Where the Road Leads: Story of Maureen Pagaduan by Gerald Paragas

(Excerpts from an interview conducted  by Gerald Paragas with Prof. Maureen C. Pagaduan  (MCD, circa 1981 , current Chair of the Department of Community Development)

The Road to CSWCD…

I came from  far away. Hotel and Restaurant Administration was my  College course . Then, I worked at  Ayala Corporation in Makati; I was a  Makati office worker then.  It was  martial law, and essentially  there was  dissatisfaction with a system that was oppressing the people.  My criticalness of Martial Law and the burning desire to work for structural change was already in me before entering CSWCD.  We were still in high school when  Catholic missionaries who were then running the school showed us  the perspectives about the poor and service to the poor. For example, there was Sister  Yoly,  our high school faculty, who was a good  nun —intelligent, progressive, and activist. She was really ahead of  her times. She was my inspiration.

Under worsening conditions under martial law , my group of friends in and out of the College pushed me towards involvement. This is why  I pursued an M.A., a 180-degree turn from business to CD.  My friends and batch mates then, including Prof. Ferrer, had a meeting of minds, and martial law provided the  medium for our idealism. I was a student during martial law, and in 1981, I became part of the  faculty.

Field Work as Eye Opener…

As  junior faculty, my  first assignment was  fieldwork, and there my thinking, perspective, and desire to do what must be done came together.  I do not know if the readings or discussions in the M.A. program helped to validate  what we needed  to do. Because then, the beginnings of CD were more ideological – the perspective was on systemic and structural change; the individual was not so visible.  The analysis was truly an eye-opener. It answered the questions, ‘why people are wealthy’, not only  ‘why people are poor’. It focused on the  question  ‘What is the relation of this kind of system in producing wealth  and in turn, poverty?’ This was the inspiration behind the desire to change and transform such a system.  Community organizing became the answer for everything, the miracle seed that will lead to transformation. It was not  simply academe  which nourished me while I was here as a student and as a faculty member.  We were also connected to  activism beyond academe.  We were doing a lot to raise consciousness in the college and we were also doing a lot to mobilize the ground (at the community level).  We were young then so we could manage. Now, I begin to wonder how it can still be done. (chuckles).

On Being a Radical….

I am organically a radical. I am not attracted to the status quo; not my call. …I would think I am radical even in my politics and personal life. ..The capacity to change is not only just about society and the system; I would think we all know that it is also all about you, us.

The other day I was thinking of the tradition of activism vis-à-vis increasing mainstreaming of CD into development work. I would like to cite our historical precedent … I do not want to use  the word ‘alternative’, I prefer the term  ‘radical’. I want to see our radical history underpinning this modern viewing of mainstreaming in  development work  —  how does that factor in in terms of our practice of our profession? What is the flow of radicalism in this  mainstream work , and how can our curriculum  change to incorporate that view?

On Teaching…

It so happened that I teach organizing classes in CD. It validates many things. It is also very nurturing for me to belong to an institution of higher learning (the College) whose advocacy is change. During my first activist-academic phase, I conducted trainings and participated in research in all areas — capacity-building, research on issues, participatory research, action research, CO for small groups. The second phase, I got engaged in the formation of NGOs and women’s organizations, still doing advocacy work and organizing. This third phase, one might say, I came back to the College to focus on CD within an academic context and CD as a profession because circumstantially and not by choice (a joke), I am now the Department Chair.

We have ethics and we apply it in activism. Teaching CD courses is imbued with principles that are simultaneously moral, ethical, legal and scientific.  The most challenging to teach and to inspire is the moral dimension. When can you say that you are just a professional hired hand, because the financial and professional gains overwhelm decisions and choices?  When can you say that you are helping the poor to make money, or that you are making money out of poverty?  It is hard because we belong to a profession that mainly relies on self-regulation, not professional or community regulation, specially in our individual practice.  Thus, it is important that the professionals you produce through your courses understand this dilemma.  This is the challenge. You do not only need to teach ethics, you need to practice it in developing the profession.

On Activism as Nourishment…

Activism is an individual choice on the part of the student. You can only contribute to the student’s decision by encouraging it, discouraging it, or laying down a deeper perspective –but ultimately, whether young or old, the decision is individual. So I cannot say I made the decisions for my students. But I think that there is a strong sense of duty among students — that you have a duty to make right things that are wrong. But nowadays, there is a stronger thirst for more, like  ‘I nourish myself first before I can nourish others.’ There is no realization that it’s almost the same thing, the same process, ‘You nourish yourself by nourishing others. You make yourself happy because you nourish others as you nourish yourself.”  This is difficult for students but I think in our fieldwork program, this is where they eventually see the reality of what is nourishing us. I also believe that you should also nourish yourself.  The question is how to balance needs in terms of yourself, your career, your family, vis-à-vis the extent that you are part of a community — to look at how you can share life with others, without necessarily religious underpinning, except for a sense of full humanity, achieving your human purpose.

On Being Critical …

Maybe , I never allow myself to be controlled.  I always speak out and whatever I say, I feel, ought to be respected in the sense that we have a right to speak. I think I have a critical eye, good or bad.  They say this can be difficult and may pain others, but they say it is good that I am now more positive; my critical eye has become more positive. Thus, my criticalness of conditions and concerns outside the College is connected to and nourished by my outside involvement, not really by my college involvement. This involvement is also what I lend to the character of the College. Because the College is already an institution, if you leave it to itself, it will lose its radical character.  I would say that as an institution, the College did not shape my being rather, I would like to think, I lent my critical character to the College.  And what did the College give or contribute in return?  It nourished this criticalness. It did not reject it; it provided the space to develop that side of you and to appreciate you as a part of the College community. You feel you belong. We have principles of democracy, and we have structures at all levels that we try to make accessible to all members of the College community, from the humblest employee to the  full professor, irrespective of status. This is what I consider a significant improvement — the College tries to live up to the perspective that we are all equal, despite the many challenges to this view.

On Retirement….

Unlike Corona, we in the College will all end up with unexplained poverty. The concerns for resources and status are often inconsequential.  It is always about advocacy. We will of course continue maintaining our stand, and placing ourselves within progressive advocacies, even outside our professional field.  For example, if something happens, I will go out and rally again.  I can hold a rally even by myself if there is a need to rally (hehe).  The last rally I joined was in protest against the lies of the former President and the electoral fraud she committed. I also joined the rally in support for Nicole, the young woman raped by American soldiers in Subic. A rally for me is an expression of advocacy, so that we can explain to the country, the world what we are fighting for.

I also want to define the role of CD for the people who are in their later phase of life – not anymore young but I wouldn’t say old. What becomes of them?  This question is not only for professors of CD but also for CD professionals in their later years. It should be though not only in terms of their welfare or their health,  but also their consciousness, their ability to still inspire and work for our causes and dreams. This includes my batchmates in CD? What are they doing?  Where are they?  This is a good topic for study.

Why  CSWCD….

The college has a unique role to play and it is playing it out — like being an example to the University. Being critical is balanced by doing. And doing or the desire to do sometimes puts you into compromises and negotiated situations.  You cannot be an activist now and say that your practice will commence ten years from now.  You have to do something in the here and now. The College is an example because it does not only criticize, it also acts.  And we are humble players – we have no prominent personalities or spokespersons.  In many ways, we are never far from the voices of the small people.

You may say that the CSWCD is biased for the poor because in every controversy or every critical stage that we reach, the question that always crops up in our meetings is: Who is this for? For whom is this type of action, direction or development?”  This is where you can clearly see our bias.  Whenever we are asked for help, during rallies or typhoons, we extend this help as a way of living out our principles. We do not even seek media coverage for this.  Our students know this because this is the way we practice our profession.

Sticking to CD should be no problem to students, with CD being easy. But the problem is, CD is a serious and unfinished affair. Working for change is a serious undertaking.  If students are inspired to be part of change and are working for a better system, a better life, then they should come to this College. This could be the primary attraction or driving force and not be about the popular reason that CD is easy. And they should not rely on just the teachers. They should be self-driven for change. What can inspire them is to see how a community such as ours supports the drive. It is also a self-search.  So they cannot say that all the faculty will or should help; students need to find themselves. In U.P., students need to learn to teach themselves how to swim, how to navigate the gentle as well as the strong waters of CD work, how to flow from a stream into the large ocean….to find meaning and direction towards a full life…


College of Social Work and Community Development