Tale of poor cabbie’s son moves principal to action
Charls Bryan Katipunan was, like any other star student in high school, quiet, diligent, smart.
Classmates enjoyed his company in study groups; teachers had nothing to complain about his grades.
But unknown to most of them, every day in school had been a struggle for the 16-year-old son of a taxi driver.
In March, Katipunan graduated valedictorian of Batasan Hills National High School in a working-class section of Quezon City.
Addressing 3,000 graduates, he told a familiar tale of a bright student straining to meet the demands of school against the constraints of poverty.
In a matter-of-fact, self-deprecatory tone, he talked about how he often spent the little money he had for class projects and homework instead of lunch.
He described how hard it was to study in the cramped garage where he, his parents and seven siblings lived.
“He made us all cry,” recalled Diego Amid, the principal of Batasan Hills High, the second-most populated secondary school in the country with 13,000 students.
Amid said it was not until a few weeks before graduation the teachers learned of Katipunan’s plight.
“We were shocked because he was doing so well in school. We never thought that the money he was spending for printouts was supposed to be his money for food,” Amid said in an interview.
The principal visibly fought back tears as he recalled Katipunan’s speech. “He was not saying it in an emotional way. He was saying it intelligently. But it was so touching,” he said.
Amid said the boy’s story so moved him that at a recent meeting, he urged teachers to be “vigilant” in looking out for cases like Katipunan’s and to provide some form of assistance if needed.
He said he hoped to launch an “adopt a school child” project to identify and provide assistance to those in need.
Most students in Batasan Hills come from low-income families in the densely populated neighborhood.
The tall, slightly built Katipunan said it was not his intention to make others pity him, much less, cry for him when he wrote and delivered his valedictory address, which was in English.
‘Never give up’
“I was only telling the story of my life, my struggles. It was only an introduction to what I wanted to say about what we, the graduates, should do to achieve success, which is to never give up, and to be patient,” he told the Inquirer.
Born on March 4, 1997, Katipunan is the third of the eight children of Charlie Katipunan, a cab driver, and his stay-at-home wife, Cecile.
The family flitted from one rented apartment to another. They never stayed in one place for long, as they would invariably be evicted for not being able to pay the rent. “I think we transferred houses every year since I was born,” Katipunan said.
The worst came in his senior year when the family was forced to stay in a garage at the taxi company that employed Katipunan’s father.
“It was an open space. It didn’t have a door, and we only had curtains for privacy. The condition was so bad, and we couldn’t get a good night’s sleep,” he said.
It wasn’t long before the Katipunans needed to find a new place when the owner of the property decided to renovate the garage for other purposes. “We were asked to leave on my birthday,” Katipunan said.
In school, the boy scrimped on lunch to be able to afford the cost of materials for his assignments, computer shop rentals, and printouts. His father, who worked 24-hour shifts on an every-other-day basis, gave him P20 to P50 on most days, but not regularly.
“My priority was the requirements at school. If I had some money left, I’d buy a burger for P10,” Katipunan said.
Tuition in public schools like Batasan Hills National High School is free. Textbooks are provided by the Department of Education. Collecting money from the students for any reason is prohibited.
Katipunan belonged to a special engineering and mathematics class that has a more rigorous curriculum, including courses on calculus, advanced chemistry and research, than the one taught in regular sections. Thus, the class, consisting of about 60 students divided in two sections, used more advanced textbooks.
“I borrowed my textbooks from my neighbors or from the upperclassmen,” he said.
For all his troubles at home and school, Katipunan said he was good at managing his time, which would explain his academic performance. In his first year in high school, he ranked ninth in the class. He rose to second the following year, and fell to third the next.
“Senior year was the hardest, with all the other additional subjects, especially calculus. I studied really hard, but I had no expectations. I only wanted to pass. I really did not expect that I would become the valedictorian,” he said.
Upon the recommendation of the principal, Katipunan won a four-year scholarship grant from the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS). He was chosen, along with five others, for excelling in school and rising above adversity, and for showing the qualities of “a servant leader,” said Dr. Rosemarie Jean Jaucian-Poblete of the PPS.
“I think PPS is very lucky to have Charls because we believe he is really the crème de la crème among public high school students,” she said.
As a scholar, Katipunan will engage in community public school health outreach projects for PPS for the duration of his scholarship, Poblete said.
“What is unique about this scholarship is that it requires the scholars to give back to their school of origin through the outreach program,” she said.
Parents role models
Katipunan is now an incoming freshman at Polytechnic University of the Philippines majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics.
“I want to make it my premedicine course, so I can become a doctor,” he said.
His original dream was to be an engineer or accountant, but the scholarship terms prompted him to take a science course instead.
Katipunan said his hardships as a student seldom caused him to feel sorry for himself.
“I keep an open mind. I just think of others who are in a worse situation. I think of all this as an advantage to make me stronger, rather than wallow in self-pity, considering there are people who have no place to stay and nothing to eat,” he said.
His parents are his role models. “I see how hard they work to raise us. They were never able to finish school, but they’re trying so hard to get us through school. I see myself in them, and I want to finish what they started,” he said.
“I have no clear view where I’d be 10 years from now,” Katipunan said. “What I know is I want to finish my studies, help my brothers and sisters, and buy a house so we don’t have to keep moving.”
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