As told to Gerald Paragas
Rainier Almazan knew where of he speaks when DQ was mentioned in his story-telling. He might have been ‘disqualified’ from a course of his first choice, but that was the anticipated compromise because of his political involvement. No regret for him though, as what shaped him to be an activist also became the crowning glory of his college days: his active membership in the UP Student Catholic Action.
“In my student organization, I am sort of an activist engaged in what people call as social apostolate,” Almazan said, recounting his pre-occupation as a Biology student with an organization known for a time as a prime mover of campus politics. “From high school to college, I was too involved in the student catholic action movement in general.”
An organization of Catholic UP students, UPSCA taught Almazan some alternative themes and ideas from Catholic philosophy, social justice and theology of liberation. It was like taking additional units or double major from theologians and political thinkers like Gustavo Gutierrez, Saul Alinsky and Paulo Freire, whose practices and writings revolved around pro-poor political movements and grassroots community organizing.
Because of his work in UPSCA that involved working in the barrios, Almazan got DQ (disqualified) in the College of Arts & Sciences and opted to take the natural extension of his advocacies. Owing to his activist background, choosing Social Work was a default move until he found himself comfortably juggling both political work and academic obligations.
Soon after finishing his undergraduate studies in 1980, National Manpower and Youth Council (now TESDA) recruited him as management analyst. Out-of-the-way at first, but Almazan later matched the work demands with the organizational development skills he learned from an UPSCA chaplain. However, his employment was short-lived as his connection to the underground movement was tipped off to the military, triggering his resignation from the NMYC.
That horrendous moment, sparked by the arrest of a colleague, did not deter him from resuming his grassroots activities. While many of the progressive groups were subjected to repression with some individuals either being eliminated or apprehended, Almazan engaged in convening urban poor groups for the Don Quixote Center of the Community Organization Philippine Enterprise or COPE. Then newly licensed as a social worker, he reached out to peasants and industrial workers in his stewardship of peasant and workers’ organizing programs in the Jesuit-run La Ignaciana Apostolic Center in Sta. Ana, Manila.
It was while working in this social action center when a plum offer from his ‘Jesuit boss’ struck his interest: getting a master’s degree at the Asian Institute of Management. In 1990, he joined the maiden batch of graduate students to take up a master’s degree in Development Management. That academic journey perhaps led him to where he is now: teaching for the UP College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD).
“I am a classic example of ‘pinabili lang ng suka, pagbalik ay professor na (he was asked only to buy vinegar and when he came back, he was already a professor’),” Almazan humbly joked when asked how he got himself into the College. The 55-year old professor is certainly not an accidental teacher although he did not intentionally seek a teaching job in 2004; his microinsurance office for a national peasant organization PAKISAMA was situated just a stone’s throw-away from the College, and news from friends in the network about teaching possibilities came around easily.
His academic credentials and CO-related work background as program staff for a social action center (La Ignaciana, 1981 to 1992), trade union educator (Union of Filipino Workers, 1986 – 1990), Executive Director for a rural development NGO (Center for Agrarian Reform & Rural Development, 1992 – 1997), National Coordinator for a national peasant organization (PAKISAMA, 1997 to 2004), and Lecturer in Development Studies (Ateneo de Manila, 2001 to 2002), proved to be very useful to him.
Working for seven years as faculty member of CSWCD has been a rewarding experience for Almazan. According to him, the College provides him a venue to practice his profession while he makes an impact on social change. This “retirement job”, according to him, fits his advocacy, and enables students to propagate what they planted in the field of community organizing.
Amidst reports of being regarded as a “terror teacher,” Almazan takes the student feedback lightly. “I don’t think so, or maybe because of the kind of requirements I have for them. It may be unorthodox, but I want to teach people to be analytical and not just depend on rote learning.” He admitted anyway that he is labeled as such, as he receives similar opinions from colleagues, and from the SET (student evaluation of teachers).
But as he explains, “If my students say I am terror yet they learn a lot from me, that’s a compliment. “ For this Social Work professor, teaching social administration and social policy should go out-of-the-box; complicated and technical terms can also be” laymanized.” Echoing a lesson learned in graduate school, he said that the expertise of a social worker must not be confined in one subject matter, and that he or she must also have a heightened capacity as future policy-makers.
“In CSWCD, we prove that social workers are not just for distribution of relief goods. You are not a social worker just because you’re doing philanthropic work.”
Explaining his own style of incorporating Statistics in his classes, Almazan noted: “I explain to them that, say, distributing cans of sardines involves a lot of science and mathematics, because that is a logistical problem, and there must be a framework for finding how many recipients should be targeted.”
Asked for a better salespitch to convince students to choose CSWCD, based on the molding of a Professor Rainier Almazan, he said: “The College gives you a chance to meet a lot of people and to be involved in something bigger than yourself. All you have to do is stare poverty straight in the eye.”
And he ended it with a postscript: “Social workers and community organizers are adequately paid, and you won’t starve even if you’re raising a family. If you want to be rich like the tycoon Henry Sy, then this course is not for you. But if you want to continue the tradition of changing the world, then CSWCD is for you.”#