Something is brewing in Lipa
The city of Lipa is hoping to reclaim its past and forge ahead into the future by being in the forefront of a sweeping reform program for the country’s educational system.
In simple and light-hearted ceremonies at Pinagtong-ulan National High School (PNHS) in Barangay Pinagtong-ulan, with Lipeños from all sectors in attendance, The Lipa Coffee Academy was formally launched Friday.
The academy opens with 57 students who will be trained in jobs needed to revive and revitalize what was once the city’s main income-generating activity
It is a pilot school in the implementation of the senior high school program under the K to 12 (kindergarten to Grade 12) basic education scheme of the Department of Education (DepEd). In the two-year senior high school curriculum—Grades 11 and 12—students can be prepared for college education but will also be given the chance to acquire skills that will make them employable should they decide to stop schooling upon graduation.
Reviving a glorious past
For the Lipeños, the coffee academy is a chance to reconnect with a significant period of their history and a major investment in their future and the city’s.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro, the driving force behind the flagship program of the administration of President Aquino, is Lipa born and bred. He not only taught at the Lipa campus of De La Salle University, he was also the university’s president before joining the Aquino Cabinet.
The choice of Lipa, specifically of Barangay Pinagtong-ulan, as site of the academy was not mere happenstance. It was, after all, at this exact same place in 1740 that the seed of the country’s coffee industry was first planted—literally. As told by master of ceremonies Dr. Celia E. Llaga, a Spanish friar planted the first liberica coffee tree in the barangay. Later nicknamed barako (loosely used to refer to “tough guy” or “macho” in Batangueño) for its robust taste and scent, the liberica became the centerpiece of the city’s main industry, earning Lipa the title “Coffee Capital of the Philippines.”
At the height of its glory, Lipa was a major coffee exporter, supplying the caffeine needs of people in San Francisco, California, in the United States. Luistro, who was obviously pleased to be addressing his kabayan in his ala eh accent, said Lipa’s success made barako the generic name for coffee in the Philippines.
A major disease outbreak in the late 1900s virtually wiped out Lipa’s coffee industry, leaving just small plantations. Although the industry has been trying to revive itself, retired military Col. Nicetas Katigbak said the country still imported annually some 15,000 tons of coffee beans to meet local demand. Katigbak’s Katy’s Farm in Barangay Tipakan will serve as the academy’s laboratory.
The program is expected to hasten the complete revival of Lipa’s coffee industry and its reclamation of the title Coffee Capital of the Philippines.
Luistro said the coffee academy and others like it that had opened or would be opened later were meant to debunk the perception that success was only possible “if students moved out and uprooted themselves from their communities.”
He said he did not want “kids to leave their communities because they do not find their education relevant to their (immediate environment).”
“My hope is to allow the roots of education to be fixed first and anchored in the locality, for education to give students a sense of pride to remain where they are because there is something in the locality to keep them there,” the secretary said.
To do this, Luistro stressed the need to make the curriculum relevant and connected to the students’ actual environment. He said the curriculum, as it was taught, relied primarily on western concepts and realities, giving students the idea that the best kind of education was foreign.
“The curriculum does not consider the real environment as actual laboratory for science, math, language,” he said.
Contrary to this notion, the secretary pointed out: “The curriculum can derive lessons from the natural environment, from the place where people actually live, work, sleep. Kids will learn the different subjects from their own surroundings.”
With the academy, the secretary said students would know “hindi lang may pera sa kape, may kultura at may bukas sa kape (there’s not just money, but also culture and future in coffee).”
He acknowledged that making the academy’s curriculum relevant and responsive to the actual situation in the coffee industry could not be done by DepEd writers working from the central office in Manila. The department, he said, had to work with the industry and other sectors in the host communities.
Dr. Mercedita Pormentilla, Lipa City division superintendent of schools, said that as the academy aimed to develop “committed (coffee) technicians and researchers,” the curriculum was based on the needs of the school and the coffee industry. Lessons on coffee would be integrated into subjects like English, Filipino, biology, social studies, mathematics and career pathways, she said.
Real coffee growers
For the academy, the DepEd was fortunate to get the ready support and collaboration of father and son Jose and Jose Omar Mercado, who are behind the Merlo Group of Companies and the brand Cafe de Lipa, among others. Omar was Luistro’s student at La Salle Lipa.
The corporation is committed to provide any kind of support necessary to advance the cause of The Lipa Coffee Academy.
Also earnest to join the academy project is Katigbak, who has made it his lifelong campaign to fight for the revival and revitalization of Lipa’s coffee industry. He will be conducting the weekly six-hour practicum sessions in his farm.
He said he considered it a promotion to be transformed from a military officer to a teacher. “I risked my life for the country before, now I am risking my life for these students,” he said.
Katigbak’s farm is currently devoted solely to producing planting materials from seeds, which he gives away to small farmers and those who want to start their own plantations, and sells to those who can afford to pay.
Jose Mercado, Merlo chair and whose family has been involved with coffee since his father worked as a farmhand in a plantation, said a coffee tree could produce as many as 10-15 kilos of beans and has an average life span of 30 years.
The Rotary Club of Lipa, which will reportedly build a classroom in the farm, will help promote coffee propagation. Barangay Chair Bert Latina told Luistro the village council would subsidize the transportation expenses of students between PNHS and the farm.
City Administrator Ed Latido, representing Mayor Maynard A. Sabile, whose administration sponsored a two-room academy building in the PNHS compound, said the local government fully supported the initiative as it was already pursuing a program to revive the coffee industry. He said the city hoped the academy would help make coffee propagation more scientific and technically correct.
Not surprisingly, Luistro was elated and encouraged by the enthusiastic reception and support given the academy.
“No curriculum could be written without consultation with stakeholders and industry partners. The curriculum has to be rooted in the locality and the students’ everyday life … to make it relevant,” he said.
The PNHS launch was capped by the signing of the memorandum of agreement for The Lipa Coffee Academy by all the major public and private partners, witnessed by, among others, PNHS principal Teresita Macatangay, Director Lorna Dino of DepEd Region IV-A (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon or Calabarzon), and Lipa Catholic Church diocesan head Msgr. Ruben Macatangay.