For the record
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2020 - 12:00am

I am putting all these in writing for the record, notches in my career, not as achievements. Finishing a novel – no matter how bad – is one. In 1963, before going to Colombo in Ceylon to work as Information Officer of the Colombo Plan Bureau, Ambassador Rolando Garcia, who recommended me for that position, asked me to work in the Department of Foreign Affairs to acquire experience in the diplomatic service. I worked as an aide for then vice president Emmanuel Pelaez, who was also secretary of foreign affairs. I wrote press releases, messages and speeches. Secretary Pelaez told me to look closely at the department and see how it can be improved. I talked with many of the foreign service officers and then wrote to the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State in Washington DC and to the Chatham House of the British Foreign office in London. With the information I got from these institutions, I drew up plans for the Foreign Service Institute. Its major function was to train officers in diplomatic practice. It was also to sponsor a continuing lecture and seminar program on current foreign affairs issues, and to build a library and a dossier of Asian leaders.

When I returned to Manila in 1965, the Institute was already functioning. Its director, Ambassador Alex Fernandez, asked me to give two lectures, one on Southeast Asia and the other on Islam in Southeast Asia. A couple of years ago, I was invited to lecture at the Institute, and I was surprised to read in its brochure that it was created by a decree from President Marcos. I wrote to the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs to rectify the falsehood. Let me make this clear. I don’t want recognition as its founder. I just want this statement: The Foreign Service Institute was founded by Vice President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez in 1963.

On my return to Manila in 1965, I set up my Solidaridad complex which included Solidarity – a quarterly journal, the Solidaridad Publishing House, the bookshop and the Solidaridad Galleries. General Carlos P. Romulo opened the bookshop, and his book, Identity and Change, was the first title issued by the publishing house. The General who I knew way back asked me to join him at the University of the Philippines – he was then UP president. He would make me a professor. I demurred; I know he wanted me as his speech writer. I told him I can help him by setting up a University Press. He said the UP already had one, I told him that was a printing press. I got materials from the Association of University Presses in America. As I envisioned it, the University Press will publish works that have permanent value not only from the academics in Diliman but elsewhere. The Press must be subsidized. General Romulo asked me to head it, but I told him Solidaridad needed my full time attention, but that I’ll always heed his call if he needed me.

When President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972 and General Romulo joined him, I distanced myself from the General and never saw him again.

Conrado F. Estrella came from Rosales, Pangasinan, my hometown. When Marcos was elected president in 1965, he appointed Estrella as Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform. I was very pleased when Estrella appointed me as consultant. From the very start of my career as a journalist, I have written about our agrarian problem, peasant movements and rebellions. I have attempted to know as much as I can about social change, particularly those engendered by the peasantry. I’ve visited the agrarian experiment in Israel – the Kibbutz, the Ejidos in Mexico and, of course, the Chinese communes. I even went to Wageningen in Holland to see how they reclaimed land from the sea. I knew only too well that our land problems will be with us for a long long time.

The older issues included ancestral land ownership. The more recent ones concern land use, classification property rights, most of which required legislation. I suggested the formation of a Land Reform Institute similar to what they have in Taiwan and Mexico. Estrella, as minister of agrarian reform, set aside a million pesos – it was worth a lot then – for the institute that was to be set up in Los Baños. Months, years passed, and nothing happened. I can’t remember what year it was, but sometime before Martial Law, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations held an international conference in Manila. Estrella asked me to write the President’s closing speech. I ended it this way: “In our effort to promote agriculture, we will setup immediately the Agrarian Reform Institute in the University of the Philippines.” The following morning, I got a call from Salvador P. Lopez, who was then UP president, and the institute was set up in Los Baños immediately. Unfortunately, it did not become the institution that I wanted it to be since it concentrated on research, proposed legislation and, in coordination with other agencies, critiqued their performance and studied the ever changing policies and programs related to the land and resources.

*      *      *

Hindsight tells us that our educational system, a colonial legacy, has to be overhauled if we are going to build a society that is disciplined, moral and productive. We can borrow and refine techniques from other countries like Japan and Finland, where children from grade school are trained to be self-sufficient and moral. I remember only too well my grade school tutoring on “good manners and right conduct.” With the great advances in science and technology, we need more students going into these areas without totally uprooting them from the humanities. In socialist countries, the educational system is calibrated to produce graduates as they are needed to minimize unemployment. Our schools are producing professionals who can thrive anywhere. If we need to send our scholars abroad, they should be trained in the higher reaches of science itself. At the same time, we must always remember that knowledge is not wisdom. How can our schools teach us to love our unhappy country?

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