Let’s begin at the end.
At 9 A.M. on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, the college faculty members of Colegio De San Lorenzo (CDSL, aka SanLo) gathered at the library for a meeting in preparation for the opening of classes on Monday, Aug. 15. Instead, the College Dean announced that the meeting was cancelled. Also, the school operations for the day were halted. Unbeknownst to us, the teachers in the Basic Education Department also received the same advisory.
No other explanation was given. Teachers huddled in groups trying to make sense of what had just happened. What will happen when classes start on Monday? Are we still having classes? What do we tell the students? WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING?
By 1:00 P.M., those of us who decided to stay behind were told what kind of hell was happening. The College Dean called us back and announced that SanLo will not start classes on Monday because the school will be closed down and that we will have a meeting with the school owners’ lawyers. Over the weekend, advisories were posted on SanLo’s FB pages informing college students and their parents to attend an assembly at 9 A.M. on Monday where important announcements will be made. Teaching and non-teaching personnel of the Basic Education and College Department will have an assembly with the same lawyers at 1:00 PM on the same day. The lawyers’ meeting with the Basic Education students and parents via Zoom was scheduled on Aug. 16, 2022.
I am a journalist by profession, long before I transformed into a college professor in 2008. Even a newbie reporter would know that I was sitting on a scoop, a breaking piece of news with all the drama of a perfect news peg; classes around the country were set to open on Aug 15 and 22--and here we were, closing down a school. Instead of leaking the news to media contacts, I chose to freeze it. The journalistic drive gave way to the teacher’s concern for the students. There was not much to go on to write a story. No details were forthcoming. A news leak would only fuel speculation, raising more questions than answers that could very well lead to anxiety and panic for students and parents.
In 14 years of teaching (2008-2022), I have taught some 6,000 students, which included Journalism majors. In 11 out of those 14 years, I was the adviser of the Escribano, the official student publication of CDSL. I suppressed the impulse to give Escribano editors the heads-up. I made my decision as a teacher and mother, not as a journalist. Incoming editor-in-chief Vincent Pagaduan and managing editor Ellaine Calindas will have to find out like the other students; they will have to delineate their role in the bigger picture: to react as students or as campus journalists.
On Sunday, August 14, Vincent sent a PM on Facebook: “Good day, Ma’am. We will cover the assembly tomorrow.” The news had leaked, most probably from some student council officers who had been tasked to help with the aborted faculty meeting that Friday.
“Okay, Vincent,” I replied. “Alert your writers, photographers and videographers. Keep the coverage sober and low profile. Let the story tell itself.”
At 9:00 A.M. on Monday, August 15, I joined the Escribano staff in covering the assembly. I chose to be the observer, plugging holes in the coverage whenever and wherever. This was their story in the fullest sense, as victims and as campus journalists. They mingled with the irate parents and students, recorded quotes, sourced background details, angled their cameras and got the most ironic shot— two seemingly unfazed lawyers on stage facing the hostile crowd with the word CONGRATULATIONS (from the past month’s Basic Education graduation ceremony) emblazoned above them.
At 11:30 A.M. the assembly ended and we all regrouped at the Newsroom Production Office. After a short lunch of pizza and water, and lots of deep breathing to control the tears that threatened to fall, the press work began. Inevitably, each one cried as we tried to make sense of the notes and visuals we had. Most of the on-stage photos ironically had the jarring word CONGRATULATIONS in the frame. The question was asked: Do we crop this word out? I answered: If you don’t crop it, how would it affect the story? The editors used the photos as they were, and the word CONGRATULATIONS fueled the most heated comments on the thread. It underscored the cruel impunity of what had happened.
Editor-in-chief Vincent Pagaduan recalls, “I had so many thoughts running through my mind that day. I had a hint that the general assembly would be about the closure of the school. But when the confirmation came on August 15, it left such pain in my chest and the lingering question: Did we deserve to be left hanging out to dry?! Still there was a breaking news to cover and we did it with heavy hearts. We didn't let the bad news stop us from doing our job.”
Vincent, who lives in Subic, Zambales, had just returned that weekend to Quezon City where he had rented a room to stay in for the semester. The refund of school fees would not cover rentals and other incidental expenses.
“Right now, I'm just thinking that God has a better plan for us. We are hurting, but we have to move forward. I'm just thinking now that this is just a test that needs to be overcome,” Vincent concludes.
After hearing the news, managing editor Ellaine Calindas felt extreme anxiety and frustration. She says, “As a graduating student, all the uncertainty bothered me a lot. I did not want to believe that it was real because I was worried about how we are going to recover from all the physical, emotional, and financial damage at such short notice. But I am thankful that we stood firm against all odds and did our job.”
Ellaine had not told her grandmother what the real score was. She did not want to worry her Lola, who had sent her off that Monday morning pleased that her granddaughter would finally attend F2F classes. How was she going to tell her the truth—wala nang pasok at wala na ding eskwelahan! “The thought of leaving the institution and the people who have been part of who I am today will always hurt. I wish that they will be able to overcome all the adversities, and will end up in a better place.”
Staff writer Jenifer Valdez says it felt like she was in a cocoon when the news broke. The enormity of what had happened hit her harder on the following days. “I felt uncertainty, fear, and neglect. I am a working student who is just trying to survive and finish my education because it is my dream. I am a graduating student and the realization that my dream might be delayed is too painful for me,” Jenifer says.
Ellaine, Vincent and Jenifer, like many of the contributing staff in the newsroom, were graduating students. Where will they transfer? Will their subjects be credited in the other school? Will they be able to afford the tuition fees?
In the course of press work, all these personal worries receded to the back burner. There were worst stories: One parent paid P100,000+ tuition fees for her three children. Another got a salary advance to pay her child’s tuition on Thursday afternoon; school operations shut down the next day. Still another parent got a loan to pay her child’s tuition fee balance from the last semester as students with outstanding balances could not be enrolled. The school refund will not include payment for outstanding balances. Much later, the school owners decided to write off student debts and release their school documents to them.
As the editorial staff wrote articles and captions, their emotions surfaced, and tears flowed, or they covered their faces etched with anger and pain. My burden was how to answer their questions on why this situation happened in the first place: “Is there no regard for the law?” At this point, I stepped in to halt the emotional hemorrhage. I instructed them to write short pieces or intros, and use a photo essay format with expanded captions where they could. This way, they will be able to focus on aligning texts and visuals and write the news as journalists and not as victims.
This is a dark chapter in their young lives. It is also their brightest moment as campus journalists who are tasked to inform, to educate, to lay bare the truth. They were in the right place at the right time. They were the best persons to write about this piece of news because by an awful twist of fate, they are also victims, among the 1,300 plus displaced students from the Basic Education and College Departments.
I am one of the 100 displaced employees of SanLo. Early on, I gave notice to my dean that this school year would be my last. When I turned 60, I thought of retiring but the Good Lord gave me a ten-year bonus as an active teacher. Now at 70, it was time for young blood to take over but events have overtaken my plans. Of late, I am being directed by an unseen hand to be involved in the education of grade school children and the enrichment of English-subject teachers. I am beginning to think that the young blood in my earlier plan is in the basic education classroom where reading and writing take place, where there are young minds with raw unbridled creativity. Surely, there could be some teachers and journalists there in the making.
As of this writing, the graduating class of the Communication Arts Department has transferred to Trinity University of Asia (TUA). Many members of the graduating class are running for honors. TUA has waived the residency requirement for Latin honors making it possible for students to graduate with distinction.
On Sept. 7, 2022, the Senate committee on higher, technical, and vocational education summoned the president of Colegio De San Lorenzo and asked her about the abrupt closure of the school.