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Jun 04th
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"Distance-Learning" Project Proposed to Ateneo Schools in 2000 But ...


Two Decades In Lead Time Would Have Prepared Filipino Schools for the Coronavirus-caused Pandemic

Part One of a 3-Part Series for the Education and Technology Section

By Bobby M. Reyes

T oday many schools not only in the United States and the Philippines (PH) but also world-wide have shut down campuses and stopped in-person classes due to the pandemic. And educational institutions -- from grade schools to universities -- have been forced to resort to "distance learning" (DL) via the Internet. Lectures are now conducted by the Zoom or other app for the usual maximum of 100 participants.

I thought of a DL method for my homeland in the late 1990s. 

How I arrived at the idea of "distance learning" (DL) and tried to persuade the Ateneo schools in the PH to embark on it in 2000 -- nearly 20-years before the COVID-19 "story of the 21st century" -- is a long story.

In 1997, I was invited by Panny Gagajena, then the prime mover of the Ateneo de Davao Alumni Association of Los Angeles, CA, to represent the Ateneo de Manila College of Law (AdMCL) alumni that were based in Southern CA in the so-called "All-Ateneo Alumni Association." (A4) I was hesitant at first, as I did not graduate from the AdMCL although I reached the fourth year. My photo and bio appeared in the AdMCL annual of the Class of 1970. I failed to graduate, as the AdMCL kept on dropping me off its roll, as soon as I reached the maximum number of absences. For at that time, my American employer promoted me (then a 24-year "working student") in January 1970 as its Interim manager of its Manila office. Later in the year, I was made the Acting Regional Manager. I was made in-charge of our offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and of course in Manila and coordinated with our agents in Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Okinawa and Taipei. I was doing a lot of business travel, aside from being sent to attend a transportation seminar at the Tokyo Hilton in 1971. I re-enrolled at the AdMCL for the school year 1971-1972 but again I was dropped because of absences.

Mr. Gagajena and the other A4 leaders like Roy Gaane (who represented Xavier University of Cagayan de Oro) and Peping Factora (of the Ateneo de Naga) said that I qualified to be an alumnus. Ateneo considered any student who spent at least two years in any of its schools an alumnus. And I was credited with full attendance at the AdMCL for five semesters. By the way, Messrs. Factora, Gaane and Gagajena have all gone to the Blue Yonder.

T here was an Ateneo Alumni Association of Southern CA organized by the Ateneo graduates from its Loyola Heights Campus in Quezon City but it refused to join the A4. It also denied my application for membership when I applied, as its leaders said that I was not an Atenean. Yes, I was not an Atenean even if I served as the managing editor of "The Palladium," the official organ of the AdMCL for two years.

But nevertheless, I was treated as a legitimate Ateneo alumnus by the A4 leaders. I attended its monthly meetings and its feeding program at the poorest parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that was run by Jesuit priests.

Then we decided to field a modest delegation to the All-Ateneo Alumni Homecoming in July 2000 at a 4-star hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey. I asked my comrades at the A4 to back up my "DL" proposal for the Ateneo schools in the PH -- if it were calendared in the event's agenda. But it was not included in the program of activities. Not even in any workshop.

I kidded them that if my proposal were to be adopted, then I could finish my senior year at the AdMCL -- even if I did not have the intention of taking the PH Bar exam. But they cautioned that it would be like a "Moon-shot" proposal (a "suntok sa buwan" in the Tagalog language), as perhaps I was too ahead of the times. The PH at that time did not have a national broadband system. And not too-many Filipino students could afford a computer, especially a laptop.

I said that we could also open a branch of the Ateneo DL school in Los Angeles, CA, and teach journalism and Filipino-American history, among other courses. Then I learned that then-Sen. Raul Roco was the guest speaker at its gala dinner-and-ball, I said that if I could persuade him to back up my DL proposal, then perhaps it had a chance.

I wrote this piece in an article that I published in the www.mabuhayradio.com seven years later -- after the death of Mr. Roco.  QUOTE. In July 2000 when then Senator Roco visited Southern CA, I attended a dinner reception for him in Orange County. The next night I was the emcee at the Manila Terrace reception for him that was hosted by Bicolano associations in Los Angeles. The following weekend, I spent some quality time with Senator Roco in New Jersey, as he was the guest speaker at the All-Ateneo Alumni Alliance-USA convention, which I also attended.
During a break at the Ateneo gathering in New Jersey, Senator Roco used my cell phone in making private calls. He and I stepped out of the hotel lobby to a garden where he made his phone calls. After he finished with his calls, Mr. Roco and I discussed his probable second run at the Philippine presidency in 2004. I kidded him that I was his lucky charm, as he never lost an election when I supported him.
I told Mr. Roco at the Secaucus, NJ, Ateneo convention that I could work as (the) executive director for his small party, the Aksyon Demokratiko, for one peso a year and begin its nationwide reorganization in preparation for the 2004 elections. I said that he ought to do – before he returned to the Philippines – was to set up in the United States the forerunner of a core group that I dubbed the "BABB" Committee. I explained to Mr. Roco that the acronym stood for "Bedans, Ateneans, Bicolnons and Boholanos." Why involve the Boholanos? Because Mrs. Sonia Roco is a scion of the Malasarte Family of Bohol. UNQUOTE.
B ut sad to say, then Senator Roco and the presidents of the various Ateneo schools in Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Metro Manila, and Naga were not excited at my DL proposal. During the three-day Ateneo Alumni Homecoming, I talked privately with the Jesuit university presidents but they were just courteous enough to assure me that they would study it. But all of them never got back to me. Not even Mr. Roco.
I told them also that I registered three domain names that could be used for the DL project. I coined the word "yimby" in 1997. It was an acronym for "Yes, in my backyard." I registered the domain names, www.yimby.com, yimby.net and yimby.org. (In 2013, I sold the www.yimby.com to an English foundation for $20,000. And gave up the registration rights to the yimby.net and yimby.org, as they did not have have much commercial value. But at least I was able to recover part of my expenses in pushing the DL project.)
The story continues ... "Two weeks later, in the first week in August 2000, Senator Roco returned to Southern California and I met him in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was the guest speaker of the Bicol National Association of America. I reiterated my offer and he said again that he would think it over. When he returned to Manila, I sent periodic e-mails to his office and nobody cared to reply to me."

The EDSA Dos Gave a Second Chance to Do the D/L Project

Then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was installed the President of the PH in the second edition of the EDSA Revolution. She named Mr. Roco as her Secretary of Education.
In, March 2001 "I met then-Education Secretary Roco at the Holiday Inn at the Los Angeles Airport on his way to Manila after an engagement in Chile. I was only one of four journalists to interview him. After the interview, I asked him (privately) if he still wanted me for his political party. Again he was noncommittal ..." And so I did not make any follow-up of the "DL" proposal.


Later, when I told my A4 colleagues of the Holiday-Inn meeting, they said that Secretary Roco should have hired me -- if he did not want me as the Executive Director for his political party -- as an Undersecretary of Education. Then he could have put me in charge of setting up the DL project in the more-affluent universities, with possibly the Ateneo schools as the pilot projects. Then I could have set up so-many groups of college students for the DL project and it would have been easy to entice them to support the presidential bid of Mr. Roco in the 2004 presidential election. 

I said that I would have prepared a speech for Education Secretary Roco in announcing the DL project as the equivalent of a "Moon shot" (Suntok sa Buwan) project. And in the speech, to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy that doing the DL project was like going to the Moon because "not because it is easy but it is difficult." But Mr. Roco missed the chance. He would have been known as the "Father of Distance Learning of the PH." I would have just been a footnote to history -- it it were to be pushed through to a successful conclusion..
(To be continued ...)
Part II is about how then-President Gloria M. Arroyo missed also the boat to be the Prime Mover of the DL Project.


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