I AM a product of the public educational system. Since college, I have been studying in a state university. A public elementary school shared a fence with the house my family lived in for years.
During one summer, the women in my family enrolled in a dressmaking course offered by the local school. Whenever community dances, school programs, and graduation exercises were held at the covered court, we watched from the second-floor bedroom.
Even when we didn’t want to watch, the grills and glass panes of our windows would reverberate whenever the dance music started booming during evening school events. No other space could accommodate communal affairs in our industrial/residential zone.
Working with communities lying outside urban centers, I estimated the true worth of a community by the number and condition of the local public school buildings. Coastal public schools are generally better-off than upland ones.
Households in remote areas counted themselves lucky if there was a nearby public school, even if this was a one-room affair where the teacher taught students of two or three grade levels at one end and crossed to the other end to teach the higher levels.
Taking part in school feeding, I learned that the walking required from home to school and back again, often on an empty stomach, and the family’s need for extra hands for farm work pruned many public classrooms of students even before a week was through.
Some teachers came late on Monday mornings and left early on Friday afternoons. The most orderly room in some schools turned out to be the library where visitors tucked into the food teachers paid for and prepared, sometimes in the presence of a few books locked inside cabinets.
To cast my vote on May 13, I waited for three hours, perhaps spending a third of that going through the sitting-standing-sitting sequence in a public classroom, labeled a “holding area” for citizens waiting to be summoned to enter another classroom to finally cast their ballots.
My fellow citizens, thinking that two hours of standing in line were finally culminating when we first stepped inside the holding area, ruefully called the classroom “para laming,” which is the practice of starving a live creature that will shortly be eaten in order to keep its digestive tract clean and clear before the slaughter.
In the “laming” classroom, it was not exaggerating to imagine we were being purged: acutely harder to breathe and move around, one just stopped thinking.
When I recall the midyear elections of 2019—the hope for changes, the crushing aftermath—I will add to my memories of public classrooms the phrase: “para laming”.
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 19, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”