Maybe, we might yet harvest our first overall championship in the coming Southeast Asian Games and take home an Olympic gold medal from Beijing in 2008.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


For how many decades now, I watched on the sideline how Filipinos became so politicized that they always have something to say in matters of politics. Be it of national or local issues, there is always something to argue about.

As we argue on who won and who cheated in the last election, our neighbors simply moved on with their productive lives. As we debate on to-vat or not-to-vat, our neighbors have recovered from the devastating tsunami that hit their countries. When will we ever be able to act as one?

Do we act together only when we have a Flor Contemplacion or Angelo dela Cruz waiting to happen? De we come together only when Manny Pacquiao goes to the ring? Do we set aside our political affiliations only when tragedy befell our country? When can we truly get our act together?

We are a helping people. We don’t abandon our relatives and friends who are in need. We easily contribute when calamities strike. Churches and religions flourish because we easily donate. Various groups, foundations, civic organizations, ngo’s, people’s organization, association, clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc. regularly conduct charity work. But still, their contributions are hardly felt by most Filipinos.

Let us have synergy. Synergism states that combined effect is greater than the sum of individual effect. How will it be done? Through our flag. In every activity, be it a medical/dental mission, building homes, distribution of relief goods, donating a deep well/classroom for a barangay, or whatever activity, let the presence of our flag be felt. The recipients of donations then wouldn’t feel below the donors as the will see the donors as co equals, as fellow Filipinos. Not someone who is more educated or economically well off than they are but a fellow countryman helping one another. With the presence of our flag in their activities, the Filipino bayanihan spirit will be magnified. That the help is being done by Filipinos to fellow Filipinos not by a more fortunate members of our society helping the less fortunate. And as these organizations keep doing what they are doing, they should try to educate the recipients their role as Filipinos. The giving organizations should not just give material help but also moral support by educating them of their duties as responsible Filipinos.

Responsible Filipinos should keep the spirit of bayanihan burning. Responsible Filipinos be proud of their heritage by displaying the flag or the very least, give our flag the respect it deserves. Responsible Filipinos should continue helping one another. These may sound trivial but this is the opportunity to instill on our people positive attitudes such as discipline, culture of saving, hard work, etc. It will also be an opportunity to inspire our fellow Filipinos to do away with negative attitudes such as bahala na, pwede na, Filipino time, baka makalusot, etc. Helping our fellow countrymen is the best time to inspire them. How can this be done?

Through the distribution of a flag allegiance primer during the mission of various organizations. This primer will be formulated, published, printed and distributed by the Society. As various organization conduct civic activities, they will have a Philippine flag flying during their activity and the FSP phamplet will also be distributed among its beneficiaries. In this way, through the phamplet, the beneficiaries can make themselves be involved in the better Philippines that we all aspire for. That they may be inspired to be more productive, more patriotic and less of the whining and complaining.

If every organization, groups and associations doing civic work will have the flag at the forefront of their activities and the flag allegiance primer distributed to their beneficiaries, then we create synergy. Synergism among Filipinos coming together through behind our flag and better Philippines. We could create a tsunami from the small ripples created by these civic activities.

“Tell me I'll forget. Show me, I may remember. But involve me and I'll understand.” –
Chinese proverb