Dignity in work
It’s that time of the year again when we have a Linggo ng Parangal at UP Diliman, during which we give all kinds of awards to outstanding students, faculty, staff, and supporters of the university.
I beg off from appointments during the week because it is marked by six awarding ceremonies. The longest one is midweek, when we honor faculty and staff retirees, as well as those who had served many years. The Gawad Paglingkod is the pinnacle, given to those who have served 40 years, but this awarding ceremony, we had two staff who had served 46 years!
When the awardees come up to the stage, some having to be assisted because of age, I ask some of them, especially those who have served many years, what work they did, and when they started.
I’m always startled by how long they have worked with us doing the same kind of work over the years. The very first awardee was Joaquin Abaygar, who was retiring from our Campus Maintenance Office after more than 40 years of service, as a gardener. The CMO retirees tend to have similar profiles in terms of long years of service because they started working in UP very young, some aged 17 or 18, fresh out of high school.
Those in longest service tended to be staff rather than faculty, who would have been at least 20 years of age when they graduated from college and if they were hired to teach shortly after. The turnover with faculty is also high, given temptations to go and teach in private universities or to migrate.
The temptation to leave was certainly there for our staff. The push for “exporting” Filipinos started in the 1970s and we did have staff who sought greener pastures overseas, but the people we were honoring this week in UP chose to stay and serve, many much loved by our “iskolar ng bayan” (people’s scholars, the term used for UP students).
Among the awardees for 40 years of service was the College of Human Kinetics’ Josie Querimit who, only a few days earlier in another event to honor our student athletes, had been mentioned by Ronnie Paraan, one of our best varsity basketball players in the 1980s. Ron said that in his time, there was little support for varsity players, but always, “Miss Josie Borlongan” was there, Miss Josie now Josie Querimit.
We had staff being honored for years of service as gardeners, cooks, waiters, houseparents (in the dorms). One 40-year awardee was listed as Quirino Tizado Jr. and it took me a few seconds to remember he was Mang Boy, who does housekeeping at the residence assigned to me, Balay Tsanselor. The morning of the Gawad he had reported for work and I didn’t realize he was going to be one of the awardees.
One of the retirees was Nicolas Montenegro, who worked as a glass blower at the Institute of Chemistry. Glassblowing, I tell you, is mind-blowing. You load molten glass into a blowpipe which is then molded into glassware, in this case, for use in the laboratory. Words can never capture the process—you have to look it up on YouTube!
Next to me during the awarding was Vice Chancellor Vangie Amor, who is also from that institute and she told me no one is going to be able to take up that glass blowing work.
There was Ruben Villaluna of the UP Police, honored for 40 years and 11 months of service. I asked him if he had been with the UP Police from the beginning and he said yes, his first rank being “patrolman.”
And Henry Monsale, who died before he could get his award and served several generations of students as a photographer at the Office of the University Registrar, yes, for student, faculty and staff IDs.
I’ve marveled at how people can stay on for decades doing the same kind of work. At last year’s awards ceremonies, I asked one of the retirees, from the Cash Office, if he had worked all those years counting cash. He laughed and answered yes, not his own money but others’.
Last May 5 was the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx who is usually associated with revolutions but who wrote on many more issues, including the alienation workers have from their jobs because the production process is so far removed from ownership and consumption, losing all meaning and depriving workers of a sense of identity and accomplishment.
Which is why, especially in large institutions like UP, management needs to be more sensitive to helping staff realize there’s great dignity in their work. I’ve seen, from my student days into becoming a teacher and then administrator, how UP’s workforce has developed in terms of their pride in their work. Slowly we are banishing the days of the stereotyped idle, “masungit” (rude), “mataray” (cranky) government worker. I marvel at times with how some of the workers will take abuse from students and parents, working overtime and in long no-noon-break shifts.
There are “stragglers” no doubt but government workers are working hard to change. The reality is that I get more problems with our private concessionaires, whose underpaid and overworked workers now fit better into the previous stereotypes of government staff. Outside of the university, I find that the quality of our private sector workers has deteriorated as well and I know that often enough, it’s because the workers get little recognition for their work.
From Catholic Church encyclicals to management gurus’ handbooks, we find references all the time to the need to uphold the dignity of labor with better wages, better living conditions. But at this last awarding ceremony, I had an unexpected reminder of still another way to honor the dignity of labor.
During the awarding ceremonies, we had arranged for entertainment numbers from Noel Cabangon and Alyssa Quijano. As Alyssa began her last number with “Tayo’y Magsayawan,” one of our retiring faculty, Maureen Pagaduan, began to dance, captured on a wide screen on the stage. Others followed, slowly, tentatively, staff and faculty, deans and one amused chancellor. I knew I had to give a signal to say, “it’s OK. Sayaw na.” Appropriately, a second song followed: “Awitin Mo, Isasayaw Ko,” and a third one: “Sumayaw, Sumunod.”
Which was all very timely because my closing speech was an appeal to our retiring and retired faculty and staff to keep healthy. Among other measures, I pushed for dancing, which is good exercise physically and mentally.
So, that one afternoon, for about five minutes, we had a taste of what else dancing could do. It wasn’t just the exercise but an infectiousness that makes dancing a wonderfully democratic exercise that blurs the lines between bosses and staff. Think about the possibilities: right time, right place, dance can dignify. And, perhaps, there are many more activities out there that can serve a similar function for our workforce.
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