Sir Nick: ‘People’s Teacher,’ Father, Hell-raiser

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
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 22, July 8-14, 2007

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.
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.”

That persistence and selflessness was the result perhaps of the fact that Sir Nick grew up taking care of his siblings. He was also an activist early on, having organized for Kabataang Makabayan, the foremost youth activist group during the dictatorship.

It was as a young teacher at the Tamayong Elementary School in Calinan during the 1960s that Sir Nick’s concern for the teachers began to show.

Bulac, who was a contemporary of Sir Nick in the Calinan District, recalled how during district meetings, Sir Nick stood out for voicing displeasure over school policies.

Sir Nick also took time to help organize KM’s first community chapter in Davao City. He also helped in mobilizing the workers at a company called House of Magno in their struggle against low wages and exploitative working conditions. It was there that Sir Nick met his wife Camila.

They got married in 1971. “We thought of getting married because we heard martial law was about to be declared,” Camila recalled.

Martial law indeed came a year later, in 1972, forcing Sir Nick to go underground, leaving Camila and their infant son, Dante.

Sir Nick endured the hardship in the hills. He had bouts of asthma. He lost his index finger during an accident involving a handgun.

On Dec. 28, 1975, Sir Nick was captured in Davao del Norte and was thrown to jail in a police camp in Cagayan de Oro City. In prison, Camila and Dante would visit him, and he would send cards and letters to them, which Camila keeps until now.

After his release from prison in September 1976, Sir Nick went back to teaching, this time ast the Rizal Elementary School in Davao City. A few years later, the hardships in his profession compelled him to help organize the teachers’ movement here.

Sir Nick was also active in other fields, such as organizing fellow detainees in Davao in pursuing the class-action suit against Marcos. The fight still continues as the funds that have been awarded to the victims of abuses during the dictatorship have not been released.

He was chair for Southern Mindanao of Selda (Samahan ng mga Ex-detainee Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya or Society of Ex-detainees for Liberation from Detention and for Amnesty) and a board member of the labor center Nonoy Librado Development Foundation.

Sir Nick’s health and age had slowed him down physically but not mentally, his wife says. Even after his retirement from teaching in 2005, he continued supporting fellow teachers and even joining in lobbying the City Council for the release
f bonuses.

“For Sir Nick, this is not simply begging for help. This is asking for what is due us teachers,” said Carredo.
In his passing, Kamkem awarded Sir Nick the Gawad Dakilang Guro (Great Teacher Award) for “leading with all humility the organizations he was in and working beyond the four walls of the classroom.”
Gabriela Davao also conferred on Sir Nick the honorary Gawad Diego Silang Award for his support of women’s cause and his role in seeking social change.

For his family and children, time with Sir Nick was always enjoyable. His daughter Rhea recalled how Sir Nick would bring them to the sea to fish and swim. “He would teach us to dive in the middle of the seas of Samal,” she said. “That’s how Papa was. He was not afraid to take the plunge.”

Rhea said that as a kid she asked her mother, “Why Papa is not always around? Why is he not like other fathers who stay at home?”

She said she now understands that Sir Nick’s family includes his fellow teachers and the mass movement who sought his guidance, enjoyed his presence, learned from his wisdom, and took inspiration from his commitment. Davao Today / Posted by(

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