This interview features Paul John "PJ" Hernandez, a Social Sciences Teacher at the Colegio San Agustin - Makati, Founder of The Traveling Salakot, and the President of Philippine Leadership and Empowerment Advocate for Development, Inc.
How did you become a youth leader in the social sciences?
Well, I grew up in a family that is humble and less in many economic aspects but full and much with dignity and values. As they say a “typical Filipino family”, middle-lower class, but I am so lucky to have selfless parents that tirelessly work from sunrise to dawn in order for me to finish my tertiary education, “ginapang ang pag-aaral.” I took a Baccalaureate degree, BSE Major in Social Sciences at the Philippine Normal University-Manila, and a post-Baccalaureate degree in Religious Studies at DLSU-Manila. Right now, I am on a “break” but still hoping to finish my Master's Major in Anthropology at ADMU.
I fell in love with learning! It opened my eyes to the histo-political and socio-cultural realities of our country (and the world!) It urges me, it challenged me... “it calls me” (as Moana says hehe) to do something! These opportunities made me “sharply awake and reasonably disturbed.” This intense feeling within me brought me to different youth organizations, community initiatives, and movements. As I expose myself to the vastness of the world, something inside me brings me closer to my personal “Calcutta.” Just like Mother Theresa, it is the place where your/my greatest strengths and the “world deep hunger” meet (I owe that line to Fredrick Buechner). And for me, that is culture and heritage promotion, preservation, and development!
I started to create small initiatives like heritage promotions and free walking tours in our heritage places in Meycauayan, Bulacan, and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila. Yes, it may be considered “non-essential” and not so important compared to poverty, human rights, and global warming but this is the initiative where I can see and feel myself. I think this is where I can give my everything! I am hoping that my simple contributions will also be part of the national development of our country.
What are the most pressing issues that concern Filipinos in the social sciences and how do you address these issues?
Alas, Ad infinitum! There are a lot! I do not know where to start! When you enter the world of social sciences, you will see (and feel) the humongous social issues that the Filipinos are facing. In this field, you will be trained to see from a different perspective, a social and critical lens. With all these phenomena that we are facing, it is important for us to define it, explain it and dissect it “what is it?” “ano ito?” What is poverty, inequality, corruption, discrimination, global warming, etc? Why are we experiencing these horrendous phenomena? But the greatest challenge in this field is to answer the daunting question, “what is ought to be?” Ano ba ang nararapat? A lofty quest for the ideal. It is not a utopian concept but reachable, livable, and concrete conditions and situations! (Don’t worry, I will not start discussing different social theories here haha) If the government is pestered with corruption then we should strive to have a transparent, accountable, and moral government! Knowing the complexity of the social issues will give you the wisdom to tackle the possible solutions for it.
As an educator, cultural worker, and youth leader, my focus and advocacy are on the issue of culture and heritage promotion and conservation (as I mentioned earlier). NCCA Chair Felipe M. De Leon perfectly encapsulates the enduring problems of the Filipinos:
There can be no national unity without a sense of pride in being Filipino. For how do we expect a Filipino to care and work for the good of the nation if he does not even believe in being Filipino?
Culture and heritage are the souls of the nation. It is the source of our collective memory, our histories, and our identity as Filipinos! We need to continually protect it, develop and conserve it. We believe that if the Philippines will have serious and effective cultural education programs and initiatives we can ignite the force that we needed for nation-building. This is the reason why I/we started a simple passion project called “The Traveling Salakot” It aims to “Puntahan, Protektahan at Payabungin ang mga Yamang Pamana ng Bayan” (Promote, Protect and Enrich our Cultural Heritage). We are using arts and heritage to teach the history and values of the Filipinos. Since history subject is “boring” for many people and for some GenZ, we are experimenting with different creative avenues to educate the people. In the pre-pandemic time, we also conduct walking heritage tours with performances (e.g songs and historical reenactment) in our city here in Bulacan. The pandemic really challenged us to think of other ways to continue our advocacy. We tried online or virtual museums and storytelling for kids!
One of our major victories in this advocacy is the preservation of the old train station in Meycauayan. The old structure faced demolition because it is within a Build, Build, Build project but we tried to lobby with our LGU, to different government agencies and we also asked for the support of the community. It was really exhausting! It was a long journey due to the “red tape” in the bureaucracies and sometimes lack of sympathy of some government officials. But thank God the government heard us and the building will not be demolished! The new train station will be positioned meters away from the heritage building and the old one will be re-purposed as our local history museum! This situation is an important example of public and government cooperation! It embraces inclusiveness and a whole of society approach to address some social issues!
As a youth leader in the social sciences, what characteristics are you looking for in a national and local government candidate? How would these characteristics enable the candidate to address the issues that you mentioned?
As the rights holders and sovereign, we should demand the highest possible standards for the “duty-bearers” or public servants of our country! Like transparency, accountability, people empowerment, good governance initiatives etc. But to sum it up I would like to use the “KKK” of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting or PPCRV as a simple yet essential standard in choosing our national and local leaders. The KKK stands for karakter (character), kakayahan (competency) and katapatan (honesty). The KKK demands both professional and personal characteristics that a servant leader should have.
The first criterion is “character”, a public servant must abide by the highest moral standards. S/he should be a role model for the nation, living out our good Filipino and universal values. Someone who listens and genuinely cares for the people. Second, s/he must be “competent!” They must have the capabilities and experiences needed for the job. It is important that they are equipped not only with a passion to serve but the technical know-how of the intricacies of the bureaucracy and governmental processes.
Lastly, “honesty!” Someone who is transparent, open, and biased to the truth! Honesty and transparency to the public are important ingredients for continuous dialogue and cooperation of the government and the people. But if I can add one last “K” that is pagmamahal sa Kultura/Kalinangan. A leader who knows his country well! Its histories, cultures, and diversity. We believe that “pag mas kilalamo ang bayan, mas mapaglilingkuran mo ito."
As a youth leader in the social sciences, what policies and programs do you want national and local government candidates to support? Which of these do you want to be prioritized?
Again, there are many socio-political and economic issues in our country, but as an advocate of Philippine culture and heritage, I hope our candidates will also focus on cultural and heritage conservation. Sometimes culture and arts are gravely neglected. This is not a priority for a developing country like the Philippines, a nation that is suffering from severe poverty and social divisions.
One concrete example of this neglect is the continuous “heritage rape” in the country. Many old and historical buildings were demolished despite the guarantee of protection under the Heritage Law of 2009! The notion and idea of “development” for many of us are limited to high-rise buildings and bustling business districts! But development should be holistic! It should also protect the people, their culture, and their creation. I hope the candidates will also look into the different ways on how we can balance economic progress and cultural conservation. If we will continue to neglect culture and heritage protection and conservation, we are losing a tangible reminder of our past and history!
Should candidates with these characteristics and priorities succeed in #Halalan2022, how do you envision the Philippines and the lived realities of Filipinos in the social sciences in 6 years?
I hope the next 6 years will be years of HOPE, MGA TAON NG PAG-ASA! Panahon kung saan malaya muling “mangarap” ang mga Pilipino! A life full of possibilities and opportunities for all of us no matter what is your social or economic background ! Free from the shackles of poverty, inequality, discrimanition, and other social challenges! Kaysarap isipin at madama na may pag-asa muli! Na may pagkakataon, na may posibilidad na makaahon na mula sa problemang nagdulot ng mga hinagpis at panaghoy!
Sana nga sa mga taong iyon makamit rin natin ang ilan sa mga layunin ng AMBISYON NATION 2040, isang MATATAG, MAGINHAWA at PANATAG na BUHAY para sa lahat ng mga PILIPINO! Bilang pagtatapos nais kong ibahagi ang ilang taludtod mula sa tulang “Isang Dipang Langit” ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining, Amado V. Hernandez:
At bukas, diyan din, aking matatanaw / sa sandipang langit na wala nang luha, / sisikat ang gintong araw ng tagumpay... / layang sasalubong ako sa paglaya!