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Reli L. German: To Sir With Love


There was palpable nostalgia in the air as we exchanged warm pleasantries with high fives, even fist bumps, during a recent gathering of eagles from my Ateneo de Manila high school batch of 1955. This was last Thursday, July 27 when only 21 of us, all seniors but still vigorously flapping our wings to signal our continuing presence in this world, were able to get together to pay tribute to three of our former teachers for their important role in moulding our lives and our characters.

We named the event “To Sir With Love” after the title of a 1967 British drama film that depicted the daunting racial and social challenges faced by a black teacher, portrayed by the famous actor, director and diplomat Sidney Poitier, as he mentored a class of raucous and sometimes, openly hostile students. Let me stress that except for the usual youthful foolery, members of our batch did not give any major problem to any of our teachers. Our version of “To Sir With Love” actually embodied the sentiments expressed in the written Testament that we presented to our honourees..all of whom are also products of the Ateneo

In their order of seniority, the first is Sir Onofre R. Pagsanghan or “Pagsi” to everyone.. With a keen intellect and Tondo-toughened resolve, Sir Pagsi shook off the crippling clasp of poverty to become a teacher in English, Pilipino, Religion and Latin at the Ateneo, author, translator, lecturer on teaching and stage plays, and founder of the theatre group Dulaang Sibol, later renamed by the Ateneo as “Tanghalan Onofre R. Pangsanghan.” Three of his books are now being used in different high schools, and two others by the Ateneo High School.

For his work and various achievements in the field of education and theatre, he has received some 17 different awards from various prestigious institutions and organizations.

To this day, at ninety years, Pagsi continues to teach at the Ateneo.

Sir Emil P. Jurado – lawyer, eminent journalist and fearless columnist whose career in media now spans 65 years, starting in l950 as editor of the Cotabato-based weekly Mindanao Cross. Sir Emil has written for major newspapers past and present, including Manila Standard for which he has been writing since its founding in 1987. He was also with the former Channel 9 of the Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS) and had hosted a daily commentary on radio.

As a journalist who used to cover Malacañan Sir Emil has now outlived six presidents — Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos and Cory Aquino. One of his students in second year high school was my section mate, former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada.

Among the professional media organizations of which he became president are the Business Writers Association of the Philippines (BWAP) and the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), where he remains as Chairman Emeritus. As a veteran media practitioner, Emil continues to enjoy the trust and respect of all the big names in Philippine business. At age 89, he still pounds away at his old Olympia manual typewriter for his “To The Point” column in Manila Standard.

The Third is Sir Greg C. Brilliantes – an imposing figure in journalism and in the country’s literary firmament, he is one of our most accomplished writers in English. Long installed in the prestigious Palanca Awards’ Hall of Fame, he holds multiple other awards and is widely acknowledged for his elegant writing style. Most of his works deal with the subject of alienation that confronts individuals, not just from the family or from society, but more agonizingly, even from their own selves.

His acclaimed works include The Distance to Andromeda and Other Stories, The Apollo Centennial, and On A Clear Day in November Shortly Before The Millennium, Stories for a Quarter Century. He served as editor of a variety of leading publications that included Sunburst, The Manila Review, Focus, Asia-Philippines Leader and the highly popular Philippines Free Press of the pre-martial law years.

Sir Greg was unable to join his us last Thursday, but via phone call, he expressed his deep gratitude for honoring and remembering him.

We ended the merienda-cena with a spontaneous, spirited singing of “Fly High, Blue Eagle Fly”, each one of us still remembering the entire lyrics of the song composed by Raul Manglapus. The gathering evolved from a suggestion made by Danny Santiago who gave us the idea during one lunch meeting of members of my Section B. We enthusiastically picked up Dan’s idea and I promptly formed a committee composed of our batch president Tony Lopa and section reps Ric Lacson, Leni Albar, Boy Ampil, Nonoy Alindogan, Roger Asuncion and Cenen Dizon to organize the event.

The three individuals and our other teachers whom we were unable to contact or have already passed away, will remain in our hearts and (hopefully) our minds for their very critical roles during our formative years, in ensuring that each of us becomes “a man for others”.. One is led to wonder how we would have fared, or what would have become of us, had we been handled by less caring and dedicated, even if equally competent mentors.