The Search for a Filipino Culture of Quality

This is the text of the speech I gave today at Centro Escolar University’s Quality Awards –

The Search for a Filipino Culture of Quality
Atty. Adel A. Tamano
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

Bismillah Hi Rahman Hi Raheem. Assalaamu aliakum wa Rakmatullah Hiwa Barakaatu. Peace and God’s blessings on us all.

I always start my speeches by invoking God’s name for two reasons – firstly, so that I will be compelled to only speak the truth, something that may be difficult at times for a political spokesman, which is my other vocation, and secondly, to remind people that the speaker is proudly Filipino and proudly Muslim. Particularly in the context of the recent kidnapping of media personalities by the Abu Sayyaf, there are some who may have taken an unfairly negative view of Filipino Muslims. It goes without saying, that the majority of Filipino Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding.

I would like to thank the President of CEU, Dra. Ma. Cristina Padolina and Dr. Jim Fernandez for inviting me here today. CEU’s advocacy of quality, particularly within the educational context, is an advocacy that is very close to my heart. As I mentioned earlier, some of you may know me more as the spokesman for the opposition and not as an educator, particularly because of my exposure during the 2007 elections. However, I have been in the educational field for 15 years, first as an instructor in Economics, later a Professor in Constitutional Law, and, finally, as President of PLM.

The grand venture of education, the shaping of minds and hearts through the transformative power of learning is – and will always be – my main passion. A passion that I share with all the educators here, many with better credentials and experiences than myself.

But for those of us with a passion for education, particularly quality education, we cannot help but be saddened by the current state of Philippine education.

In a recent test of English proficiency of our primary school teachers, 70% failed. In the secondary level, 80% failed. This is alarming. How do we maintain our competitive advantage, which is our facility with English, against the other growing economies in the region when our very own teachers cannot even speak or write English properly?

In the realm of Math and Science, in an examination taken by high-school students from 45 countries, ranking from the highest to the lowest, our country ranked 41st in Math and 42nd in Science.

These dismal statistics only consider those who actually have access to education, even a poor one. In the Philippines, of ten school age students, only six will graduate from the primary level. Of the six, only four will graduate from high school. Out of these four, only two will complete their college education.

I refer to these alarming statistics to show how important CEU’s advocacy is. We see, very clearly, from the deteriorating performance of our students compared to their counterparts in other countries, how the quality of Philippine education has deteriorated and why educational reform is now a national imperative.

Unfortunately for us, our fast food, consumer-obsessed, instant-gratification culture is unconducive to creating a culture of quality. Quality demands sacrifice, patience, and, most importantly, time and effort. Quality is never easy because excellence is always forged through effort.

Take for example my being the first Filipino Muslim to be accepted to and to graduate from Harvard Law School. Modesty aside, to be able to study at Harvard, you not only need to pass through a highly competitive application process where only about five per cent of the world’s best legal scholars are chosen but you also need a great deal of money, nearly One Hundred Thousand US dollars for tuition, board and lodging, airfare, living and other expenses. I am not ashamed to say that in order to study at Harvard, aside from the scholarship given to me by the University, I had to work as a librarian – tolerating the, at times, abusive behavior of students and guests many years my junior when I was already a partner in a law firm in Manila – and my wife even had to mortgage her house to come up with funds, not only for my studies but also to support her and my son while I was away. But because of our sacrifices I have now set a standard and a benchmark for all Filipino Muslims that they too can aspire to study at the world’s premier law school. In a real sense, the message that I hope will be obtained from my experience is that even if you belong to a marginalized and disadvantaged group – like Filipino Muslims – with hardwork, effort, sacrifice, and support from our loved ones, you can achieve excellence. You can create quality.

We can apply this idea of quality and excellence to our country. I’m certain that it will be not difficult for us to agree that the Philippines is far from the society that we hope – and know – that it can be. According to the latest SWS Survey, 11.9 per cent of our countrymen suffer daily the scourge of hunger. The Human Development Report states that 36.8 per cent of our population, more than 1 in every 3 Filipinos, live below the poverty line. Poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and misgovernance are fast becoming the hallmarks of our society. But instead of us despairing and giving up hope – perhaps like many Filipinos, both young and old, who have decided to leave our country for greener pastures abroad – allow me to say that with enough Filipinos who believe in, are committed to, and will strive for quality and excellence, like today’s awardees, then we will be able to turn this country around. This is why CEU’s quality awards are important. Today’s awardees are examples for all of Filipinos.

However, it is not enough that our awardees and our institutions be the only ones that achieve excellence and quality. We must create a Filipino culture and orientation towards quality and excellence. This is why I raised the point about poverty earlier: even if we create these pockets of quality and excellence in our institutions, it will mean very little if it does not, in the long run, create genuine change in our country for the better. Personally, I do not believe that personal quality and excellence is enough. To strive for quality and excellence, on a purely personally level without regard to how it affects others, is not only selfish but, given our Philippine context, foolish and shortsighted. On this point, allow me to quote this beautiful passage by Martin Luther King –

All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an Inescapable network or mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

Perhaps the real benchmark of success from today’s activities and awarding ceremonies is how our awardees will help transform the lives of others. From their families, to their students, and hopefully, to the rest of our country.

Lastly, we have a saying in Islam that God has enjoined excellence in all things. This is also one of the core values of CEU, “excellence in all endeavors.” I honor you, the awardees and the Centro Escolar University, for your pledge to excellence and quality and I stand here inspired myself, aspiring to become my better self, to live a life of genuine quality.


Serving the Youth

It has been always been an honor for me to serve the youth and being a youth leader in the past, as past National President of the Junior Chamber of the Philippines or JCI-Philippines (formerly Philippine Jaycees), and as National Chairman of Kabataan ng Masang Pilipino, and other youth organizations, it has been a commitment for me to hold on with the passion to assist our youth, kahit pumuti na ang buhok ko. Although I belong to a political family, I have never let politics get in the way of my passion of serving the youth sector.

It will be a big challenge on how to convince the majority of our youth to be dedicated and take part on what is happening to our country. Based on my experience, as I have gone around the country, the youth will move as long as there would be programs and projects that would interest them. But unfortunately because of lack of effective youth programs, the majority of our youth remained apathetic.

This generation is hounded with political and economic crises, the youth should not lose hope to act and affect change for the nation. Even during the last issues concerning scandals in the current administration, the youth was at the forefront in the quest for truth. That was when I told myself, there is still hope, since the youth was now at the frontline of the communal action. It was a great feeling that the political, business, and religious personalities had to take a back seat and let the youth take the lead in the activities. May pag-asa na, sapagka’t kumilos na ang kabataan!

Gone are the days when the youth are just enthralled with gimmicks, night outs, malling, and even vices. Sana ay ang kabataan ngayon, gamitin ang pag-gigimik sa pakikihalubilo at pakikipagkaibigan sa kapwa kabataan para sa makabuluhang gawain. Ang it is also a good thing that we are blessed with the new technology that we can utilize for disseminating information, expressing our views and participating in the endeavors for the betterment of our nation.

Laman na ng mga blogs sa internet at You Tubes ang mga hinaing, mga pananaw at suhestiyon ng mga kabataan para sa ikabubuti ng ating bayan.

That is why some of the Filipinos are inspired to follow through, yung mga hindi tinatablan na kumilos at makiisa sa mga proyekto para sa bayan at nananatiling nakapiring ang mga mata, nagbibingibingihan at mistulang mga pipi na di nakapagsasalita, ay sobrang manhid na lamang talaga.

Kaya naman ang hamon ko sa ating mga kabataan ay ang mapanatili sa inyong lahat at mapatunayan na nasa kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan!

The Filipino Youth have long been recognized as achievers, intelligent, talented and success-driven.

Ang dunong ng kabataan ang siyang magpapaunlad tungo sa tunay na kalayaan ng Pilipinas, kalayaan sa kahirapan, sa pagsasamantala ng naghaharing uri, at sa anumang kaguluhan. Ang ating sama-sama at nagkakaisang pagsisikap ang magbabangon sa mga Pilipino hindi lamang para sa pansariling kasaganahan ng ating mga pamilya nguni’t para sa kaunlaran at kapayapaan ng buong bayan.

Kilos na Kabataan, Palayain ang Bayan!

Para sa Bayan,



I want to share with you an article I wrote on what it means to be a Filipino Muslim living as a minority in a Christian world. I hope it will give some insights on discrimination and the dialogue Muslims and Christians must have if we will find peace in this country.

– Adel Tamano



Superman is a Moro. How do I know this? – He has too many similarities with the contemporary Moro that simple logic reveals his true identity and ethnicity. Let’s turn to the facts which confirm that, indeed, this icon of goodness, truth, and decency, the man of steel, is a Filipino Muslim.

Proof No. 1: He has a Moro name. This is the biggest give-away – Kal-El is the real name of Clark Kent, Superman’s mild-mannered alter ego. His given name is incredibly similar to common Filipino Muslim names like Khalil, or even Ysmael and Abdul. In fact, for this reason, for him to get a job in the Philippines, he would have to use a pseudonym. According to the latest Social Weather Station Survey, Filipinos prefer hiring people with Christian–sounding names rather than those whose names appear to be of Islamic etymology.

Without a doubt, within the context of the global war on terrorism, wherein the usual suspects are those of the Islamic faith, it becomes easy to rationalize the preference. It needn’t be rooted any longer in stereotypes of Moros as violent, aggressive, and vicious, the classic “juramentado”, but can be much more easily and socially acceptable on the basis of general security concerns.

While liberalism encourages and advances the renunciation of discrimination and stereotyping, new anxieties about terrorism and safety provide seemingly liberal-minded people a basis for discriminating against Muslims without the concomitant guilt. In fact, honestly, whom would you prefer to hire as your clerk, manager, driver, etc., Kal-El, or Clark?

Proof No. 2: He has to keep his real identity a secret. Imagine how difficult it must be for a person with the power to fly, smash through walls, bounce bullets off his chest, and x-ray vision to keeps these phenomenal abilities secret. Most people would want to shout it out to the world, publicize it, and, ultimately, capitalize on it. But Superman is different. And wise. He knows that in the increasingly globalized and homogenized world, being alien, different, and outside the norm is a surefire way to becoming ostracized and misunderstood. This is the reason why he dons his suit and tie. This is the supreme irony: it is his corporate attire and not the blue tights with the Superman logo and big red cape that is his real costume. The coat and tie conceals his authentic identity – as an alien and, ultimately, an outsider.

This is the same situation that the Moro faces; a case in point is the fact that many Filipino Muslims, when interacting with the Christian majority, have to adopt Christian names – Michael instead of Muhammad – as a way of side-stepping discrimination. This too is an aspect of an emerging Moro culture of keeping things hidden and undercover. The name itself is a costume, a camouflage, to conceal the reality of being Muslim and therefore different from the Catholic majority.
In fact, Moro women, particularly in Metro Manila, suffering daily the indignities of subtle discrimination, such as Taxi drivers refusing to accept as passengers veiled (hijab-wearing) Muslim women, are forced to forego using the hijab when taking public transportation, keeping their Muslim-ness incognito. For both Moro genders, the badges of being a Moro, which include the cultural traits of the Moro as Maranaw, Maguindanao, or Tausug, as well as the indivisible Islamic element that infuses the culture of these Muslim tribes, such as headscarves, Moro hats (kupya), beards, and prayer beads, are eschewed for modern clothing for easier acceptance.

Even prayer, the most fundamental of human actions, with man communing with his creator, has to be done clandestinely. It is not difficult to recall the recent furor that was raised over the request of Moro merchants in Greenhills to build a small prayer room so that they could perform salah (prayer). Some prominent members of Philippine society vehemently objected, using the media as their forum, to the establishment of the prayer room, at times using the most racially and ethnically discriminatory of arguments.

Proof No. 3: He is forced not to wear his ethnic costume. This is really a corollary to No. 2, but the use of clothing to emphasize and be express pride in one’s culture only makes sense in a world without prejudice, particularly when one belongs to a minority. In this world, wherein intolerance abounds, emphasizing cultural pride, particularly when it is Moro pride, produces real-world problems.

Interestingly, some Moro women, and their counterparts in the West, have taken to wearing the veil as an overt political statement, a re-affirmation of their Islamic faith in the face of discrimination. It is worn, literally, as a badge of fearlessness and courage knowing that an intolerant society will make them suffer, in ways subtle and otherwise, for their beliefs. The current increase in veil-wearing among Moros is paradoxical because originally the use of the hijab was a sign of old-fashionedness and modesty and not worldliness in terms of the knowledge of the political implications that using the veil engenders.

For those of a more activist bent, the use of the hijab is a banner screaming for an end to prejudice and intolerance against Muslims; for those who prefer convenience, then they go the route of not wearing their veils to avoid complications, even in small things like hailing taxi-cabs.

Regardless of what route is chosen by the Moro woman, whether to use or not to use the hijab, the undertone of forcing conformity is inescapable. The coercion not to express one’s ethnicity and a person’s deep conviction in Islam is a reality that is faced by Moros, both men and women, on a daily basis. Now imagine what stares, rude comments, and general disapproval Superman would get by his non-conformist attire, least of which is his big red cape. Imagine further the spectacle of Superman applying for a job, say as a reporter in news daily, in his red, blue, and yellow tights. Compare this with a Moro woman, proudly wearing her veil, applying as a clerk in a bank or government office. Our own inner sense will tell us that they will be treated similarly – with equal measures of disdain, discrimination, and prejudice.

Proof No. 4: He has strong views about what is right and wrong that constantly gets him into trouble. This is one of the powerful aspects of Islam – it provides its adherents with a simple and clear view of the world. A Muslim is tasked with knowing what is right and wrong and, in fact, all that is good in the world, and even those elements that man considers as evil, exist on the basis of
God’s will. This forms part of the Islamic conception of Tauhid, the essential oneness of existence. The Islamic injunction to enjoin what is good and forbid wrongdoing becomes problematic for Moros who must live in an unjust and intolerant society. Accordingly, striving for what is good and just will pit Moros against forces that desire and prefer the status quo. Superman too, in fighting for what he believed was good, had his Lex Luthor to contend with. In fact, there is never a shortage of villains for Superman to square off against, a reality that he bravely accepts as part of his responsibility. Kal-El needn’t have to put up with this situation because he could easily leave the Earth for another less violent and complicated planet. But he stays here and sticks to his beliefs.

Moros do that likewise. You find them in every metropolitan center in the country, usually with a small business, striving to survive within a system that discriminates against him not only socially but in terms of recourse to economic resources. Many in the Christian majority do not know the difficulties Moros face in looking for credit facilities.
Despite their hardships, the Moro maintains his faith no matter where you find him – in Manila, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro. He does this despite the routine harassment from the authorities, for some, especially those living in the poorer areas of the metropolis, the raids and tactical interrogations, which are all part of the global war against terrorism. How easy it would be for others to just renounce their faith and their culture in order to live a less stressful and challenging life. The Moro may, pursuant to Proof Nos. 2 and 3, change his name or clothing style but in his heart the Moro maintains his identity and his faith. Faith being something unseen and deeply personal in nature is a matter that should be easy to change, simple to dispose of for the sake of convenience. However, the Moro chooses otherwise and maintains his faith, identity, and culture. As the BangsaMoro will attest, almost half a millennia of struggle for independence by Muslims in the Southern Philippines, is strong evidence of the Moros tenacity for their faith and culture.

Proof No. 5: He never finds peace. Unfortunately, because of this struggle, the Moro, like Superman, never finds peace. For ever Lex Luthor that he defeats, another villain appears in a never ending cycle of conflict for the man of steel. For him, peace too is elusive, a dream that never seems attainable. For the Moro, one of the tragic non-variables of Philippine history is the fact of the conflict between the Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines. From the Spanish period through the American and into the 21st Century, our country never attains the peace that it deserves. In fact, it may be this never-ending conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines that have embedded in Philippine mainstream culture the prejudice and intolerance against Moros. It is a sad self-perpetuating cycle – the intolerance against Moros breeds resentment in the Filipino Muslim against the Christian majority, which is the basis for some Moros to take up arms against the Philippine Government, which becomes the basis for the Christian majority to view Moros as violent, vicious, and unacceptable.


Moros have borne discrimination, marginalization, and intolerance in the Philippines for centuries with great measures of dignity and self-esteem. We remain proud of our being Muslim and being part of the BangsaMoro. Some brothers have taken the path of armed struggle, a matter that many Moros may have strong disagreement with but, at the same time, understand the roots and the motivation for fighting. That many Moros still strive to succeed – and in fact some do succeed – in an intolerant society is a great display of innate strength and resilience. Some would say that the armed struggle of the Moros, centuries long as it is, is also a sign of this inner power. Actually, we started this piece with a wrong premise; Superman is not a Moro; indeed, it is the Moro that is the Superman.

Adel Tamano’s Commencement Speech at HLS


Salaam. Friends, this is Adel Tamano. I want to share with you my commencement speech at Harvard Law School. I graduated almost three years ago, time flies by so fast. It embodies a lot of what we are trying to do with this blog and in our own lives. JV, Danton, Gilbert, and all our web friends, I hope you find something useful in it –

Dean Kagan, the faculty and staff of Harvard Law School, the Graduating Class of 2005, our family and friends – Good Afternoon:

We begin with a caveat: If you believe that the praise and celebration are the only remarks that are appropriate for a graduation ceremony, then what I have to say will be a big disappointment.

This is not to belittle the hard work and sacrifice that we have undergone in order to be here today. For all of this and more, we deserve the warmest congratulations.

However, it would not serve us well to focus solely on our personal achievements: that would merely serve our vanity. What is more, it would be untruthful. Today’s graduation belongs as much to us as it does to our parents, spouses, relatives, and loved ones. They have sacrificed as much as we have, if not more so. They deserve equal praise for their support, love, and encouragement.

Furthermore, we must remember that our education is a great privilege. For someone like myself, a Filipino-Muslim, studying at Harvard was an unbelievable opportunity. In the predominantly Muslim areas of the Philippines, out of 10 grade-school students, only 2 will be able to complete high-school. Those in the developing world know, firsthand, that education is a truly precious commodity.

This is why our commencement today should not only be a time for self-congratulation but, more importantly, a moment for deep and sincere reflection. We must ask the essential questions of a graduate: 1) What have we learned?; and 2) Where do we go from here?

Today, we leave the comfortable and secure confines of Harvard Law School and enter the real world. It is a world of growing unilateralism, of heightened volatility in the Middle East, of mounting threats to security, of unrelenting degradation of the environment, and an ever widening gap, in economic terms, between the developed and developing nations.

What is more, we depart knowing that we have a responsibility to address these global issues. It should be emphasized that we, the members of the LL.M. Class of 2005, were not chosen from the thousands of applicants to the Graduate Program solely because of our academic or professional achievements. Instead, the choice was made with the prospect that a Harvard education would enable us to become future leaders and policymakers. Very simply, much is expected of us.

Accordingly, in order to address these global issues we must ask: what have we learned? Certainly, from the 250 courses available in the Law School, we have learned much in terms of legal theory and the substance of the Law. However, the most valuable source of education was our exposure to the diverse beliefs and cultures of men and women from over 60 nations. Indeed, the real genius of the Graduate Program is its embrace of multiculturalism and diversity.

In fact, it is this multiculturalism that will prove to be of the most benefit not only to each of us but more so to the Law School itself. This is a vital point: the very existence of the Graduate Program and the presence of legal scholars from over 60 nations is a powerful symbol and a clear reminder that no single country, race, or religion has a monopoly on good will, knowledge, or wisdom.

So where do we go from here? This is a question that each one of us, the 162 members of the LL.M. Class of 2005, will have to answer on our own and in our own time. We all desire to succeed and success itself can be defined and achieved in myriad ways. But one thing is certain – if your graduation becomes the high-water mark of your life, then you have failed to achieve the hopes of this institution. More importantly, you will have failed yourself. Again, we must never forget that much is expected of us.

I must confess that there is a personal reason for framing this speech in terms of poverty, terrorism, pollution, and world peace. I am a husband and a father of a two-year old son and when I think about the enormity of the global problems that we face, frankly, I am filled with fear and doubt. This is why I have such a personal stake in the success of our class and of the LL.M. Program itself.

Ultimately, the real value of our education will be assessed in terms of our making the world a more just, peaceful, equitable, environmentally sustainable, and tolerant place for our children.

Finally, in this world that, at times, seems so determined to destroy itself on the basis of differences in ideology, race, religion, or ethnicity, I have, nevertheless, witnessed 162 people from over 60 nations meet, initially, as strangers, then come together as classmates – who argued, debated, and, at times, vehemently disagreed – and, ultimately, become united as genuine friends. In this I find my optimism, hopefulness, and confidence. It is upon this bond of friendship and the spirit of understanding and humanity that I entrust my hopes for our future. I am truly proud to be a member of the LL.M. Class of 2005.

I thank you. I honor you. Congratulations.