Sunday, July 20, 2008

TBR16: Of physicians and physicists

Sir, I mean no disrespect but I hated Physics.

I never quite understood what- to me- are abstract concepts like torque and acceleration. The myriad formula and mathematical equations did not help. So it was with a heavy heart that I enrolled for Physics 71 class in that fateful summer of 1999 in UP Diliman. I took it as one of my science electives for my BS Psychology degree but more importantly, it was said to be a requirement for medical school which I planned to begin attending the following year.

Spending summer studying Physics wasn’t really how I envisioned the beginning of my last year in Diliman will be. But looking back now, Physics helped me become not just a good physician but a better Filipino as well.

I enrolled in your Physics class, you a (then?) young professor who acted as adviser of the organization I was a founding member of. I hoped to get through the class with much ease, what with my “connections” with you. As summer weeks spent in school are wont to do, they dragged on, terribly slow. It being a 12nn-2pm class (if I remember correctly) didn’t help one bit. In short, the class was a mega-struggle for me.

Until one day, a group of student activists doing an RTR (room to room) requested permission to speak to our class about the Visiting Forces Agreement or the VFA. It was around this time that much debate was taking place whether or not the Philippines should enter into such an agreement with the United States. The VFA aims to set the guidelines, among other things, for the conduct of members of the US armed forces while stationed in the RP. The recent event surrounding Daniel Smith and Nicole has served as a test case for the VFA. But I digress.

You allowed the ED (educational discussion) to proceed and gave them about 15 minutes of our precious class hours for the discussion of VFA. Afterwards, you shook hands with the students as they left the room and thanked you for the time you gave for the ED. I must admit I was a bit baffled. Not too many teachers would allow an ED in their class, especially during summer class. The schedules are tight: they have to fit a semester’s worth of classroom activities in just four short weeks.

Apparently, one of the ED proponents who visited us was a classmate of yours who, for one reason or another, is still to graduate from the university. You then subtly juxtapose your life with those of the students who just gave us an ED. This juxtaposition remains with me to this day.

You graduated on time, with a degree in Physics, magna cum laude- if I’m not mistaken. You already finished your Masters of Science degree, graduating with the best GWA in his batch of graduate students. At that time of our class, you were already working on your Ph.D. You taught in the UP- for a pittance (I now know this for a fact, sir). While your classmate, is still, well, a student, possibly overstaying his welcome in the university, occupying *space* and squandering university resources invested in him in the process.

As you were teaching in the UP, you shared that you were also helping develop a textbook of basic Physics for Filipino high school students- in the vernacular. You were not brandishing Manila paper signs blotched with red paint but the textbook you were working on was your simple, concrete contribution to Philippine society, helping bring empowerment through science education.

Thanks to you, I came to realize that not all activists are on the streets and not all those on the streets are activists.

I always thought that I was less of a UP student because I can only think of one rally that I joined. It was a rally- just a picket actually, considering that there were just 20 or so of us students who were “encouraged” by our Kas II teacher to participate in the protest in front of Quezon Hall- against the Commonwealth Property Development Plan (CPDP). Let’s just say that UP almost had a mall for a next door neighbor had the CPDP pushed through. I hasten to add that my voice in the protest is but a teensy-weensy bit in the larger community effort to reject the CPDP. ANYWAY…

I always thought that I was less of a UP student because I was not the typical activist, much to my mother’s relief. But your 20 or so minute spiel one summer day almost a decade ago propelled me through medical school, my work in Gawad Kalinga, and my work now in the UP. It boosted my belief that I can practice my own brand of activism and help effect positive change even if I don’t march in the streets and hurl invectives against government, opposing the latter on every occasion.

Inspired in no small terms by you, my erstwhile Physics teacher, I opted to value the investments in me by my parents and the Filipino taxpayer by graduating on time, both in my undergraduate as well as my medical degree. I opt to work with underserved communities even with the prospect of leaving and living abroad. I do on occasion also post on walls Manila papers that contain, rather than angry slogans, lessons on hand washing or hypertension, etc directed to community health workers.

Sir, I sat in your Physics class 9 years ago thinking it will be the worst summer yet. Sir, you have not have succeeded in purging me of my dislike for the subject matter that you teach. Dr. Chris Monterola, I still hate Physics but because of *that* day in your class, I love the Philippines more. I will be always grateful.


  1. hi ian....thanks for the comment....anyway...binabasa ko tong blog mo about your physics teacher....nung start sabi ko sulat kaya ako blog na sana e may sumulat ng blog na maganda about me....then habang tumatagal i was thinking sino kaya tong teacher na to....naisip ko naging teacher ko rin kaya to pero malabo kasi sabi mo 'young' pa sya at that time....sus...kagulat Chris Monterola pala!....di ko sya teacher....batchmate ko sya at if im not, di ako nagkakamali...i'm sure naging classmate ko rin sya in one of my subjects...di ko na nga lang alam kung physics, chem, math or sts...basta...grabe may Dr. na sa name nya....dormmates pa kami....whew....sila ni mimi mas marami ata classes na magkasama...
    anyway....see you friday....

  2. hi dr. ian, i never really liked physics either. i was once inclined to think that taking up physics as a course is one heroic act itself :P I'm quite sure dr. montinola would be the first to be surprised how much impact he's impressed on you.

    thanks for taking part in tbr-16. glad you made it to the rounds.

  3. I am always happy to hear about people who don't like physics, because i sure don't like it! noon or ever. Nice though how your physics teacher had a positive influence on you.

    I have a nice memory too of a physics teacher in UP. He bowled us over, the entire class, because he was the most debonaire and dashing physics professor ever to grace the pavilions of UP Diliman. Feeling ko, pag ito ang teacher ko kahit anong physics formula or problem, tiyak maiintindihan ko.

    But to our great dismay, after a few weeks we got a new teacher because we heard that he (our handsome hero) got ::gasp:: married. Shucks. I can't even remember his name. For that was a loooong time ago, sometime in 1980 pa.

  4. "Thanks to you, I came to realize that not all activists are on the streets and not all those on the streets are activists."

    True! We can be activists by making contributions to our society in our own little ways. At times, I even think those who quietly go about doing their work well are more "aktibista" than those out in the streets protesting noisily. After all, when you think about it, the root word of activist is "act" and not "talk" (and certainly not "whine").

    Doc Ian, I salute your Physics teacher and I salute you.

  5. a bit of trivia: if i remember correctly there was a time when the physics 71 and 72 exams were problem-solving. nyak! because of the high rate of flunking, the exams became multiple-choice type.

    i would guess that physicists are the coolest, most broad-minded of all academics; as their wont, they are likely to speak quotable lines. for physics, to me, is the highest form of logic.

  6. pinakbet: i wonder how sir was as a student... ask ko nga mimi when i see her next time =]

    doc gigi: thank you for giving me the extra push to do this post. i've been meaning to do it for the longest time- as in january 2008 pa kaya! so when i say your call for TBR entries, i said this is it =] yes, i would agree that taking up physics in itself IS heroic =]

    doc ness: that's what i do with my students- i win them over with my looks and charm harharharhar i wonder what you'd do if you meet your teacher again now...

    doc ligaya: hehe salamat! we do what we can =]

    doc meloinks: hmm come to think of it... i don't remember what our exams were like in Physics 71... show your solution pa yata kami e... or was that for Physics 71 lab? i believe that was how traumatic the Physics course was for me hehe- memories have already been repressed =0

  7. I suffered through physisc in college, but I survived... I wonder if our teacher is still teaching there... Unfortunately she was not as dedicated as your Sir...

  8. He really was one great teacher to have affected a life like yours. Ipagpatuloy mo ang yong gawain to continuously honor him.

  9. doc j: i'm surprised how many of us are physics-handicapped... i'm sure it's a great subject/course- it's just that it isn't for everyone methinks hehe =]

    r-yo: he is. one of these days, i-visit ko siguro sya sa diliman, just to thank him. and yes, so far, i'm staying put in the University hehe


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