Let’s Fall in Love and Build a Nation

Subselfie_May Forever_Love the one whose passion equals your own_Cris and Marivic Bernido love story

The road snaking through the heart of the town of Jagna was decorated with colorful banderitas that day. It was my first time in Bohol, and I had not come to see the tarsiers or the chocolate hills. I came to see something more wondrous: Love.

And it wasn’t just any kind of love. It was a love that has traveled the world, New York, Germany, an intense pursuit of the mind, and a love that has found its way back home in that very town, with nothing but a fervent urging of the heart. Their names were Cris and Marivic Bernido, and that day they taught me what could be the most important lesson of all: love the one whose passion equals your own.

Finding Your Equal

Marivic was always the brightest girl in school. She was fond of solving the most mathematical problems simply because they were difficult. All the universities wanted her after high school, including the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman who gave her a scholarship it only offers to the gifted.

At 21, she was already teaching at the UP Diliman Department of Physics. The whole universe was hers to explore; nothing was more romantic to her than to wander through the infinity of mass and space, leaving the prospect of a boy irrelevant to say the least. “I didn’t want to get bored,” Marivic said, recalling that at that age, she had already sworn off marriage.

Until Cris came, a dashing PhD from New York who had returned to UP as a visiting professor. He was five years her senior, and the calculating girl that she was, age meant wisdom, knowledge, a number that was sure not to bore her. They discovered they were both at the same places during the Martial Law rallies but never met. They both decided to lead a life of the academic after that, pursuing advanced degrees for the love of science.

Cris eventually became Department Chair and that required more conversations than the usual. They talked intensely and passionately about science. They talked about their fathers, his was a guerrilla officer in Bohol who fought for independence during the World War 2, and hers was a human rights lawyer who briefly headed the National Bureau of Investigation.

Most of all, they talked about their country. Of the pain in seeing the nation fail because we weren’t achieving much, not because we couldn’t, but because we have been led to believe we can’t. “We could only find fulfillment if we could contribute to the effort to work out solutions to present problems faced by our nation,” Marivic said in a graduation speech she delivered at the UP Manila in 2013.

If there was a formula for love, an equation, an algorithm or a combination that would prove postulates and theorems of why two people decide to be together, it would be for Marivic and Cris to know. Because somewhere in those conversations, their hearts not only met, their mind spoke and agreed to fall in love.

Photo courtesy of screengrab from a video of the Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.
Courtesy: Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart (video screengrab).

“We’ll Build a Nation”

They fell in love and then let each other go.

What was it that Maya Angelou said? “Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” Marivic flew to Albany, New York to take her post-graduate studies, while Cris stayed in UP and flew across Europe for his post-doctorate. It was six years of saying “Go.”

In 1988, Cris wrote Marivic a letter. A proposal.

To marry the woman who not only shares the same dedication to science, but also the same commitment to the country. Marivic felt the same way, but she remembered the girl who only wanted to espouse the world and the parts of it she had to discover. Was she ready to devote herself to a life of marriage, when she knew there was a whole other life she wanted to live?

But Cris had a persuasive reason, an invitation, he wrote in his letter: Marry me because we are building a nation. Scientists follow logic. And it was logic, to be with somebody on a difficult mission. “We didn’t want to be just consumers of science and technology. We wanted to have a chance at a bigger success,” Marivic said.

Jagna, Bohol. (Photo courtesy of screengrab from a video of the Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.)
Jagna, Bohol. Courtesy: Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.

A Challenging Mission

The success they had in mind involved not their kind, not the children of wealthy families and not the students in UP, and certainly not the students of the State University of New York where they both became doctors of Physics.

Their idea of a bigger chance at success meant the involvement of children of farmers, fishermen and other laborers. “Élie Cartan, an influential mathematician, was a son of a blacksmith.  The Physics Nobel laureate, Carl E. Wiemann, attended a rural primary school with only three rooms, and his home was miles away over unpaved roads to the nearest store.  The Economics Nobel laureate, James Buchanan, Jr., was a farm boy educated in a tiny, poor, rural public school.  Had society not given them a chance, and others like them, our world today would be poorer,” Cris said in one of his speeches.

Cris’ family owned a private school in Jagna — the Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF). The school was struggling and so was education in Bohol. His proposal in mind, Marivic married Cris and together they decided to leave their thriving careers as physicists to transfer to Bohol and build the nation from there.

When they took over the school in 1999, situation was dire. Students didn’t know their decimals and fractions, and couldn’t even compute the circumference of a circle. Your goals are high, and reality is just way below,” Marivic said. The first drastic move they did was ban calculators, and then reduce non-class days. In Jagna, as in most remote provinces, the town fiesta is a big deal. Teachers at their school would hold off classes for a month to focus on festivities. They didn’t like that Marivic and Cris were canceling the fun, so they resisted. 

This led to the their most drastic transitional act: fire some teachers. “They were very painful decisions,” Marivic said, “but we had a goal for the school.”

Photo courtesy of screengrab from a video of the Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.
Courtesy: Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.

Ideas for Education

Then they developed an idea: the Dynamic Learning Program. With all teachers on board, they turned their school into a teaching school, similar to a teaching hospital, where teachers also had to learn from their superiors. Under Cris and Marivic, there were “expert” teachers, who, in turn, taught other teachers.

They also instituted a scheme where 70% of class time would be devoted to activities, and only 30% to lecture. To make sure that this was strictly followed, they implemented simultaneous classes. Teachers would teach 2-3 classes at once, this way, they are assured that learning was not done by lecturing, but by doing.

The results were magnificent. They saw a dramatic increase in proficiency and as proof, more and more of their students were passing the grueling UP College Admissions Test — the toughest in the country — when years before that, students were not going to college at all.

When they reached steady footing in the general curriculum, they shifted gear to their true love: Physics. In the 1990s, only 27% of high school Physics teachers were qualified to teach Physics. The Department of Science and Technology funded different programs such as scholarships, trainings and workshops to address this problem. But in 2003, the number further dropped to an alarming 8%.

Using the Dynamic Learning Program framework, they drew up the “Learning Physics as One Nation (LPON)” module. They recorded national physics teachers on video and distributed them as audio-visual lectures.  They complimented this with activities and tests that were at par with the competitive level. The national educators can monitor their progress and can offer their assistance through text messaging, e-mail and Skype.

This circumvented the shortage, and gave an opportunity for the non-qualified teachers to learn as well, and eventually improve circumstances. In 2010, they were awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Citation for Education, considered the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia, for the leaps they have made in making quality education accessible to all, no matter where you’re from.

Today, the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP)-Learning Physics as one Nation (LPON) technique has been adopted by around 600 schools in different parts of the country. “Cris and I have endeavored each day to ensure that those who have less in life should have more in education, be it for a child or for a nation at large,” Marivic said in her speech during the Ramon Magsaysay Awards in 2010.

Most of their students are scholars, but to make sure they don’t waste what they achieved in High School, Cris and Marivic send students off to college at their own expense. “There was a time when all of them asked for an allowance at once, and we didn’t know where to get the cash,” Marivic recounts. After 27 years of marriage, Cris and Marivic have not been able to bear a child of their own. But with their school, Marivic said, “we are never really childless. We actually have a handful.”

Cris and Marivic’s golden rule: Never ask for donations. They do not want their work to be tied to whoever they owed money to. “Financial dependence could lead to intellectual subservience. It could then be difficult to question prevailing pedagogical dogmas, nor go against fashionable trends, even if these have failed in delivering quality education to generations of Filipinos,” Marivic said in her speech at UP Manila.

In the early stages, they had to renovate decades-old building from their own pockets. They dug down deep in their savings to have DLP-LPON running along. “Breaking points came often,” Cris said. They remember a time when they had to fly in for a lecture and their airline had overbooked, giving them a compensation of $400. It was one of their greatest moments. “Our bank account had been depleted to $10. We needed that $400.”

“Cris and I are embarrassed when we are referred to as heroes. There are thousands of Filipinos – heroes – out there, doing their job quietly and unrecognized. Cris and I just happen to get more attention,” Marivic said.

Photo courtesy of screengrab from a video of the Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.
Courtesy: Central Visayan Institute Foundation and Smart.

Rare Kind of Love

In Jagna, there is a hill called Ilihan where a small chapel stands. Cris and Marivic mentioned they had fantasies of building a research center on top. I made the trek uphill to try and understand this fascination to nature, or to Jagna in general, why Cris and Marivic would give up New York or UP, to spend their days in a quiet, sleepy town. When Cris proposed marriage, he was not proposing to love no one but each other, he was proposing the opposite of that, to love everything else, to love science, to love teaching, to love the country they were building.

To say “go” if need be.

But if one place can convince the two of them to stop saying “go,” to decide, finally, to live a life together, to be near each other everyday, while still committing to love everything else, then I guess there is more to that place than I could ever understand.

Earlier in the day at their home, before I made the trek, Marivic asked her husband to sing for us what he had sung to her during the early stages of their relationship. Cris obliged, sat on the piano, and sang a song I did not recognize, but one that Marivic knew by heart. She stood behind her husband and sang along. At one point I think they have forgotten that there were other people in the room.

I was only 20 years old at the time, and Marivic told me their love story as if she was telling it to her own daughter: tender, but forewarning. Choose wisely, she told me. I observed them closely that day. Whenever Marivic spoke, Cris would look at her fondly as if she was hearing this woman for the first time but already adoring her.

There was a different kind of smile on Marivic, too, when Cris talked endlessly about Marvel comics. Like the man beside her was not a man, but a boy obsessed with cartoon, but a boy she was foolishly in love with. “You know, mutation is possible now,” Marivic told me, an act of support for the boy who loves Spiderman. If she could conquer the world of science to give the boy superpowers, she would. But Cris’ superpowers were already her. Then they both looked at me and repeated: choose wisely.

As I was saying goodbye, I asked them whether there was something more they desired in life. Cris smiled and told me: “there’s always another mountain to climb.” Marivic joined us then, touching her husband’s shoulder and smiling at him before turning to me, “ad infinitum (to infinity.)”

Remembering those moments while atop the Ilihan Hill, Stephen Hawking’s advice to his children came back to me: “One: remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two: never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three: if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare and don’t throw it away.”

Cris and Marivic are two of the few people I have met who have satisfied Hawking’s rules in life. They looked up at the stars, they sought meaning, they worked hard, they aspired, and they never, ever, threw away what was so rare to find.

There are two kinds of love, I have learned. One indulges on romanticized notions, the need to be adored, or treasured, or constantly assured, the kind of love that is content with just loving each other. The other one is pragmatic, a kind of love that insists on loving more of what’s around them, a love that looked for mountains to climb, a love focused on objectives.

For Cris and Marivic, the objective was to “build a nation,” by teaching, by experimenting, by solving puzzles where pieces are missing. Whenever I remember how Cris and Marivic look at each other, how they would lightly touch each other’s faces, and how Marivic sang along on the piano, I am inclined to believe that the pragmatic kind of love need not be unfeeling, because when you love someone whose passion equals your own, you’d find that the mission is as ardent and romantic.

A marriage of the mind, I was convinced, is wiser than a marriage of hearts. Because when you love someone whose passion equals your own, you no longer need to be adored, treasured, or assured; you just love, and inherently, just as a work of science, you get loved back.

Photo courtesy of asianewsnet.net
Courtesy: asianewsnet.net

[Entry 91, The SubSelfie Blog]
#MayForever Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of #MayForever. We are open to contributions of any love story that you think gives hope that true love still exists, and that forever is possible. 

About the Author:

Lian Nami Buan.
Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of SubSelfie.com. She leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She also produces special reports for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. awww, this is just so inspiring. and you’ve relayed to us their story so well that if i were marivic, i’d tear up. 🙂


  2. lunaintheskye says:

    Reblogged this on The Moon in the Sky and commented:
    “One: remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two: never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three: if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare and don’t throw it away.”


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