In memory of Ma. Theresa "Cherith" Dayrit, St Scholastica’s College (Manila) Student Council President in '78 -- Cherith: From St. Scholastica to life in Sierra Madre / Maria Theresa Dimson Dayrit-Garcia: A Rare Diamond In A Toxic Land.
From Scholastican to militant
By Constantino C. Tejero
LAST December, when Equitable-PCIBank senior vice president Clarissa G. Ocampo appeared on TV and sat as witness in the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, a nun of the Good Shepherd Convent in Quezon City was shocked.
Sr. Mary Ofelia Endaya, RGS, blurted out to herself: Clarissa Grey-my student! Is this the little girl who sat before me in the classroom for four years at St. Scholastica's grade school?
In January, while still staying in a safehouse with other witnesses who stood up to the President, Ocampo wrote her mentors: "Please allow me to thank you for the basic foundation in my character you helped build. I was in St. Scholastica for 17years and there's no denying that you have been instrumental in strengthening the values my parents instilled in me at home".
After seeing Ocampo on TV and learning she was a Scholastican, journalist Paulynn Paredes Sicam, who was also a Scholastican, went teary-eyed and said to herself: I should have known. Unmistakable! Matatag.
"That's the hallmark of a Scholastican,'' says Sicam. ``When she sets her mind to something, she'll do it. Kung may commitment siya, gagawin niya.''
Sr. Mary John Manansan, OSB, president of St. Scholastica's College in Manila, agrees: ``She's a typical Scholastican, and we are, of course, very proud of her.''
This is one of the school's value-related goals: the sense of self-affirmation that enables responsible decision-making.
Run by Missionary Benedictine Sisters, the school offers what its prospectus describes as ``an education that blends pedagogy, innovation, professionalism, emphasizing academic excellence for social responsibility.''
The mission: ``To educate Scholasticans to be true and finished women of character, approaching life in the 21st century with a sense of God and a strong service commitment to a globalized society, especially to those who have less in life.''
The strong woman
This molding of a strong woman, intelligent while very socially oriented, is what gives rise to the perception that there is a culture of militancy in this school. It is somewhat confirmed when one finds at the forefront of almost every pro-people campaign or antigovernment rally a phalanx of Scholasticans from different generations, both students and alumnae.
One of them, Cherith Dayrit, reportedly the political officer of the armed propaganda unit of the New People's Army, made news last year when she was killed by the military in Isabela. She was the school's student council president and a double-major graduate, cum laude.
Ruth Cervantes, former president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines and editor of the school journal The Scholastican, is now a national figure in street demonstrations and the alliance officer of the political party Bayan Muna.
So, is there a Scholastican culture?
``It depends on how you define culture,'' says Sr. Manansan. ``I can't say there is such a culture because we haven't made a study. But if you mean being socially conscious, I can say that our students from kindergarten to college are progressive as a whole.''
Cecile B. Gutierrez, vice president for academic affairs and a Scholastican since kindergarten, winces when the term militant is mentioned. ``I won't say `militant,' but a `progressive' way of thinking. We inculcate in our students a solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, a concern for all, to alleviate suffering. We always feel that there should be justice and equality for all.''
How is it then that the activism of these women seems more prominent than of those from other girls' schools?
``You couldn't say St. Scho is more activist,'' says Sicam. ``I think St. Theresa and St. Scho medyo pantay.''
Florina F. Castillo, principal of the grade school since 1983 and also a Scholastican, agrees: ``St. Theresa's College is very socially oriented, but not as visible. Assumption has a very good social program, pero quiet, hindi maingay katulad namin.''
A monastic education
The school was founded on Dec. 3, 1906, by Mother Ferdinanda and four others in a small house on Moriones Street, Tondo, starting with six paying students and 50 for free. The following year, it was moved to a bigger place on San Marcelino Street in Malate to accommodate a high school and several student boarders.
Today the flagship school on Leon Guinto Street has an enrolment of 6,500 from kindergarten to college.
It has sister schools throughout the country which are among the prime academes in their respective regions: St. Agnes in Legazpi City; St. Scholastica in San Fernando, Pampanga; St. Scholastica in Bacolod; and Holy Family Academy in Angeles City. Opening in June is St. Scholastica-Westgrove in Silang, Cavite.
The behavior, attitude and actuation of a typical Scholastican student may be said to be largely shaped by Benedictine education. It is an education with a monastic character and a very strong sense of community governed by a Holy Rule.
She is being trained to lead a life regulated by the motto ``Ora et labora'' (Prayer and work). It is a shared prayer life surrounded by beautiful liturgy. Remember that the Benedictine monasteries were ``the repositories and vanguards of learning and culture in the Middle Ages.''
So, of course, the girls' school on Leon Guinto still has that impregnable atmosphere of a convent or a monastery amid the riot of street vendors, motorists, pedestrians, mulcting policemen and drug pushers in that part of the metropolis. Walking softly on the grass under its ancient trees, wending your way around a pergola, and treading through its hushed shadowy hallways, you feel you're in another world, of another time.
Twilight of an era
``During our time, when the school was still run by German nuns, they imposed strict discipline, obedience to rules, piety, and there was an emphasis on academic excellence,'' recalls Cecilia Muñoz Palma, former justice of the Supreme Court, who belonged to High School Batch 1931. ``We were taught foreign languages-French, German-music, literature, history. The idea was to produce a very educated girl in a convent-like atmosphere. I remember there was a student from a rich family who was expelled because she danced ballet in a program outside the school. Dapat mahinhin, masunurin, tahimik, mapagdasal...''
Everything that she was not, she now laughs. ``My conduct was very bad. For instance, there was a rule of `No speaking during mealtime,' but I was a talkative child. So I often got punished, like, being made to stand in the corridor or on a corner.''
So she was already a child rebel as early as the 1920s? ``Oh, no, not rebellious-just naughty.''
And that was why she didn't proceed to college in St. Scholastica? ``My mother wanted me to be a pianist. Hindi ko kasi kursunada... I wanted to be a singer... And my father was a lawyer, who was in love with the poor-so I followed his footsteps.''
Sicam, who was of High School Batch 1963 and graduated with an AB-English degree in 1967, remembers the twilight of that era: `` When you were kneeling, the hemline of your dress should touch the ground. At kailangan naka-kamison ka, not just bra. There was this girl who was made to do board work in our math class, and while she was standing there writing on the blackboard, the teacher (a German nun) shrieked across the room: `Harlot!' We all turned and saw that the girl was not wearing bra. She was driven out of the classroom. Kami talaga, Wow! nakakatakot!''
There was still an elitist image about the school in her time, but she had witnessed the crumbling of the citadel, so to speak.
``I don't know if it was a conscious shedding,'' says Sicam. ``But it did disappear, very gradually. Pag-alis ng mga German and the Filipinos took over, mas `user-friendly' na. The younger nuns were socially aware.''
The roots of militancy
And this was when the roots of militancy started to stir?
``Oh, gosh!'' Sicam exclaims. ``The word militant was not yet used then. Those were our milk-and-cookies days. We were socially aware, yes, because we had a students' outreach where we visited poor communities, Sapang Palay, Vitas in Tondo, the home for the aged, Welfareville. But it was not the time to take these issues to the streets. We were not yet hinog. Our social concern was more into networking, meetings, volunteer organizations. We organized children and taught them catechism, but we were required then, and we got credits for it.''
Sicam continues with a trace of excitability in her voice: ``We missed the real activism by a year. It was only after I graduated from St. Scho. Ang class nina Maan Hontiveros ang napurungan. You know, it was the time of Joma Sison, the KM [Kabataang Makabayan]. But it wasn't UP that influenced St. Scho in activism. It was La Salle, the group of Chito Sta. Romana-doon nagsimula. I had a friend, a Benedictine nun, who disappeared and became an NPA. But I was introduced to the streets only when I started covering the student beat for the Chronicle in 1969. I've always been a reporter.''
The upsurge of social ardor and zeal for justice on the St. Scholastica campus Castillo traces to the Vatican itself.
``When the Church called for social justice at that time, it was actually a call to all Catholic schools,'' she recalls. ``And all the Catholic schools redefined their emphasis in education from purely academic excellence to education for justice. But it seemed stronger here with us maybe because of the leadership. [Sr. Manansan was the college dean in the 1970s.] Starting in1975, the social orientation of the school became its major concern. Maaga lang kami na-liberate from book learning.''
Being the administrator of the grade school, and espousing a newer mode of learning called the experiential method, Castillo is practically the molder of future militants. And she is only being true to one of the school's milieu-related goals: love for one's country that deepens the commitment to empower the marginalized.
But she's too humble to own up to it. ``The first St. Scholastica in a small fishing community in Tondo-seguro doon nagsimula ang social consciousness ng mga Scholastican,'' she says, smiling slowly. ``You know, the roots begin in school.''
To many Paulinians, especially dozens of SPCM High School '74-'78 alumnae who attended St Scholastica's College-Manila (Class of '75 has about 20), the name Ma. Theresa "Cherith" Dayrit certainly brings back warm memories. Cherith was SSC Student Council President in '78, and a lot of us personally knew her. May she rest in peace.
Cherith: From St. Scholastica to life in Sierra Madre
By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
HER transformation from a teenager ensconced in a life of comfort and ease as the scion of Pampanga's landed class to that of a passionate revolutionary living with peasants and armed combatants is one for the movie scripts.
Maria Theresa "Cherith" Dimson Dayrit-Garcia, 43, was convent-educated, student council president, a cum laude double-major graduate. She was a wife and mother, a good daughter who chose a path different from that of the rest of her family.
She died in a hail of bullets on July 16 during a military attack in a village in Isabela. Cherith died among her comrades in the communist-led New People's Army (NPA), of which she was a ranking officer. She sustained eight bullet wounds, one at the back of the head.
She died in the hands of the same military unit whose commanding officer was slain several weeks earlier in an ambush by NPA rebels in a desolate trail not far from where Cherith herself was killed.
Yesterday, Cherith was laid to her final rest in Lubao, her Pampanga hometown.
End of the road
The end of the road for Cherith came in the stark, rural landscape that defined the life she had embraced. She spent almost 20 years of her youth and adult life committed to a cause that is not always easy to follow.
While many of her peers in the movement later chose to adopt more conventional ways to seek social justice or opted to move back into mainstream society, Cherith held fast to what she believed in.
Nothing could make her change her stance. Not the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship, not the fractious infighting in the movement, not her and her husband's arrest and detention in 1992, not her growing children.
Not even the so-called "democratic space" that would have allowed her to work for social justice. And so she lived as she died--undaunted and driven.
Her death was mentioned in a one-paragraph item in the INQUIRER headlined "NPA rebel killed in Isabela."
"At first we thought she had merely been captured," said Peter Garcia, Cherith's husband. He was told that someone in Cherith's group had been killed. And so the husband and a brother-in-law proceeded to Santiago City in Isabela. When they got there, their worst fear was confirmed. Cherith was dead.
It's ironic, Peter mused, that only last week the judge who was handling his and Cherith's case on illegal possession of firearms--it used to include subversion, before the Anti-Subversion Law was repealed--had revived the case so that it could be dismissed.
Cherith was deployed in Cagayan Valley only in May 1999. She would stay there for months, coming home only for brief visits. Christmas last year was the last time she came home for a lengthy visit.
"We were going to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this July," Peter said.
At the time of her death, Cherith was reportedly the political officer of the Sandatahang Yunit Pampropaganda (Armed Propaganda Unit) in the north. She was the oldest in the group.
As the political officer, Cherith would have been third in command of the armed group next to the commanding officer and his deputy.
Questions arose regarding the manner Cherith was killed. Was she really killed in an encounter? This piece of information was relayed to her next of kin--Cherith was carrying an M-16 and a heavy backpack.
Cherith's body was brought to Metro Manila on Wednesday. The Benedictine nuns of St. Scholastica's College who had watched Cherith grow up were ready to welcome her but the Dayrit family decided to hold the wake at the Funeraria Paz, a more convenient venue.
"We would have wanted her to be at St. Scholastica's even briefly," said the college president, Sister Mary John Mananzan.
Cherith went to St. Scholastica's Academy in San Fernando for elementary and high school and then St. Scholastica's College in Manila. She was a true-blue Scholastican.
Cherith was drawn into activism when she was a college student. Elected student council president in 1978, she was able to forge bonds with student leaders from other schools.
A journalist who was a student leader at the University of the Philippines was among Cherith's friends. He recalled seeing her in student rallies.
"There were those activists from other schools and they would look gusgusin (dirty and rugged) during the protests but Cherith was very much a colegiala. She was quiet, reflective," he said.
Fides Lim, another UP student who became deeply involved in the movement and also briefly detained reminisced: "I remember Cherith in St. Scho uniform with a maid in tow. I don't think she even knew how to take public transportation."
Fides said it was rare for someone of Cherith's background and circumstances to get that far in the movement.
"When you're 43, climbing mountains is not easy. She could have been doing other things, but it was her choice."
What could have propelled Cherith to stay on? Fides replied: "The heart, the intellect."
"Gary," who had been in the same collective as Cherith and who now heads his own firm, said: "She was very determined even though she was still raw. She had to be restrained. But she was really so disciplined, so orderly."
If there was one cadre who passed through practically all phases--from organizing to mass campaigns and political education to field combat--it was Cherith, Gary added.
Human rights lawyer William Chua knew Cherith when he was at De La Salle University. "She was one of the pretty activists from St. Scho, you know. Much later, about 10 years ago, I saw her again at a rally. I was surprised to see her so transformed. She looked like a peasant, well, a pretty peasant," he said.
Love in time of protest
Cherith was to meet her future husband, Peter Garcia, himself an activist and an industrial engineering student at UP, in that smoldering setting.
Cherith was very much in the scene but she did not neglect her studies. She graduated with honors with a double major in English and History. But she did not attend the graduation ceremonies. A classmate and fellow activist said: "She didn't find it important."
Life after college was not all that different. Cherith worked full-time with the nationalist revolutionary movement.
In 1985 Cherith and Peter got married in Church rites in Quezon City. One of the sponsors was Sister Mary John Mananzan.
Cherith and Peter worked full-time in the movement. They had two children, Charlene Lorena, now 14, and Niko Armand, 10. Cherith's parents helped raise the children.
Chidren's rights advocate Amihan Abueva, daughter of National Artist Napoleon Abueva, saw Cherith's early transformation. Amihan and Cherith worked together in Manila and later in Mindanao. Discipline was one of Cherith's outstanding qualities, said Amihan, but it was her humility that struck her most.
Cherith was known by different names in the underground. In Metro Manila, she was Chiqui. In Central Luzon, she was Kit. And in Cagayan Valley, she was either Leonie or Eryl.
"I had an idea what my mother was doing, that she was helping people," said daughter Charlene Lorena. Exactly what it was her mother did, Charlene could not know then. Now she does. "I am very proud of her," Charlene said.
Cherith's siblings did not approve of the life their sister led but they understood the cause she was fighting for. "We were supportive," said an older sister. "Yes, we are proud of her."
On Cherith's coffin, the Dayrit and Garcia families placed a note which said: "We will pursue your dream."
A father reminisces
Cherith's father Arnaldo Dayrit, 74, remembered the times he and Cherith would discuss things. "I would ask her to sit down. But after a while she would say, 'Papa, you do not understand,' and she would get up and leave. She was a very good daughter but I did not share her ideals," he said.
But he let her be. "She was not in love with money," he said. "Her needs were minimal and she never used the family for her own ends. Sometimes she would bring people to our farm and hold meetings there."
Cherith's mother Azucena has one word to describe her daughter: determined.
Her father related how when he visited her in jail, Cherith came running to him, crying and hugging him tightly.
"She wanted to show how sorry she was, because the family name was sort of, you know . . .,'' he said.
"I know where Cherith is now," he said. "She is at rest. Theresa (Cherith) has done her share for humanity. I was privileged to be her father."
Her comrades, past and present, all came to Friday's tribute and memorial Mass for Cherith. People from all walks of life--her Benedictine mentors, graying activists, ex-cadres who are now either NGO workers or academics, common people--came and hailed her courage and dedication.
Young activists sang: ''May layunin bawat paglalakbay, may diwa bawat pagsisikhay. (Every path taken has a goal, the spirit comes alive as one struggles to get there)."
Maria Theresa Dimson Dayrit-Garcia:
A Rare Diamond In A Toxic Land
by Ana Ver-Papa
The Philippine Post, July 26, 2000
One of the most valuable of gemstones is the diamond because it is the hardest and most lasting. It is made up of carbon crystals resulting from intense heat and pressure in the depths of the earth and expelled to the surface together with rock fragments, perhaps as a result of volcanic eruption. A diamond find climaxes a tedious and even dangerous process of digging and crushing tons of rocks. When cut into many facets and carefully polished, a diamond reflects the brilliance of light and can even break it up into the colors of the rainbow.
Forty-three years ago, a rare kind of diamond surfaced. It was then cut and polished until it outshone any other diamond set beside it. But it wasn't meant to simply adorn, as does a piece of jewelry; it was the kind best used for cutting and grinding hard materials for industry.
Maria Theresa "Cherith" Dimson Dayrit-Garcia was born in Lubao, Pampanga at a time when intense pressure and heat from years of massive agrarian unrest that reigned over the province and the rest of Central Luzon, seemed to have simmered. A few years earlier, the Huk rebellion had been crushed, and the US soldiers were happily living off the generosity of the land while Filipinos feasted on PX chocolates and canned goods, or scavenged military rubbish and died because they were mistaken for wild boar.
But unrest did not leave the peasant fields still in the hands of a few landlords, nor after the flight of US military forces at the height of the Mount Pinatubo eruption.
Meanwhile, Cherith was raised, protected, and educated in one of the country's best Catholic schools for girls. She excelled as a student, imbibed the values of her Christian education thoroughly. Soon she discovered that the only way to fully live what she had learned was to give up the wealth and comfort of the land in her family's hands and leave behind father, mother, husband and children. She had responded to a higher calling: Take up My Cross and follow Me. The way she followed was how she perceived the challenge of the Cross first introduced to her by her Christian education: to stand up for the rights and fight for the liberation of oppressed Filipinos, even if it would lead to her death.
There are not a few who would question the reference to Christ's challenge in the life of those who have taken up arms in defense of the downtrodden and in defiance against an oppressive system. But who would question the M16 rifle in Cherith's hands when those she had chosen to live with, lived each day of their lives under threat of banishment from their lands coveted by the mighty and powerful who never tire seeking more wealth and more expansive playgrounds?
Two children, victims of infection from toxic waste buried in the environs of the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga, died just before Cherith was felled in an encounter of her group of NPA rebels based in Cagayan Valley with the military. They died as victims; she as victor -- for she had followed her calling to live, and die, for the so many other victims of a blighted history that has persisted to the present.
Cherith died a victor, embodying the vision of supreme sacrifice as summed up in a battle song that must have consistently inspired her in her struggle, in solidarity with all those who had suffered and died before her and those yet to follow:
Ang magbuhos ng dugo para sa bayan,
ay kagitingang hindi malilimutan.
Ang katawang inialay sa lupang mahal,
mayaman sa aral at kadakilaan.
Cherith, like a diamond, is forever.
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