Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, February 12, 2007  edition, page S1/4.

{mosimage}To many, the name Carlito Añonuevo will not ring a bell.  A Google search of the name does not yield a very big number of results.  The top results from Google pertain to his co-authorship of position papers of Action for Economic Reforms (AER), his short stint as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, and his being an alumnus of the Philippine Science High School.  An odd item was about his visit to Burma in 1999 wherein he delivered a speech at the executive committee meeting of the Center for Integrated Rural Development in Asia and the Pacific, which he chaired.

Lito or Tolits—that was how his barkada called him—was never a mainstream person. He was unconventional in many ways.  In appearance, he sported long hair, often in a pony tail,  and wore leather sandals even on formal occasions.

Even the name Tolits was out of the ordinary.  He was a product of abnormal times, including the First Quarter Storm of 1970.  In fact, his friends from his high school days at Pisay  (Philippine Science High School) also had uncommon names—No Dice, Kene, Cobags, Jobart, Opi, et al. They were an unusual lot, high school rebels who nonchalantly joined street demonstrations and barricades and frequented beerhouses and the Fun Center in Cubao.   The best of them, including Tolits, were then too young to be recruited to the Communist Party.

About three decades later, Tolits’s daughter would face the same dilemma that he faced during his activist days in high school.  His daughter informed him that the Party-led Kabataang Makabayan had invited her to join them.  Tolits did not object, although by this time he was already cynical towards the Party.  He let his daughter make her own decision and define her own preference.  But to his friends, he advised:  “if your children want to join the movement, let them, for the sooner they join, the earlier they will drop out from it.”

Tolits was a formally trained economist, obtaining his undergraduate degree from the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines (UP) and his master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Within the profession, however, his name rarely cropped up during private conversations and public discussions, even though he was recognized as one of the few competent and respected natural resource economists in the country.

He was a low-key economist.  He did not even bother to become a member of the Philippine Economics Society (PES) despite his thirty years of being an academic economist. Not that he disliked PES; he just didn’t have the time for it. His priority was raising four daughters, teaching, and serving the poor.

Our colleague Mike Alba, current PES president, was desirous of having Tolits and other unconventional economists to become active in the PES.  Tolits may have considered the invitation from Mike whom he held in esteem, but Tolits is now gone.

In our college days, Tolits did not join the Economics Society either, although he was an economics major who performed well in his economics courses. Our classmates at the School seldom saw us.  We hardly participated in activities at the School as we were too involved in activism, with Tolits performing sensitive tasks as a member of the UP revolutionary movement’s executive committee.

Tolits and I were thesis partners, and we had an unusual topic.  Our thesis paper was about Marx’s theory of surplus value and its application to the Philippine sugar industry.  Our topic was not original.  A year earlier, in 1976, Diwa Guinigundo (current deputy governor for monetary policy at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) and Manny Esguerra (now associate professor at the UP School of Economics) started the short-lived trend among activists to use Marxian economics as framework for their theses.

Upon graduation from UP Diliman, Tolits joined the faculty of the economics department at UP Los Baños (UPLB).  It was at UPLB where his long-time friendship with Sergy Floro developed.  Sergy, a year ahead of us, graduated magna cum laude at the UP School of Economics and earned her PhD at Stanford University. Like Tolits, she was an activist who resisted the Marcos dictatorship. She is now a professor at American University and globally renowned for her specialization in gender economics.

Upon learning of Tolits’s death, Sergy wrote: “I, too, am shocked and saddened to hear of Lito’s passing away…. We kept in touch through all the years of personal trials and political changes.”  For Sergy, Tolits was a “man of principles and integrity, deeply committed to social and economic justice.”

Among other things, it was this deep commitment to social and economic justice, described by Sergy, that made Tolits return to the Philippines, instead of pursuing, say, a PhD in the US.  Tolits opted to fight the Marcos dictatorship at home.  After Marcos fell, Tolits’s commitment to social and economic justice found articulation in his involvement with NGOs.  He became the executive director and chair of Tambuyog, an organization serving the interest of poor fisherfolk.   He co-founded AER and became its president.

Besides, Tolits loved teaching, and in his opinion, a master’s degree was enough to become an effective economics teacher.  Not an ambitious person, he had nothing else to prove by pursuing further postgraduate studies.

As a teacher, he was a terror.  He struck fear, for he often gave failing grades to the majority of students enrolled in his class.  He hated mediocrity.  And he had uncompromising high standards that he applied to everyone, including himself.

To illustrate, he found our undergraduate thesis embarrassing, even as we got a pretty high grade for it, because of our negligence. Many years after graduation, Tolits time and again told me his wish to have our thesis removed from the School of Economics archives.  More recently, he was unsatisfied with our paper, a critique of the government’s mining policy, which we co-wrote with another former classmate, Mon Fernan.  The paper could stand improvement, if we could only obtain more information. And so the paper remains a draft.  But we no longer have Tolits to help fill in the gaps.

The subjects that Tolits loved to teach—math economics and economic history–reflect his qualities as an economist.  Through math economics, he taught students to become rigorous and to appreciate the elegance and neatness of the models.  But Tolits knew the limits of abstraction, that in many cases formal models cannot explain the complexity of the real world.  He thus would turn to economic history to show how relevant and useful the unconventional, heterodox ideas are.

Despite his fearsome and demanding reputation, students and young economists admired him.  Rina Rosales, a young environmental economist describes Tolits as “very brilliant but very humble.”

Cristina Morales-Alikpala, our young colleague at AER and a gifted upcoming professional economist, sums up Tolits’s inspiring qualities:  “After I heard the tributes and all, I realized that Lito’s life is exactly the life that I’ve been striving to achieve these past few years.  He was a teacher who loved teaching, an activist who dedicated himself to social change, and a husband and father who above all else loved his family.”

I am sure that Tolits, the humble, inconspicuous economist, would like to be remembered by his friends and colleagues in the way that Cristina described him:  a dedicated teacher, a selfless activist, and above all else, one who unconditionally loved his wife and daughters.

Carlito Añonuevo, president of Action for Economic Reforms, made his final journey on 4 February 2007.