By Roger Pe
FROM a little girl who peddled rice cakes in the streets, Erlinda Alli-Ganapin rose from her lowly beginning and survived many odds, some of them miraculously. How she beat them makes an interesting story.
Ganapin is a self-made woman, toughened by challenging experiences, molded by beautiful values, and time continues to make her a vintage wine. Once chosen as outstanding woman of the city of Puerto Princesa, you can liken her to many indigenous things Palawan is famous for, like lustrous sea pearls, brown and tough kamagong tree, pungently sweet mampalang (local mango) and many more.
The woman is proud of her teaching profession and always reminds people in her community that nothing is impossible when you dream about something and pursue it relentlessly. Listening to her as she dreamt of seeing Manila as a kid holds you spellbound. And you can tell, she is a woman of substance.
Born to be a storyteller
When she was 9 years old she could not contain her excitement the moment she stepped into MV General Luna, the big ship that sailed for three days and two nights to reach the city. To make the story short, it was a trip she would never forget for the rest of her life.
On their way back home, a series of unfortunate incidents greeted them, as well as hundreds of passengers in the middle of the sea. An engine trouble had caused the ship to stall and passengers had to transfer to another ship. Packed like sardines on MV Fortuna, the rescue ship, Ganapin’s family slept on the floor and, occasionally, on top of their luggage. Everything seemed fine until loud screams jolted them out of their sleep.
They heard a woman shout, “Huramentado, huramentado [Amok, everybody run]!” Her mother then grabbed her hand and they sped upstairs. Halfway to safety, she remembered that her two other sisters were not with them. As they dashed back the dining area, passing through a narrow hallway, Ganapin saw a man approaching them with a bloodstained bolo. The man was going berserk.
And then the nightmare, the man swung his bolo, hitting her mother’s scalp. At that instance, blood spurted out like a fountain from her head, terrifying her endlessly. Like a monster, the crazed man turned to her next. About to strike her, her mother had regained strength from half-consciousness and pushed him with brute force in the nick of time. All bloodied, she hurriedly put her inside a big box and covered it with a piece of luggage.
With one violent swing, the man had hit a luggage her mother had grabbed earlier to shield her. It had split into two, even causing a deep wound on her mother’s left hand. Without the luggage, her mother’s hand would have been cut off. Horrified, Ganapin cowered in fear. There was as if a mysterious hand that guided her mother to save her from near death. Then they heard loud gunshots. The man fell dead with many people wounded in his wicked wake.
Traumatized, Ganapin would later learn that her older sister almost jumped off the ship. The terrifying incident on that fateful night of June 1958 landed on national newspapers. Retelling the story to her teachers, classmates and friends would make her an effective storyteller later on.
To forget and put it behind them, her mother thought of a small business at home making rice cakes. She and her sisters knocked on people’s homes and sold them before going to school.
Ganapin sold the most because she had the loudest and charming voice. She even endeared herself to cabaret girls near the town’s popular Cosmos Bakery.
Born in a town where everybody knew everybody, Ganapin is grateful for all the learning experiences she faced during her growing-up years. “I cherish the joy and laughter of my childhood. There were frustrations, pain and suffering, but as years went by, they’ve become part of a beautiful story worth sharing,” she intimates.
She remembers playing patintero, luksong tinik, tumbang preso, tagu-taguan, piko, pitsao, maro and tatsing under the sun and during full moons. She cherishes her boyish adventure of climbing fruit-bearing trees, gathering seashells, sea urchins and fiddler crabs at nearby “Parola.”
She remembers binging on “plywood”—a kind of hard baked bread—banana cue and maruya. “We drank water directly from the school’s artesian well if we didn’t have enough money to buy soft drinks. I was also bullied because of my dark brown skin and kinky hair,” she narrates.
With her father’s untimely death, Ganapin was compelled to become a working student. While tagging along with a friend who was auditioning for a broadcasting job, a man with a baritone voice yelled “Next!” referring to her. The man was the famous Jess Decolongon, a respected radio personality in the country. Ganapin reluctantly tried and to her surprise, she was taken in. The rest is history.
Ganapin learned the value of coming on time (as in this interview where she came in 30 minutes early), preparedness, continuous learning while on the job, objectivity in dealing with situations, presence of mind, reading and improving one’s craft and not to settle for anything less.
She sold mosquito nets, blankets, bed sheets and pillowcases sent by her brother to augment the family income and worked at the Office of the Auditing Examiner’s Office at Palawan National School, Provincial Assessor’s Office, Office of the Provincial School Superintendent, while continuing part-time work at DYPR on weekends (with a salary of P2 per hour).
She worked full time during summer as a disc jockey, hosted live shows, gave advice to people in love on air, was a newscaster, did field reporting, public service and hosted musical programs.
Ganapin’s family instilled in her faith in God, honesty, respect for elders, concern for others, hard work and perseverance. She helped her brother Artemio who took over her mother’s home business. Though half of his right leg was amputated because of a fatal accident, he strived hard. He now manages a family business in Antipolo market and lives in a big house with his family. Her older sister Aurora taught her multitasking and time management. “I should really be thankful for her efforts in making me learn how to survive in life,” she adds.
She read pocketbooks, newspapers, watched English movies, accepted English programs at DYPR (“Words and Music”), joined literary writing contests, wrote poems, short stories, scripts, memorized speeches and listened to good speakers to improve her English.
An active student leader, she won as a senator in college. She graduated at age 19 and became a full-pledged teacher. Her first teaching job was at a barrio high school in Quezon town, southern Palawan. Here, she once walked a 7-kilometer muddy road from a sitio, because the vehicle she took could not proceed further to the town proper.
“My first two years of teaching was full of challenges and frustrations but that did not discourage me. I organized a fund-raising campaign for our school building. The local government funds were not sufficient to provide our needs in school. We had to wait for five months to claim salaries,” she relates.
Ganapin’s starting salary was P234 charged against local funds. “I initiated educational field trips to supplement theories taught in school. I recommended students for summer jobs in a mining company for them to earn extra income for their continuous schooling,” she adds.
She transferred to Palawan National School in 1971 as a full-time English teacher, resumed radio work during weekends and moved to the newly opened Palawan Teachers’ College (predecessor of Palawan State University [PSU]) in 1977. It was the start of a flourishing professional growth for her, paving the way toward her dreams.
She then pursued a master’s degree in college teaching. A year after, she specialized as trainor in English for the Decentralized Learning Resource Center, a school for school administrators of the Department of Education (DepEd). Soon, she was designated director of information.
Because of her media background, Ganapin was tasked to answer issues raised by faculty and students against school administration in local media and at Radio Veritas and Radyong Bayan in Manila. When the Edsa Revolution was unfolding in 1986 and 1987, the then Palawan State College was also undergoing a student-faculty unrest.
Groups wanted the incumbent president to give way to a Palaweño educator. Unfolding events would make Ganapin principal of the Laboratory High School from 1987 to 1991, a tough task she handled after the transition of leadership.
In a state institution where designations are never permanent, Ganapin anchored a one-hour-a-week radio program aired to keep stakeholders informed about college activities. She was among those who prepared a position paper needed for a bill converting the state college into a state university.
Eventually finishing her doctorate degree in Education in 1998, she was designated dean of College of Education the following year. She would hold the position of vice president for academic affairs after three months, lasting for nine years.
In 2005 Ganapin became executive vice president of the university and served as member of the PSU Board of Regents as alumni representative (1999-2004). She worked on major curricular reforms and initiated additional extension centers in different municipalities of the province.
She was given a five-day scholarship on Leadership and Management of Universities in the 21st Century at the United Nations University in Amman, Jordan, in 2006 where she presented a paper on Solid Waste Management Program of Puerto Princesa City. When PSU was recognized as the first sustainable and eco-friendly university in the Philippines in 2009, she was appointed chairman of the committee on environmental sanitation and beautification, organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Commission on Higher Education and the DepEd.
She presented the university’s best practices at the Ritsusmeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan, on December 12, 2009, as a result. All of these milestones happened while attending to a sick daughter who battled leukemia for almost a year.
She worked with the World Bank through PSU Knowledge for Development Center and led a university-wide anticorruption drive, making the school recognized as member of Transparency International. This earned her a Governor’s Award in Education in 2010, two weeks after her daughter’s death.
She was then appointed OIC-president of PSU a year after, a position she worked hard to attain with very supportive constituents. She resigned after three months and applied for the presidency of PSU, an institution she served for more than three decades.
A few people worked against her and she eventually lost the battle, a well-orchestrated conspiracy done by people whom she says acted like God. “I thought it best to keep calm,” Ganapin says. More than a year after her retirement in service, Ganapin was invited as an external associate for PSU under the Atlas Scholarship Program in Gottenburg, Sweden, in 2013. Together with a team of educators from University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo de Davao University and Angelicum College, she worked on a curriculum for selected elementary schools, integrating environmental sustainability.
Ganapin believes in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), an advocacy she started in the late 1980s when she coauthored Palawan’s first musical play Kung Hindi Ngayon, Kailan?, with good friend Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek.
In a city where women leaders are few, Ganapin was a reluctant city council candidate of the Liberal Party in the last elections supported by some business groups, partymates, family, friends, relatives, colleagues and former students, in her desire to help promote ESD and senior citizens’ concerns.
At age 66, she is still an active Red Cross volunteer (member of the board of directors); a part-time volunteer teacher (since 2013) at the Seminario de San Jose in Puerto Princesa City; chairman of the board of directors of the PSU Multipurpose Cooperative (since 2015); manager of Palawan Prime Movers Advocacy Cooperative; and a part-time professor at the PSU Graduate School. She is looking forward to continue her services as an educator in her own simple ways.