The Choice

The Choice

By Mark Anthony D. Abenir

I got to indirectly encounter CSWCD at the time when I was in my Philosophy sophomore years in UST. Back then, my goal was to take up law after I finish the AB Philosophy program, afterwards become a corporate lawyer, and then hopefully one day be renowned in the law profession and be rich in the process. But all of that changed when I met Joey Cruz, Joltz Meneses and Ka Puroy Alipao (in that order) in the school year of 1999-2000. They received their Community Development education from CSWCD and began working in UST as community development officers. Their significance cannot be left untold since in the year 2000, there was no community development program in UST — only a community service committee under the jurisdiction of the Office of Student Affairs. But through the activism of Joey, Joltz, and Ka Puroy, they became the pioneers of the University Community Development Program (UCDP) of UST which brought forth the creation of the Office for Community Development in 2002 that later on became known as Simbahayan (Simbahan, Tahanan at Bayan) office in 2012.

Where was I in the course of these events? During the years 1999 to 2003, I became the protégé of Joey, Joltz, and Ka Puroy as a community service student volunteer. It is because of them that I learned the praxis of community development principles such as conscientization, participation, empowerment, collective action, and people-centered development. In addition, through the help of Joey, Joltz, and Ka Puroy, I also got to meet Ka Lito Manalili, Ka Oski Ferrer, and Ka Tex Gabo of CSWCD who further elucidated and gave me a broader picture of what community development was all about in the country. I was so enamored with community development that it became a topic of my undergraduate thesis where I delved deeply into all the written works of Ka Lito and made a philosophical comparison and synthesis using the lenses of a postmodern philosopher, Martin Buber. The title of my thesis in college was Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue as a Foundation for the Filipino Concept of Development that was given a very high rating and was recognized enough for me to receive “The Best Thesis Award“ conferred by the Faculty of Arts and Letters of my university.

So what now after college? I asked myself. The words of Ka Lito resonated in my ears. During my encounters with him when he speaks in a community development seminar organized by UST, he would often say there are two kinds of people in the world – those who work for themselves to become rich (and contribute to the growing inequality in the process) and those who work with and for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized to achieve social justice. With these powerful words, I chose to change my path and work towards the latter. Thus in 2004, after working in contemplation in Aquinas University of Legazpi, Bicol for one school year as a philosophy instructor, I went back to UST to work as a community development officer and at the same time study hand-in-hand community development in CSWCD under the master’s program. My master’s education further professionalized my training in community development which guided me as I honed for three and a half years my skills in community organizing in one of the partner communities of UST which was Barangay 228, Tondo, Manila. In addition, my co-curricular studies in the MCD program of CSWCD which consisted of various community exposures per subject/course taken and the required fieldwork conducted in partnership with COSE (Coalition of Services of the Elderly) helped me focus my attention in the field of social planning and administration – with a special emphasis on participatory evaluation. Through these co-curricular activities, I experienced first-hand the joys and pains of what community work is really all about and what it really means to put these famous community development credo into action:

“Go to the people
Live among the people
Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Work with the people
Start with what the people know
Build on what they have
Teach by showing, learn by doing
Not a showcase, but a pattern
Not an odds and ends, but a system
Not piecemeal, but integrated approach
Not to conform, but to transform
Not relief, but release.”
– Credo of Rural Reconstruction;
– Motto of Dr. Noburo Iwamura of Japan
– Inspired from the Chinese Sage, Lao Tzu

Since then, I was able to prove to myself that I could help more people through this field as compared to my original dream to become a lawyer. I realized I wanted to become a lawyer for the wrong reasons and my CSWCD education further fortified my resolve to work with and for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized to achieve social justice.

My engagement with CSWCD did not end after completing the master’s program. I immediately enrolled in the Doctor of Social Development Program as soon it was offered in 2009. Many of my friends were asking me why I should study again in CSWCD when it was feasible on my part to take doctoral scholarships abroad or take a different doctoral course in the Philippines that could further improve my understanding regarding the social phenomena enveloping our country. But I told my friends and myself that CSWCD had an abundance of wisdom that I had yet to learn. Besides, I could not imagine myself going to other schools since I believe that CSWCD is one of the best schools in the country and in the world that offers studies in the field of development work.

True enough, the difference of the doctoral program from the masteral is that I learned to better understand the “why” of things more than the “what” and “how” which dominated my masteral years. This is so because during the masters, I was interested more on how to apply what I have learned in CSWD to aid me in my community organizing work. Since I was done with that phase, I became more interested in knowing the theories behind community development principles which the Doctor of Social Development program was able to provide. Aside from that, the multidisciplinary approach of the college, the egalitarian relationships coupled with the wealth of knowledge and reflective learning experiences I gained from my DSD professors (such as the likes of Inday Ofreneo, Amar Torres, Tess Tungpalan, and Guy Claudio) and most especially from my classmates helped me see different situations through the use of different lenses. I truly was able to experience what holistic education is all about.

The DSD program has helped me to change in profound ways by having a renewed interest and deeper appreciation in critical social science and socialism, gender studies and feminism, and disaster risk reduction management and human rights-based approach to development. The program has also helped me become better in my teaching and research profession in UST. Since my enrollment in the DSD program in 2009, I have mainstreamed in my teaching and research agenda the use of critical and socialist perspectives, gender perspectives, and human rights perspectives. I began to introduce into the subjects that I teach topics on CEDAW, UNCRC, rights of PWDs, DRRM, MDGs and many more coupled with the use of selected social development theories for students to better understand where these things are coming from. My students have been giving me wonderful feedback regarding the things they learn from me to which I reply: I am only sharing them the things I learned from CSWCD. In the field of research, I make sure that I put critical, gender, and human rights perspectives in my conceptual frames and methodologies.

But my ardent involvement in development work due to great the influence of CSWCD does not come without a price. I have to give up things like the promise of a financially wealthy life and to face the everyday odds of a world dominated by neoliberalism, patriarchy, sexism, racism, consumerism, and materialism. I do find it hard when people find me odd due the principles I believe in. There also times that tensions arise in me, finding myself giving in to the wishes of a world that works against the concept of social justice. For in the end, I too am human, subjected to the same weakness of being seduced to achieve and experience a life of luxury. Nevertheless, every time I fall I learn to pick myself up through my own volition and through the help of professors and friends I met directly and indirectly in CSWCD. In the end, the teachings of Ka Lito still resonate in my ears. It always reminds me of the choice I made in life, the destiny I am willing to happily carve out till death – that is to work with and for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized to achieve social justice, and perhaps, due to the negative social impacts of climate change, work for environmental justice as well.

College of Social Work and Community Development