Dado Banatao looks back

Aside from its enviable expanse of grassy playground space with surrounding trees, the most striking feature of the Malabbac Elementary School in Iguig, Cagayan, is a curious structure of a “residence” on an elevated portion of the campus. It is not anyone’s weekend home for there are no bedrooms. It is the school’s air-conditioned computer lab donated by a grateful alumnus of the school, Diosdado Banatao, lauded as the only Filipino major player in Silicon Valley. Dubbed as another Bill Gates, Banatao—like Gates—made use of his engineering and computer background, introduced revolutionary technologies, and went on to build highly successful companies.

Born to a rice farmer family in the sleepy barrio of Malabbac, Banatao has come a long way from his boyhood, when he walked barefoot to the very same school where he has built this computer lab on a hill.


Banatao does not stop reminding students and teachers that poverty need not be a hindrance to success and that it is only education that can truly transform lives. On this January weekend the Salvador & Rosita Banatao Foundation, named to honor his parents, was sponsoring two simultaneous teacher training workshops in Iguig: one for high school science teachers and another for Grade 4 elementary teachers in partnership with the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation (SAS) to nurture the love of reading in students.

The latter was what brought us to Iguig for SAS’ 60th teacher training workshop.  One can look at that 60th feat of introducing the Read-a-thon Reading Program—with a mandatory two-day teacher training workshop, a library of 60 books by Filipino authors, Reading Passports and all other required materials for every participating Grade 4 class, a teacher’s manual to lessen note-taking, etc.—in two ways. Something to crow about, as it has traveled nationwide to 882 schools and introduced the reading habit to 175,687 students. On the other hand, one turns impatient that over the SAS’ 11 years of existence and in the context of the Department of Education’s latest count of 37,807 public elementary schools, the reach of such an endeavor is admittedly still limited.


It is interactions with teachers like this that make one cease lamenting the seeming futility of even the most earnest of efforts. The 32 teachers from the 13 schools of Iguig were so enthused about discovering other ways to teach reading—look, teacher, it can be fun and  painless, too.  An important initial discussion was eliciting their views on reading—a right or a privilege? Does one read only good books? Is a good reader a good writer? Juliet Guerrero of Dumpao ES and Lory Cadiguian of Gammad ES reported using books from the DepEd’s library hubs. Tuguegarao has three such hubs but the distance from their schools limits their patronage.

The teachers were fired up playing vocabulary games, honing the art of questioning even through a Pinoy Henyo game, dressing the book characters using inexpensive materials given them to portray the characters’ personalities,  practicing ways to make each of the 31 reading days of the program exciting and creative. The teachers said that compared to previous workshops, this was refreshingly lively and this time, they did not grow roots in their seats.

It helped that the Malabbac district supervisor, Jorge Taguinod, was physically present during the two days. He felt that he had to be familiar himself with the intricacies of the reading program so he could supervise it better. It only seemed fair, he said, to do what he was demanding of his teachers and principals for this weekend. To the training team from Manila, it showed the value the 13 schools from the district of Iguig placed on the program. And even as he was introducing us to Pancit Tuguegarao and bulalo, he was relating how he wished his administrative duties gave him more time to do what he prefers to do—checking for himself that his Grade 1 students are able to read. Iguig Mayor Julita Trinidad also manifested support for the project by ensuring that the trainors got to the venue on time.

It is most heartwarming to witness how somebody like Dado Banatao cares enough for the hometown that nurtured his curiosity and passion to learn, to achieve, to excel. May many more Filipino-Americans be similarly inclined to look back to their roots and share their largesse through logistical support for education.

* * *

If you are in search of wonder these days for you and your students, do take a trip to the Ayala Museum for the ongoing exhibit of the Ilustrador ng mga Kabataan (InK) to mark 20 years of delighting children with line and color and whimsy.

Another must is the Rizal in the Ateneo exhibit at the Ateneo Art Gallery. This valuable, no-charge-exhibit curated by Rizal lover Dr. Ambeth Ocampo for the sesquicentennial has been extended to March 31. As one viewer raved, “It has far more objects of interest than other Rizal sites.”


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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