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Happy news from Sarangani (and it’s not about Pacman)

One does not need to have a special reason to make a trip to Sarangani with its mystique and stereotypical association with the freshest sashimi and hometown boy turned superstar Manny Pacquiao, but an invitation to speak at the 10th annual national convention of the Philippine Schools District Supervisors Association on promoting reading was too good to resist even in frenzied December. One did not have to think twice either because the convention host was Region XII of the Department of Education headed by Dr. Isabelita Borres. She and I, along with immediate National Library Director Nanie Cruz who was also an invited speaker, work together as members of the DepEd Technical Working Group of the Library Hub and Borres’ participation has been impressive.

Borres as a DepEd official is remarkable, if not refreshing. For one, she tells it like it is, minces no words, and is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense administrator. Her colleagues in the region complain that they cannot keep up with her pace. (For instance, she considers it a waste of time to stop for meals, preferring to eat in the car while traveling.)

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Recently, regional officials were invited to a seminar at the Asian Institute of Management campus on Makati. Borres asked her male colleagues to wait for her with her room key as she was coming in only close to midnight from one of her many Manila meetings. They promised they would, but fell asleep in their rooms, only to discover when they woke up that she had found her way to her room, with no help from them.

To instill pride in the region, she requires every employee, especially her administrators, to wear the region’s color, purple. One of the directors relates with much embarrassment that at a meeting in Cagayan de Oro, when they came with no purple shirts in their wardrobes, with what to Borres was an unacceptable excuse, they went scurrying around town looking for purple barongs.

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One also needed to see the two buildings Borres constructed from savings by her office. And what is a DepEd convention without dancing to lighten the mood? Obviously a morale booster and as a gesture of hospitality and game(wo)manship for the 600+ district supervisors from all over the country, the opening ceremony at the provincial capitol gym in Alabel had Borres and energetic and enthused Allan Farnazo, the region’s school division superintendent in the lead. Not that dancing was all they did, for Borres and Farnazo who recalls with gratitude the Eggie Apostol Foundation workshops his teachers have undergone, had their own plenary sessions they led.

Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, preoccupied with K to 12 regional consultations, sent Assistant Secretary for Planning and Development Jesus Lorenzo Mateo who had to summarize his keynote for youthful Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez, who asked him at the governor-sponsored dinner the first night, “So what is the good news from DepEd?”

A personal highlight of the visit was the chance to visit the Library Hub at the Sarangani Central Elementary School—long constructed and well maintained by Justin, recently appointed librarian and the teachers, that it has been the venue of faculty meetings. The not-so-happy news is that the Hub has not received its allotment of books from Manila. No amount of apologies nor our tales of bureaucracy could make them understand the delay. Frankly, we sounded unconvinced ourselves. Meanwhile, the library has had to make-do with donated books—and one knows the typical quality of those. An unfortunate, hopefully temporary situation repeated in many other regions.

The next stop as coordinated by Ismael Ambalgan of the Sultan Kudarat division was the Kalawag Central School, whose elementary school has been named to the Hall of Fame for its consistent showing. Its young principal Eric Balancio deserves much credit. Division superintendent Kahar Macasayon, whose office proudly shows off Muslim colors in a tapestry narrating some of the 99 ways to praise Allah, is obviously pleased with this sprawling campus. A Library Hub is on the rise (and may its books come promptly with help from the heavens!), a two-story building by the gate that former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. assisted in turning into reality, and a centrally located complex for special education students who came to welcome us. A streamer still hangs welcoming Ballsy and Eldon Cruz to launch what Macasayon considers the latest coup on campus: two brightly painted nursery school classrooms with a restroom to boot, made possible through Agapp (Aklat, Gabay, Aruga Tungo sa Pag-Angat at Pag-asa) Foundation headed by Pinky Aquino-Abellada. I am so glad that it is a favored beneficiary these days of corporations. With Agapp’s mantra, “Ang unang aklat na binasa, unang hakbang sa pag-asa” (The first book read is the first step of hope), Agapp in partnership with the DepEd helps prepare students for for Grade 1 and, as of the last count, it already has 250 of them.

Encounters like this make one look forward to 2012 with some hope, some optimism.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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