by Marlu Villanueva Balmaceda

My fifth grade Social Studies teacher was Ms. Betty Cosico.  She was tall with wavy coiffed jet-black hair and sparkly eyes. On your birthday she would give you a little gift like an estampita of your patron saint.  Back then, many were still named after the saint whose feast day fell on their date of birth.  Even in school, I had always used my nickname Marlu, so when Ms. Cosico gave me a St. Ursula prayer card, my classmates assumed that Ursula was my real name!

Besides her thoughtfulness, what I remember most about Ms. Cosico’s class were our tele-lessons.  Once a week we would all troop to the library in the Intermediate Building where there was one big black and white TV set. About 40 of us would squeeze in the library and focus on the television for about half an hour. If I remember correctly, the lessons were mainly about the different Philippine provinces and there was a workbook that accompanied the lectures.  I am assuming that it was a Department of Education initiative and quite an innovative one at the time.  That was probably our first exposure to technology as a medium for learning. It was a very crude precursor of today’s online classes.

Beyond the excitement of watching TV in school, I was drawn to the subject matter itself. I had always enjoyed social studies in Grade School and later, my history classes in High School.  What I appreciated about the Assumption was that our lessons were not stagnant; that our teachers tried to present them within the context of the times. We were not shielded from the social realities of the moment.

In the early 1970s, I recall classes being called off early because of student demonstrations in Plaza Miranda. Of course, our parents and teachers wanted us protected from any form of violence, but they also explained to us the reasons behind the unrest.  My father, who drove us to and from school, would snake through the traffic in the Quiapo area during those rallies and would help us understand the situation. When Martial Law was proclaimed in 1972, I was in sixth grade – old enough to comprehend its essence and witness its detrimental effects.

Throughout High School, we would still be under marital rule and would observe the curfew, the travel bans and undergo Citizens’ Army Training. These were minor inconveniences compared to the deprivation and oppression that others were suffering. The Assumption would continue to ingrain in us an informed social consciousness through retreats, immersions and even film showings of censored movies like Sakada.  In our Second Year history class, I recall an enlightening discussion on the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 which foreshadowed martial law in the Philippines.

In my adolescence we only had three daily newspapers and four television channels unlike the hundreds of sites now available in various media platforms. While the press was tightly controlled, we were encouraged to discern what was true and just. We were taught to be compassionate and to empathize with the less fortunate.  These were values that I personally held on to when I went to the University of the Philippines to pursue a degree in Journalism.

St. Marie Eugenie of Jesus once said, “to educate is to transform the world.” That world begins with our own little worlds – from childhood to adulthood – until our life melds with the worlds of others. Our transformative Assumption education has prepared us for life.

In just a few months we will be witnessing history – a crucial national election within this pandemic that has undoubtedly transformed humanity at large. The Assumption in us – our sense of integrity, justice and truth – will come to play and help us evaluate falsehoods and mere propaganda. The Assumption in us leads us to help transform society.

My little world of tele-lessons with Ms. Cosico some 50 odd years ago are now like faded black and white images pressed between scrapbook pages. Assumption students now spend entire days interacting through a computer monitor. While the medium has changed, I am assured that the Assumption Spirit remains constant; that the Assumption values of integrity, truth, justice and empathy continue to shine through.

All hail to our beloved Assumption!

Marlu Villanueva Balmaceda (HS ’78) belonged to the last Grade 7 class that graduated in Assumption Herran. Recently retired, she worked for over 30 years in corporate communications. An author and editor, her book titled “Tombola & Other Stories” is a collection of girlhood memories of growing up in the Assumption. She was a past president of the AAA and currently a trustee of Assumption College.

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