Br. Armin Luistro FSC is not an unfamiliar name within the Lasallian community. He is a former president and chancellor of the University and served as the first president of De La Salle Philippines (DLSP). He also served as the secretary of the Department of Education from 2010 to 2016.
This year on July 1, he was appointed again as president of DLSP. The LaSallian interviewed Br. Luistro following his announcement to find out more about his plans and insights for his term.
What has DLSP achieved so far this year?
I’m very new so I’m not the best person to ask about the accomplishment this year, but without going into much details, DLSP is the network that creates the synergy among all the Lasallian schools in the Philippines. It connects us with all the other schools and Lasallian communities outside the Philippines, because [our country] is one of seven members of East Asia. We have a Lasallian East Asia District which the Philippines is a part of.
What are your plans in the next three years of your term as DLSP President?
DLSP is the network that brings together all the Lasallian schools so that we move into synergistic activities. For example, in the investments of funds, you could have added leverage for the smaller schools because the big schools have [enough] funds. People think about the big La Salle schools like College of St. Benilde (CSB), DLSU, and Dasmariñas, but we have small schools like John Bosco College.
You also have La Salle Iligan where we have many [internally displaced persons] because of their transferees from the Marawi crisis. For instance, we’re looking at ways whereby the Lasallian family can respond to the humanitarian needs of 70,000 families who are currently evacuees in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.
In the national situation, I and a lot of Lasallians are very concerned about the extrajudicial killings. Thousands of poor Filipinos are being killed in the middle of the night [and] it’s not even being reported now. Those are very critical issues that the Lasallian family must respond to, not from a political standpoint but from the perspective of the humanitarian aid and the justice that is required for those kinds of cases.
Another part of the growing needs of the family includes the K-12 reform. In DLSU, the addition of Senior High School students creates many challenges, but also many opportunities to renew our schools. Part of DLSP’s work is to look at the curricular innovations that all our Senior High Schools should be doing because these are the first years of the program implementation. We’re asking ourselves, are there innovations that we need to put into place so that our Grades 11 and 12 graduates will be better prepared for college?
From the University’s point of view, the work of DLSP is on ensuring that the programs in college will be responsive to the graduates of Grade 12 by next year. Those are roughly the challenges and the continuing work of DLSP.
You previously served as the DLSP President from 2004 to 2006. How different is DLSP from that time to now? What are some notable developments?
At that time, we were doing organizational work to ensure that the schools talk to each other. The first years of DLSP were on building the trust among the different schools. There were a lot of issues and reservations that big schools felt that we were only bringing all the schools together so that they can become milking cows for the smaller schools. The smaller schools had reservations because they felt that the big schools will swallow them and [that] they will lose their identity with the possibility that the big schools’ policies and processes will be imposed on them. There were questions about whether it will be unfair to the bigger schools if we pull our investible funds together. During my first term in DLSP, a lot of the work was on building the trust and proving that synergy is better.
Currently, the task of DLSP is to continue and build on the trust that has been in effect this past decade. I think more and more schools are recognizing that it is possible to work together to the advantage of all without pushing one school away from the center. If we can work in synergy, we will have a stronger voice for the country and the world.
From the perspective of quality assurance, there is an ongoing project which is called the modern conduct of schools. Because the schools are founded separately, there are some best practices in one school that is not necessarily transferred to another school. One current project is where a team goes around different La Salle schools. For example, DLSU was one of the first to do online enrollment; the other schools can easily learn from that experience rather than all the schools starting from scratch every time.
There are also projects on the ecological impact of all our schools. We consider which of the schools are leaders in materials recovery so that you don’t have a lot of solid waste to throw away. De La Salle University Dasmariñas (DLSU-D) is a pioneer and is one of the first green universities in the Philippines. DLSU and CSB are struggling with that because we have so much trash. We bring the two schools together and learn from the experience of DLSU-D rather than compete.
What are some of the initiatives launched during Br. Jimenez’s presidency that you plan to continue during your term?
I think I could say that most of what has been started will be continued because there is no reason to scrap. One of the strengths of DLSP is we institutionalize programs that are good and valid. Besides, the directions and the decisions for DLSP is collegial; there is a meeting of the president’s circle which includes all the presidents of the Lasallian institutions. There is a national mission council they need to join once a quarter and the major thrusts and the activities are jointly decided on. It is not a one man show, so I don’t think I will change much of that unless the board, the national mission council, and the president’s circle decide to do that.
There is a lot of stability and continuity in terms of the program from one DLSP President to the next. If, at most, we just push for other areas that require a little more focus. Most of that is dependent on what’s happening in the environment – in the political scene, educational sector.
For issues like climate change, I think these will be very critical to the Lasallian family, but more specifically, water. We know that if not addressed, water as a resource will be a major crisis in the Philippines by 2030. By that time, you would have been married with one or two kids, and maybe the cost of water will be more expensive. That’s an example of an issue where DLSP, together with our network, study the environment and anticipate problems that will arise a decade from now. We also ask ourselves, if water will become a critical resource 12 years from now, what should La Salle schools be doing today in terms of the curriculum, in terms of the water usage and recycling?
What are the different challenges that the DLSP is currently facing? How do you plan to overcome them?
The main question is the internationalization of our schools. In the next two to three years, the ASEAN agenda will be more and more on the table. One of the critical sectors there is the education sector. Our schools have foreign students, but I think we are not yet at the stage where we can talk about actual student exchange, wherein students take up two years at De La Salle, and another year at a different ASEAN university.
Once ASEAN is in place, there’ll be more and more such need where we should be more responsive to new challenges. We have not talked about it yet, and I think that’s another example where Lasallian schools don’t have to wait for things to happen. If we anticipate how the education sector in ASEAN will evolve over the next three to four years, I think we should already embed in our programs – in the University and maybe even in Senior High School – those types of opportunities where our students can learn outside of La Salle schools.
How do you think will your past experiences as DLSP President and Department of Education Secretary help you in leading DLSP now?
I think part of my role is to do two things: bring Lasallian schools to become more relevant outside of the network of La Salle schools, because part of the work of building up students in the academic community is to ensure the University is relevant to the community outside. We cannot be an ivory tower and vice versa. We need to bring the knowledge that is there in the grassroots to the academic circle. These are indigenous and experiential knowledge that may not be documented in textbooks.
Take for example the underground economy. What is part of the curriculum is the formal economy, but in the Philippines, there is a lot of informal economy. If you are an economics student and you are not in touch with the informal economy, then I think there’s something missing in your formation or education.
The same is true with other areas like indigenous people. Some of their medicinal practices are taken on as alternative medicine and not very well respected. I think part of the role of scientists in the university setting is to go and be in touch of the grassroots and find out: Are there things there that should be brought into the academic circle? What is the rigor, the discipline required so they can become mainstream?
In the reverse, how could we make LaSallian lawyers relevant in today’s world where there are a lot of victims of extrajudicial killings? Are we training them to respond to the future or is it possible for them to learn by responding here and now to the problems that they see? Why do they have to wait for three to four years before they can learn how to work in that setting? Part of their role is to push the universities to do that dialogic engagement with the outside world and bringing them into the experience of the academic circle.
What aspects do you think DLSP needs to strengthen in spreading the Lasallian Mission in the Philippines?
We are not just a school that trains students for the future. There are many learning experiences today that are happening around us – current events that can be a way of responding and learning. There is this false assumption that first you must learn before you can respond; I disagree with that. Sometimes when you solve an existing problem and you face that today – that is the best way of learning. You don’t have to wait until you have a college degree or a doctoral degree to be able to solve a problem.
Take business for example. I hope you don’t just start a business after you graduate. Students of business and economics should start being involved in some businesses today, like solving economic problems such as the devaluation of the peso.
There are also now the recent transportation strikes. Students should take this occasion to check what is the real issue rather than take a vacation or go home. Find out from a driver of a truck, bus or a jeepney – what are the real issues? What is the government’s side to the story? You can maybe look for a solution or compromise. In my mind, unless our students and faculty are in touch with what’s happening today with the problems we are facing, it is a little difficult to wait for the future when they can graduate.
In these times, how would you define a Lasallian and what can they contribute to society?
Faith, service, and communion are deeply rooted in our Christian tradition where we believe that God did not only create the universe but continues to be very much part of history. The Lasallian must be very much grounded to the happenings of the world as God is. He’s not a god who created and left us to address our own problems. The way Lasallians respond to that faith is by service. Part of your training in the school is to be involved with the world. You show that not just in words, but in deeds. Every Lasallian should solve an everyday problem.
There are so many problems in the country today. They say around three million young Filipinos from ages zero to five will never have their brain grow to its full development and they will remain stunted. That means for the first 1,000 days after birth, the government must make sure every single Filipino born is provided the complete nourishment everyday so that the brain develops into its full capacity. If those three million Filipinos are not fed today, by 2030 or 2040, their brains will be stunted. That’s just one example of a current problem today that all of you will have to take to heart and the question is, what can you do?
The third one is the community. You can’t do it alone. If you want to do some service, the best way of doing it is by working with other Lasallians, and hopefully, non-Lasallians. They always say that in the past, the way to train a student is to ask them, what do you want to be? Today, what you want to be is too far into the future. The best way to train a student is to get them to solve an everyday problem that you find in the world. If you do that together in the spirit of communion, then you have the three components of what it means to be a Lasallian. You learn by doing – not by reading a book or waiting for yourself to graduate. You can learn here and now with others.
DLSP has been vocal with issues and social events concerning the public, such as the burial of Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, celebration of the EDSA People Power, and the ongoing crisis in Marawi, among others. In light of these events, what do you perceive is the role and stand of DLSP?
We should be at the side of the people. I think part of our initial task is to actually make sure that we get the proper documentation because we’re in a school setting. Do you have a list of all those that have been killed extrajudicially? Do you know how many families are in evacuation centers? Where are the families distributed? These should be at the tip of every Lasallian documentation and forum, because we have to find out where they are. By doing so, it’s easy to look for a solution on what they need.
The first task in terms of knowing is to understand the numbers and the basic data for all of these crises. They say that there are 13,000 who died. The Lasallian should not stop by saying thousands have died. Who are these? Why don’t we come up with a database where we’re able to document who actually died, and then analyze if there are patterns in their deaths. Is it true that 99 percent of those who were killed by Tokhang are poor people? If that is so, is it possible for us to believe that the drug addicts in our country are only the poor? I think we should start asking those questions. You cannot ask the right questions unless you have the data before you.
Those are the critical requirements of engagement because you cannot be emotional about it. I think part of the way our Lasallians respond is by doing it based on evidence, and by an analysis of what would be best given the situation. You cannot go into social media and start a hate campaign like a troll, because that does not add anything to the discourse. If you want a discourse about a particular topic like the burial of Marcos, you cannot call people names and say you are a loyalist.
If we participate in social media, part of our responsibility is to make sure that we participate in a respectable way, and not do what all the other hatemongers of social media do. You have to be deliberate. Know your limits. Know where you add to the discourse. We don’t have to agree all the time. At the very least, we must participate in a discourse that allows us to understand the issue a little better.
You have been part of the Lasallian Mission for many years already. Looking back, how has this formation defined you as a person and what drives you to keep on doing the things you do?
I started in the Lasallian Mission only with the idea and aspiration to become a teacher in a classroom. But once you take to heart what teaching actually means, then you recognize that your students inside the classroom are not cut off from you at the end of the hour when your class finishes. You realize that when you start engaging with your students, that begins a relationship.
I realized that over these part 40 years of my life as a brother, my students have become my friends. I have become the ninong to their weddings and baptism of their children. They come to me for marriage counseling even after they’ve graduated a long time ago. I see them in the network outside, whether in business or in a non-government organization.
I think the first lesson of the past 40 years is a recognition that teaching and a serious engagement with your students widen your world. I don’t have a family, but now I have thousands of students, not all of whom were in my class, but I met them in school. Now that I’ve met you, I’m sure one of these days you will remind me, but I will forget, so you better remind me! But now, you are a part of me. In education, that is critical. Participating in a school setting allows you to interconnect with a lot of people.
Secondly, once you realize that, then you realize that the school cannot be confined to the four corners and walls of the campus. All of our gates are guarded and you have to get an ID, but entering the University should allow you the same facility to walk outside and engage the world. Never ever think that because you’re coming into a gated university that you can gate the world outside. You will be the loser if you look at the world in that frame. Lasallians should engage the world, talk with people, and know what is happening outside – because that is your education.
That’s also where the political and social involvement of Lasallians happen, because we can’t form you to only become good Lasallian graduates. Part of our task is to make sure that the word outside is also structured in such a way that it will be an ideal place where you could raise your own family, live an honorable life. The task of educators is not to keep you safe only inside the school, and say, maraming nangyayari sa labas, pero sa loob ng La Salle ligtas ka. I think that is unrealistic and too confined to an ivory tower type of thinking.
We must all engage the world. We have to create a world that we want. We cannot say, ganyan na ‘yang mundo sa labas, so we adapt to it. Kawawa naman tayo. I think we must be creators of the world, of the change that we want to see. As we say in our Lasallian prayer, we have to do that now. We don’t have to wait until we’re graduates of La Salle.