Sir Nick: ‘People’s teacher,’ father, hell-raiser

Jul. 03, 2007

Nicanor Gonzales braved the Marcos regime to help teachers in Davao City fight for their welfare. The city’s teachers, who had to fight hard to get what is due them, became part of his family. It was a relationship that defined a selfless activist whose wisdom and guidance are valued by those he served, whose commitment to social change is an inspiration to many.

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Public school teachers face the same woes every year, like teaching over 50 students in cramped and poor classrooms. They work like beasts of burden, which is why they have been demanding quite strongly what is due them, respect most of all.

In this city, teachers are known to take this cause seriously, often trooping to the City Council to demand for the release of allowances and bonuses they are entitled to receive under the law.

It’s a campaign that the teachers have been doing the past two decades, said Dolores Capuyan, vice president of the Rizal Elementary School in this city. And it all began with the leadership of Nicanor Gonzales.

Nicanor Gonzales, “people’s teacher.” ( photo by Cheryll D. Fiel)

Sir Nick, as Gonzales was fondly called by colleagues, helped advocate teachers’ activism in the city in the 1980s. This has led to reforms and improvements in the economic welfare of teachers. He passed away on May 25 at the age of 67.

Teachers like Capuyan mourn the passing of Sir Nick, whom they call a committed and selfless teacher. There would never be another one like him, she said.

Sir Nick left a legacy of militancy in the education sector that spanned 25 years, starting with the nation’s first sitdown strike by teachers in 1982, during the Marcos dictatorship.

Teresita Abundo, a retired teacher, remembers how Sir Nick’s persistence helped to make the strike successful. He held seminars for one week where we studied the Magna Carta of Public School Teachers, Abunda said. Those lessons opened our minds to fight for our rights.

That time, the economic crisis compelled teachers to demand for the increase in their salaries and benefits. At that time, our salaries were lower than the janitor’s, recalled Capuyan. Their monthly benefits only amounted to 212 pesos a month.

Teachers from 16 of Davao’s 18 school districts joined in the mass action. The strike not only defied the repressive Marcos regime but also ushered in teachers’ activism in the city.

The teachers would later organize the Kahugpungan sa Magtutudlo ug Kawani sa Edukasyon sa Mindanao (Group of Teachers and Education Workers in Mindanao) or KAMKEM, the local chapter of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). Another organization, the Davao City Public Elementary School Teachers Association (DCPESTA), was also formed.

Teachers continued holding demonstrations, dialogues and lobbying with education and local officials. As a result, they were granted benefits such as salary increases, institutional materials, clothing allowances, and 13th-month pay.

In those times, joining rallies were a risk for public school teachers, who risked losing their jobs if they joined the protests.

But the city’s teachers had Sir Nick to inspire them. They defied the department’s warnings. Sir Nick would tell us that fighting for our rights was not rebellion, said Pilar Carredo of Calinan National High School.

He would be the fist to come to the picket line and would be the last to leave,” Carredo recalled. “He would make sure every teacher ate first before he did.

He never surrendered, said Abundancio Bulac, former chairman of DCPESTA who joined Gonzales in many of these campaigns. No matter how difficult things were, he just kept on going.

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