A teacher remembers P-Noy, Jinggoy, Koko and his other stellar grade school students
For 11 long years, I was a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila grade school. At the time, students were fiercely competitive. Every boy fought to be, and remain, in the Top 10 (some parents were pushing their kids), to win all kinds of honors, medals and prizes.
When school opened in June 1972, a gangling, soft-spoken, 12-year-old boy with a most familiar name sat in my advisory class, along with 40 other wide-eyed wards. His name: Benigno Aquino III.
His manner, speech and behavior spoke of his upper-class upbringing. He was friendly but quite reserved. He was exceptional in the subjects I taught, particularly the language arts— English grammar and reading.
But something happened during the third month of that year. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21.
Classes were disrupted momentarily and, when school resumed, Noynoy, as his classmates called him, had disappeared. There was no word from his family (although the arrest of his father, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., was of course a publicly recorded event).
Sudden turn of events
Noynoy finally returned to class sometime in October to continue his studies. His mother accompanied him and personally requested me and his other teachers to guide and help Noynoy get back into the groove. She said the family was still adjusting to the sudden turn of events but Noynoy insisted that he could not afford to miss school.
I remember Noynoy excelled as a reader, breezing through stories with admirable speed and comprehension. He effortlessly became the class contestant in the academic finals for reading later that school year. After topping the class elimination, he won the bronze medal in a closely fought finals.
But when he ran for vice president of the student council that same year, Noynoy lost, although his class campaigned for him.
Many years later, I had a student in sixth grade who also bore a familiar name: Jinggoy Estrada.
Though I taught him in only one subject, I could sense his dominant role in the group. He wielded a strong influence among his peers, who obviously knew him as the son of Joseph “Erap” Estrada, actor-producer and a leading denizen of tinseltown.
I remember how Jinggoy would customarily help his teachers. He would extend his hand to me, in the corridor, offering to carry my things. He was a dependable kabarkada to his classmates. Though I hardly saw his father (or his mother) at school events, everyone knew him as a movie icon.
I could, by that time, foretell that Jinggoy himself was cut out for a future political career unlike Noynoy, who had, at that time, a laid-back persona. (I would meet Noynoy again in 1986 on a street near Camp Crame, camping leisurely on the third day of the Edsa People Power Revolution. He immediately recognized me and shouted: “Sir, ano ang ginagawa ninyo rito?” I answered curtly, “Andito ako gaya ng lahat ng ating bayan.”)
Later, I would become the sixth grade class adviser of a boy whose name has become a byword in Philippine basketball today: Vincent “Chot” Reyes. He was then, at 12 years old, better in football, which he played to the hilt, than basketball.
I remember Chot as a youthful tactician, who had helpful tips on how to make the class team win a tight fight. My memory of Chot was limited to the Intramurals, particularly football and basketball.
Whenever I see or read about him now, he is invariably referred to as the coach of Gilas Pilipinas, his fame and glory now resting on how well he propels the country to renewed basketball glory. Chot, who was an asset to my class, is now an asset to Philippine sports.
When I was asked to teach the sixth grade honors class on another year, a student stood out as a creative writer. At a young age, Florencio “Floy” Quintos was already skilled at writing verses and essays. He wrote spontaneously and did not want to be bound by rules.
He had the gift for writing haiku and other kinds of poetry, which he enjoyed immensely. He is now, of course, an accomplished playwright, besides being writer-director of many memorable concerts and musicals.
I have treasured Floy’s literary talent and read his plays, a number of which have won acclaim.
There was another student who belonged to a much earlier time and was a contender for academic awards. Carlos Ponce-Enrile Siguion-Reyna had a creative soul at a young age and was most resourceful in class activities. He would ask his mother Armida for advice and she would make herself available for any kind of extra work as adviser or mentor to her young son.
When I asked the class to reenact scenes from the Philippine Revolution of 1896, Carlitos had a full-length script, with expert writing from Oscar Miranda no less. Miranda was a writer for Armida, then busy with her television work before the movies beckoned.
She would, of course, engage her son’s services for some of the memorable movies they would work on as a team.
There was one more student who, I recall, had a special gift for humor and wit. His name: Koko Pimentel. He belonged to a regular class, where I taught one subject. He excelled in academics, a perennial contender for Top 1 or 2 in the honor roll every quarter.
But I remember him mostly for his antics and jokes, which were quite atypical for his age. Bearing the name of the famous Pimentel politician, he is now a senator himself, a bar topnotcher and a leading fiscalizer in the Senate.
Looking back, I have collected a mosaic of memories of a time when I was addressed as “Sir” and can proudly claim to have produced a stellar cast of future leaders, led no less by the President himself, senators (though one has been suspended and is now in detention), a writer, a movie director and national basketball coach.
There are others from my many classes who have become doctors, priests, lawyers, businessmen and successful professionals. I have yet to hear from them and perhaps never will, as they have left Ateneo and the country, and are now among those who lead simple, unheralded lives shaped by work, family and the Almighty.
I am now semiretired, a senior citizen who still loves the movies and finds precious time for reading.
I left Ateneo in 1980 and worked for various companies. I salute my former colleague Onofre Pagsanghan of Ateneo High School who has opted to remain at Ateneo all his life.
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