By Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III
Dear readers, I invite you to read this piece about my late mom-in-law, Priscila Santos Manalang, or Cil. While being sentimental is partly the reason why I’m writing this — the family recently commemorated her 103rd birth anniversary (birthdate: Jan. 20, 1919) — I write about her because of her continuing relevance to our times.
Mama, fondly called Cil by her friends and colleagues, was not just my mom-in-law. She was likewise a friend and more. My late wife Mae would sometimes tease me that her mom was my other girlfriend. For example, the three of us would occasionally watch concerts, dine out, or go out of town.
As a friend, and not as mom-in-law, Cil would even take the initiative of editing my notes or papers. Mae was my constant editor, but undoubtedly, she inherited her skill in writing and editing from her mom.
In truth, it was Cil who facilitated my first date with Mae. She instructed Mae to contact me and ask for a copy of the speech on foreign debt that then-Senator Alberto Romulo delivered at the founding Congress of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC). I then served as FDC’s secretary-general. Mae was a volunteer and helped organize the FDC Congress. And so, Mae gave me a call, and we met so I could give her Romulo’s speech for her mom. That lunch meet lasted for several hours, which made it a date.
Cil likewise considered me a peer, a colleague, a comrade. One reason we became very close was because of our shared activism. She was proud of being an activist, and she described herself as a “democratic socialist.” She always valued equality and solidarity, the hallmark of being a socialist. And she showed her socialism not only in grand ways but also in “little acts of kindness” to the downtrodden.
Cil’s being a socialist was compatible with her being a progressive liberal. She defended the rights of the minority, she respected non-conformity, and she upheld pluralism.
It goes without saying that Cil was a champion of academic freedom, which the Marcos dictatorship trampled on. She was at the forefront of the protests against the Marcos Education Act, which threatened UP’s academic freedom. The UP community was able to thwart this, even if the protest meant that Cil and her academic colleagues clashed with their friend O.D. Corpuz, then Marcos’s Education Secretary.
Moreover, Cil fought against the Marcos dictatorship; she fought for democracy and civil liberties. And she found an organization that truly suited her: the University of the Philippines (UP) chapter of Kaakbay.
Ka Pepe Diokno — statesman, senator, nationalist, and civil libertarian — was the founder and intellectual fountainhead of Kaakbay. But UP Kaakbay was somehow distinct even as it subscribed to Ka Pepe’s values and platform. It was more radical, though not of the extremist variety, than Ka Pepe’s original Kaakbay. UP Kaakbay was mainly composed of socialists led by Dodong Nemenzo, Randy David, and the late Karina David.
Cil’s closeness to Ka Pepe Diokno was evident in her being the editor of Ka Pepe’s book titled A Nation for Our Children (1987). This is a volume that contains articles and speeches by Ka Pepe on human rights, nationalism, and sovereignty.
It is a book dedicated to the future generations of Filipinos. Ka Pepe (and for that matter Cil) envisioned “one dream that all Filipinos share: that our children may have a better life than we have had.” That dream is to have a noble, proud and free nation for our children. Sadly, until now, we are far from realizing this dream. Worse, we are again going through a nightmare reminiscent of what happened during the dark days of the Marcos regime.
Incidentally, the nation will commemorate Ka Pepe’s 100th birth anniversary on Feb. 26. This is an auspicious moment for us to rekindle Ka Pepe’s (and Cil’s) dream.
Cil’s advocacy for children had other manifestations. For example, she was a trustee of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). As told to me by CRC’s founder Beth de Castro, without Cil’s complete support, it would have been “impossible to implement our project to provide psychological support for children victims of political violence.”
Although Cil was radical and secular in her politics, she was deeply spiritual. She attended morning Mass every day. And she was active in a weekly Bible discussion group, which she would occasionally host at her home on UP campus. But this Bible group was likewise progressive, for liberation theology served as the framework for discussion. The discussion applied Bible teachings to social, political, and economic life. Ex-priest Ed Gerlock and Maryknoll sister Helen Graham facilitated it. The members included Nena Diokno (Ka Pepe’s wife), Nini Quezon Avanceña, Maridol Mabanta, Isabel Ongpin, and Menchu Sarmiento. The saling-pusa (tag-alongs) included Mae and Tita Nini’s son, Ricky.
Sharing my mom-in-law’s story must include her role in shaping Philippine education. She was esteemed as Professor of Education at UP. She had numerous significant contributions in the field of education, but I highlight her seminal work that gains new meaning amid our crisis.
It is said that we face an education crisis, all the more made pronounced by the pandemic. But the truth is, education has been in crisis for a long time.
Cil’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh, published in book form in 1977, continues to provide insights into our education crisis. Titled A Philippine Rural School: Its Cultural Dimension, the book is a sociological and anthropological case study involving a barrio school and how the issues and problems at the locality mirror the national situation. Here is an example of a study that makes a social investigation employing multi-disciplinary methods towards developing recommendations to overcome bureaucratic and systemic constraints.
Then and now, basic education is affected by “problems that affect the larger society: hunger, illness, poverty, and unemployment…. If schooling is to become more meaningful to the young, teachers and administrators must see clearly the relationship between education and society.”
In several ways then, Cil contributed in a grand manner to change Philippine society. The great tasks remain unfinished.
That said, the family and I would always remember Cil as someone who did “little nameless acts of kindness and love.”
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.