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Taxing exams and ensaymada: The lesson of a lifetime

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The resignation last week of Vice-President Sara Duterte as Education Secretary, a critical Cabinet position, left a void that cannot remain vacant for long given the challenges facing the Philippine education system. In the wake of her departure, speculation swirled about potential successors, with Rep. Joey Salceda floating two notable names: Prospero “Popoy” De Vera and Milwida “Nene” Guevara.

The latter name brought a smile to my face and sent me on a journey of remembrance. You see, Professor Nene Guevara, or “Ma’am Nene” as her students fondly call her, was not just another academic to me; she was a mentor, an inspiration, and the reason I fell head over heels for the seemingly dull world of public finance and taxation.

Flashback to 2015 (or was it 2016?), when I was pursuing my master’s degree in public management at Ateneo. In one memorable quiz, Prof. Guevara posed a question about the tax implications for Manny Pacquiao and Pia Wurtzbach following their back-to-back victories in boxing and the Miss Universe pageant, respectively. My answer was apparently so memorable (or perhaps silly) to her that she later wrote about it in an online article, musing about me as a student. The details of my response escape me now, but her fondness for it remains etched in my memory.

Ma’am Nene had a knack for making the driest of subjects come alive. Through her engaging lectures and real-world examples, she ignited my passion for public finance, so much so that when I had the chance to dive more deeply into it again, I leapt at the opportunity with newfound zeal. And who could forget those boxes of Dexter’s ensaymada she’d bring to class during quizzes? A sweet gesture, perhaps, to make up for the agonizing exams she put us through. But that’s just the kind of professor she was — tough, but always looking out for her students.

But her impact on my life extended beyond the classroom. As my thesis adviser, she provided invaluable guidance and support. And when I was considering pursuing my DBA at De La Salle University, it was Prof. Guevara who gave me the final push I needed. I’ve never regretted that decision, and I have her to thank for it.

Ma’am Nene’s expertise is as impressive as her dedication to her students. An economist and fiscal expert, she has advised various international organizations, and served as finance undersecretary during the Ramos administration. As the founder, president, and CEO of Synergeia Foundation, she has worked tirelessly to promote good governance. And as a core faculty member at the Ateneo School of Government, she continues to shape young minds.

It’s this unique blend of technical prowess, leadership experience, and passion for education that makes Nene Guevara an exceptional candidate for DepEd Secretary. The education sector is at a crossroads, grappling with the lingering impacts of the pandemic, the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world, and the eternal challenge of equipping young Filipinos with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive.

Navigating these choppy waters will require a steady hand at the helm, someone with the vision to chart a course towards a brighter future and the expertise to make that vision a reality. It will require someone who understands the intricacies of governance and finance, and who can marshal resources and rally stakeholders behind a common cause.

Most importantly, it will require someone who cares deeply about education and the transformative power it holds. Someone who knows that behind every statistic is a child with dreams and potential waiting to be unlocked. Someone like Nene.

Of course, the decision ultimately rests with President Marcos Jr. But as he ponders this crucial appointment, I hope he considers not just the impressive credentials of potential candidates, but also the intangible qualities that set true leaders apart — the passion, the dedication, and the ability to inspire.

Because in the end, the lesson that Prof. Guevara taught me extends far beyond taxation and budgets. It’s a lesson about the power of education to change lives, shape destinies, and build a better future for all. And that’s a lesson we can’t afford to forget.

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty, and its administrators.


Adrian A. Mabalay is an assistant professor at De La Salle University and an occasional opinion writer for The Manila Times. When not pondering life’s great questions or attempting to make his students laugh, he can be found admiring a well-arranged bouquet of flowers, his other great passion.


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