education in the Philippines

[OPINION] Hidilyn’s victory, PH education, and our ‘palakasan’ culture

Sensei Adorador

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[OPINION] Hidilyn’s victory, PH education, and our ‘palakasan’ culture

Graphic by Nico Villarete

'Sadly, most people’s admiration only comes out once you succeed. They stake a claim in your achievements but not in your struggles.'

The triumph of Hidilyn Diaz galvanizes the myth that perseverance plus hard work and determination can beat the odds. It’s a tale that has been repeated from generation to generation, and has inspired lots of budding Olympians. However, such formulaic and fictional myths should be dismantled.

Perseverance, hard work, and determination alone will not make someone an Olympian or spur them forward on the road to success. These platitudes are useless without the word “support.” Our country has produced many promising athletes, but the lack of support has made their efforts futile.

For example, chess prodigy Wesley So became a US citizen after he moved to the United States to follow his dream. He was tired of the politics and lack of support from his own country. Now, he enjoys support from the Land of Opportunity, something he never tasted in the Philippines due to a lack of connections.

We may recall that when Hidilyn vented her frustrations and begged for support on social media for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she was bashed by netizens. The nastiest part was that she was implicated in the matrix of destabilizers allegedly plotting to oust President Duterte. However, things changed when she achieved the first-ever gold medal of the Philippines in the Olympics. How the tables turned! Those who turned her down in the past started to congratulate her and promised her rewards. This shows that you only matter when you are already successful.

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This phenomenon can also be observed in our educational system. A lot of students’ potential fizzles out due to a lack of support. In this pandemic, many students have also dropped out of the system because of stress.

I have a student who excels in sports and academics but had to drop out of class because he doesn’t have a gadget and stable internet connection to sustain his studies. Despite his teachers’ encouragement to continue his studies, he said, “Sa sunod lang ako, Sir. Waay abi maayo signal sa amon kag pigado kami.” (Maybe next time, Sir. We simply don’t have connectivity back home, and we are also poor.)

The institution also cannot sustain providing module printouts for students who live in far-flung areas with limited internet connectivity. Some students even travel for two hours to the nearest computer shops to attend class and pass their outputs. Lots of students with potential do not have access to quality education due to limited resources.

School politics

The culture of palakasan is also evident when applying to universities. Despite shedding their blood, sweat, and tears to be admitted into their dream university, some students only end up getting in just because “may kilala” or they have friends in high places.

I know many students who were handpicked by the administration to join the university because they had many connections inside. Even Catholic schools offer scholarship slots to family members and even family friends because they are “malakas sa pari/madre.” And much to my chagrin, top officials of the academe are also products of palakasan or crony politicking. The logic of this is simple: they need allies to secure their power, so top officials only favor their cronies. Thus, the snowball effect of palakasan exacerbates the problem of scarcity of opportunities.

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Connections beat hard work and talent

I have kept in touch with lots of former varsity players who remained jobless after graduation. I ask them why they didn’t apply for a program that allowed them to showcase their talent, and some of them answered, “Wala connection, Sir. Si coach abi kulang connection.” (I have no connections, Sir. My coach doesn’t have such affiliations.)

Meanwhile, other former varsity players enlist with the Armed Forces of the Philippines or Philippine National Police. Yet others rely on coaching stints in schools, as not everyone can become a professional player. I know a former De La Salle University women’s football varsity player who became a maintenance staff in a co-working space that’s now defunct. She shared that to enter the Philippine team, you need to have strong connections. Not everyone in the Philippine team is good; some just know the right people.

This is also true in education somewhat. Some teachers ace their promotions simply because of their connections inside their institutions. Not all who have excellent records and achievements are promoted; it still depends on who you know inside the system. When it comes specifically to teacher’s applying to public schools, it is advantageous if you have connections with politicians and administrators in the division where you belong.

You only matter when you bring home the bacon

Hidilyn was recognized by politicians because she brought home the bacon. But what if she didn’t reach a podium finish? Would the cohorts of the administration continue to demonize her as a destabilizer? Would the people who bashed her before do it again?

Sadly, most people’s admiration only comes out once you succeed. They stake a claim in your achievements but not in your struggles. Some even discourage you in the process. I have witnessed this with some of my students, whose other teachers put them down and prevent them from dreaming.

I have seen athletes whose schools didn’t support them during competitions — not even with energy drinks or uniforms. These athletes even pay for their training out of their own pockets. When they win, though, the school takes the credit. And when they lose, the school ignores their efforts altogether.

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Inside the classroom, teachers only focus on those who excel in class and neglect those who need help. This is why promising but neglected students transfer schools if there is an opportunity or move to where their talents could be supported and honed.

Our education system is somehow the same as the Philippine Sports Commission. We have high standards but lack support. We want excellent outcomes, but we lack the funds to sustain the process. We like to showcase façades just like the golden cauldron, but we cannot face critics asking for transparency. We have a pool of talents, but we prefer the talentless who bow down to us.

The weight Hidilyn Diaz lifted was as heavy as the problems she experienced qualifying for the Olympics and getting that gold. But we Filipinos cannot carry the country’s many other problems on our own. We therefore need a leader who supports the people’s endeavors and is not afraid to be outshined by these people. Maybe a woman, perhaps? –

Sensei M. Adorador is part of the faculty of the College of Education at Carlos Hilado Memorial State College, Negros Occidental. He is a member of the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND). For comments and suggestions you can reach him at

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