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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Philippine Women's University In The Eyes of One of Its Educators

Philippine Women's University In The Eyes of One of Its Educators

On March 8, 2015, we celebrated International Women's Day and yet the first school for women in Asia is in a lot of trouble---the Philippine Women's University (PWU). It is a private, non-sectarian educational institution which would mark its centennial in academic year 2019-2020.

STI wins auction of PWU foreclosed properties

PWU properties along Taft Avenue in Malate, Manila, where the PWU campus is located, plus another property located at Pilar Hidalgo Lim Street, Malate, Manila, registered in the name of PWU, were allegedly won by STI Education Systems Holdings, Inc. (STI) in the auction sales involving extra-judicial foreclosures on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.

STI has also filed a petition for foreclosure of the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (JASMS) Quezon City campus; and a property in Davao under the name of Unlad Resources Development Corporation (Unlad), the corporate arm of the Benitez family.

PWU Rehabilitation Plan

Asked for comment, PWU President Dr. Jose Francisco Benitez said PWU did not contest the auction because an earlier case for rehabilitation was filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court by former Senator Helena Z. Benitez, chairperson and long-time creditor of the beleaguered Philippine Women’s University.

"I would like to assure all of you that we are pursuing all legal actions necessary to protect the interests of our students, faculty and the schools. The school remains open and operations are normal. We are accepting enrollment for next year and are heartened by your support. Despite press releases from STI, we are still in control of PWU and our direction is clear for the future of PWU,” Dr. Jose Francisco Benitez said in a statement.

The Rehabilitation Plan calls for a 10-year period which will allow reasonable payment to all of PWU’s creditors (including former Sen. Benitez and STI) through the sale of Benitez family assets and cashflow from the operations of the schools. PWU is still waiting for the issuance of the Commencement Order on the Rehab Petition. If granted, it will invalidate the auction sale and pave the way for the approval of the rehabilitation plan of PWU. If denied, PWU has one year within which to redeem the PWU properties. The same holds true for the possible Foreclosure auction sale of the JASMS QC property, scheduled for March 24.

PWU Loan History

The foreclosure petition stemmed from PWU's alleged failure to pay almost P1 billion in accumulated loans, interest, and expenses. STI has acquired PWU’s loan with BDO worth P223 million in 2011, and loaned another P198 million to Unlad.

PWU earlier offered STI P644 million to settle the dispute which the latter rejected.

An Educator's Perspective

On the face of the foreclosure of its properties initiated by STI, it is not only the owners, students and their parents who will be affected but also the educators who dedicated their lives in giving a brighter future to our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

With all the legal battles and media frenzy, no one dared to ask the teachers of PWU what their take is on said foreclosure. I decided to interview Ms. Angel Velasco Shaw, an Associate Professor at the Philippine Women’s University School of Fine Arts and Design, Director of the Institute for Heritage, Culture and the Arts, and Research Coordinator.

Prof. Shaw is an American-born Filipina who has been teaching for 23 years at universities such as New York University (11 years), Hunter College of The City University of New York, Columbia University, Pratt Institute and The New School. In addition, she's also a practicing filmmaker, media artist, freelance curator, and cultural organizer.

Here is an excerpt of my interview with Prof. Shaw:

Professor Shaw, can you give me a little background about yourself please. When did you start teaching at PWU?

I have been going back and forth to the Philippines for the past 30 years working on art and cultural projects, and teaching workshops in Metro Manila, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Bago City and Baguio City. In July 2013, I relocated to Manila and began teaching at Philippine Women's University in August 2013, first as a graduate mentor and advisor to graduate students in the School of Fine Arts and Design as well as a part-time faculty and faculty/curriculum development consultant. In June 2014, I was appointed Director of the newly inaugurated Institute for Heritage, Culture and the Arts, an Associate Professor and Research Coordinator and I continue to teach undergraduate and graduate courses.

What is your take on the dispute between Benitez family and STI? Do you support the Benitez family on this issue?

While I can understand that you would like me to address your questions in the specific context of the Benitez/STI dispute, I would prefer to focus my responses in a less direct way, albeit pertinent, as I feel that the media (mainstream and otherwise) is focusing on an issue that while important and valid, I feel is not necessarily a public matter in the way that it is being framed and continues to be reported on.

Having said this, my opinion about their business agreement, is at this point, irrelevant to what transpired over the years as far as their partnership and subsequent dissolve goes.

In 2011, the Benitez family entered into an agreement with STI whereby the latter assumed PWU’s loan with BDO in exchange for certain considerations. Are you personally in favor of that deal? Why?

Although, it is true that the outcome of this dispute will affect me as a concerned educator/employee in more than one-way. I do think it is of utmost importance that the media present other voices and experiences at PWU, that of faculty, students and staff. So thank you for this opportunity. If you would like responses from any of my students about their experiences at PWU, please let me know and I will try to arrange this.

Since my employment at PWU, I have had the great pleasure of working with Dean Josephine Turalba (School of Fine Arts and Design) and President Francisco Benitez. The two of them share the same pedagogical vision as myself, one which acknowledges and upholds the importance and value of providing the best possible academic education and equal access to education regardless of their financial, ethnic, regional, religious, gender backgrounds.

President Francisco Benitez has a forward-thinking pedagogical vision that I have not personally encountered in quite the same way, over the course of years of interactions with scholars and artists on several Philippine college campuses where I have had the opportunity to speak at and/or conduct workshops. This is not to say, that these campuses do not have progressive pedagogical practices as these campuses also have dedicated faculty members and excellent mission and vision statements.

Due to President Benitez’s commitment to upgrade the quality of education and my positive experiences of working under his visionary leadership and scholarship, I choose to come on board as a full time faculty member despite the fact that I had the opportunity seek employment at other universities at the time that I was making the decision in April 2014. His dedication to the largely underprivileged student body—sons and daughters of overseas workers and other low-income earners is unwavering. As an academician and scholar, President Benitez has an excellent understanding of how a liberal arts university should be run and the academic opportunities needed to provide students with the best quality education available to them which a university like PWU can support. He understands the balance needed in departmental curricula to strive to uphold and upgrade towards providing students with sufficient practical job skills as well as academic intellectual skills which promote reading/writing and critical thinking proficiency necessary for a student to compete in a job locally and globally.

As someone who has not only taught children of Filipino overseas workers enrolled at Hunter College in New York, but now, of their children enrolled at PWU, I have a good understanding of the hardships that parents and children face and encounter and the degree of difficulty of staying in school and believing that higher education can help them do more than just survive in an imbalanced Philippine economy where there are more have-nots, than haves. Vocational skills and job placement is not enough to help these youths to live and actively participate in creating a stronger, more balanced Philippine nation. PWU has been on a path for 95 years to grow the nation in a humble way, and not merely to educate people to participate as laborers both locally and globally.

President Benitez has spoken on several occasions to his PWU constituents about students, faculty and staff being stakeholders in the university. In all of my years of teaching, I never genuinely felt like a “stakeholder” until teaching at PWU.

If Tanco of STI assures the public that PWU will remain an educational institution in his group’s overall plan, would you support him instead or will you be loyal to the Benitezes?

My commitment first and foremost is to my students and to the pedagogical philosophy of President Benitez who, as far as I can see, since I began at PWU, is not only dedicated to improving his students and faculty’s abilities to compete academically in Metro Manila and nationwide, but within the Southeast Asian region and globally. He understands full well the kinds of challenges that PWU faces in the local and global academic and educational arena. I am witnessing how he is trying to meet these challenges through his interactions with my undergraduate and graduate students, and university-wide events where he has spoken quite frankly and eloquently about PWU’s mission and vision.

It is important to stress to the public that there is not one form, system or ideological perspective about what constitutes education nor is there one simple way to define what pedagogical practices are and what their approaches and attributes will contribute to a society. Formal, informal and alternative learning practices are multi-faceted with a plethora of outcomes that might not be seen immediately, but over a period of time. And yet, such methodologies can be used immediately by students with concrete results like employment in their respective fields of study. Education is not a monolithic structure although it is simpler for members of a society to understand it as such. Is education a “business”? Yes, it is but as mentioned, there are different models with similar yet different potential outcomes.

My own approach to education is a wholistic one that includes an understanding that the institution, educators, administrators, students and staff must strive to work together in a mutually beneficial harmonious manner that supports the mental, economic, and spiritual health of a community in relationship to other communities that comprise a nation. How people working together whether as teacher/learner, administrator/management is based on a vision that provides students with adequate academic and practical skills and tools to do more than just survive. Quality education promotes equal access and potential for upward mobility no matter what one’s ethnic, religious, class, gender, geographic background.

It is my belief, however, that an institution must provide critical thinking tools in order to attain these possibilities for a better life and how an individual contributes to a society can only be obtained if one is given the tools to think and act upon their thoughts, be self-reflexive, value the knowledge base from not just their own life experiences or their family’s, but society’s and then built upon this growing knowledge base which formal and “higher” education can offer. Balance is needed.

PWU is a university that I have come to know and love because I can contribute, in my own small ways, to this vision and mission that I have mentioned briefly, in a wholistic manner. When I first came to PWU, I had no idea that its 95 year old mission and vision would align so closely with my own. In fact, I didn’t know that two of its seven original female founders are somehow related to me—Concepcion Aragon Santiago and Clara Aragon Villanueva—until I came upon their photographs in one of the hallways and saw a woman who resembled my mother in an uncanny way.

I remain committed to my ancestors’ vision and practices no matter where in the world I teach, work as a cultural organizer and cultural practitioner. This is a part of my continuum.

What is your message or appeal to the Benitez family? To the Tanco group?

My appeal is not only to the Benitez and Tanco groups, but to the PWU community of students, faculty, and staff, and to the public at large to take the needed time to reflect on each other’s perspectives, needs, expectations, and fears about what a wholistic education can offer students in the present and future, and what diverse services and needs can be satisfied by such an approach. 

To wrap up the interview the good Professor left this message and quote:

Thank you for your time and for reading my words. 

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”      ― Paulo Freire



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