A family affair

If you come from a family of teachers, as I do, chances are that you may soon find yourself sharing the same podium with a relative.  Once or twice in the past, I have shared audiences with my younger brother Ambo, a diocesan priest who teaches philosophy.  But to speak on the same platform with not one but two brothers is rare, and fraught with danger.  This is where I found myself the other day.

The symposium was to honor the memory of a special woman, Josefa David Goseco, who served for a long time as principal of the grade school of the Guagua National Colleges.  I could not say no to the invitation. The GNC, as we call it, is where generations of my family received their basic education.  And Mrs. Goseco was a lady I would not forget; she wore an elegant terno to school and lighted candles in veneration of her favorite saints every day of her life.  I was a little boy she singled out to buy her those candles from a shop near the Betis church.

I have been back in this school several times over the years both to speak and to attend reunions.  The audiences, always disciplined, have been mostly students who, quite likely, had to be present because they were required to report on the lecture.  But on this particular occasion, half of the hall was filled with teachers, many of them classmates of my brothers and sisters, and members of the community.  Most disconcerting of all, my mother, who lives in Betis, decided to come, possibly to confirm if there is any basis for the pride she usually takes in acknowledging us as her sons.

And so, as the huge banner that greeted us billed it, three brothers were to speak: Ambo, the theologian; Dante, the lawyer and neophyte politician; and myself, the professor.  Our assignment was to clarify the national situation from the perspectives of culture and religion, government and politics, and society and economics —  in a language accessible to non-specialists.

How to do that in two hours, using three different languages (Tagalog, Kapampangan and English), from three different vantage points – this was the challenge before me and my brothers.  We should have met to synchronize our lectures, I muttered to myself.  But we had come to the place from three different directions.  Our mother’s decision to attend the symposium only added a dash of terror to this formidable assignment.

Being the eldest, I was called first, followed by Dante, and then Ambo. This sequence dictated by primogeniture also coincided with the structuralist approach to social analysis, which starts off with economics, followed by politics, and ends with culture.  These are not really three separate divisions of a society, I began, hoping to lend some coherence to the lectures.  They are rather three different ways of describing the same reality.

Life is one continuous flow; its elements are separable only at the level of analysis.  Therefore, we should not look at our economic life or political life as if they were governed by their self-contained systems of rules and values.   Nor should we treat culture, morality, and values as if they constituted one special compartment reserved only to priests, teachers and parents.  The same culture governs the way we conduct our politics, run our government, produce the nation’s wealth, and earn a living.

We must view the economy not only as the production of wealth but also as the formation of workers,  politics as the formation of citizens and not just the conduct of government, and culture as the formation of identities as well as of human solidarity.

The rest of my lecture was an attempt to explain the background of the present currency crisis and the larger global context in which it unfolded.  Following me was Dante who drew on his practical experience as a lawyer and as a first-time politician to examine the practice of political life in the light of the theories of government he teaches at school.  His principal lament is the way candidates and voters are wont to think of elections as economic transactions.  So much cynicism pervades the political process, he said.  Voters think that all politicians are corrupt and therefore deserve to be milked.  And politicians are made to think that they must practically buy their way into public service.  We cannot continue as a nation, he concluded, if there is no honor and trust in the relationship between citizens and public officials.

In his inimitable way, Ambo showed that social trust is nurtured in the womb of a community.  The community has to be created and recreated, he said.  Its norms, values, meanings — including the myths that clarify the world for its members – have to be consciously promoted.  He likened our collective journey to nationhood to the forty days, the cuaresma, that it took the Jews to cross the desert from Egypt, where they were slaves, to the promised land where they hoped to live as free human beings.

We need signposts to find our way in the desert, he said.  A people without memory will not recognize the signposts, and their will to proceed will be weaker.  Every step of the way, the security of the dependent life of the slave beckons.  The oases along the way that provide momentary comfort tempt us to prolong the stop-over and to break our resolve to continue the journey.  We need myths and dreams to remind us of the Jerusalem just ahead where we must build our homes.

My brother completely enthralled his audience.  He was very good. The best teachers are those who can use metaphors to tell the story of our lives.  My mother who limped her way into the lecture hall took her place beside us in the picture-taking that followed.  She was clearly not disappointed.


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