Since its conception in 1998, the College of Development Communication (CDC) graduates its first summa cum laude in the person of John Warren Gado Tamor, who attained a general weighted average of 1.1250.

On behalf of the CDC Class of 2022, Tamor addressed the 24th Testimonial and Recognition Program of the college on August 3 at the EB Copeland Gymnasium.

In his speech, he shared about how UP has opened his critical eyes to the bitter truths facing society.

For the Urban Poor

Having grown up in a squatter’s area in Binondo, Manila and under a bridge in Taytay, Rizal, Tamor had already been exposed as a child to the harsh realities of urban living.

Being his inspiration, his father worked several jobs throughout his life: a staff member in the Philippine Navy, member of the Philippine Dragon Boat team, a tricycle driver, cooking assistant, and now the owner of their backyard farming business in Mindoro, where they are currently based. Tamor is also the eldest of two siblings and the first to earn a college degree.

To be able to afford basic necessities while studying at UPLB, such as food, shelter, and even school supplies, he had to work as a student assistant and apply for scholarships, such as the UP Presidential Undergraduate Scholarship Grant.

He recalled one time having to choose whether to buy food or pay for the photocopying fee for his readings for one of his courses, while considering his P54 budget for the day.

“…anong uunahin ko? Readings o pagkain? Noong araw na iyon, pinili ko ang pagkain. Nabusog ako pansamantala at lumipas ang isang maghapon. Ngunit saglit lang bago tuluyang naubos ang fifty four pesos ko, at sa huli, gutom at panibagong perspektibo lamang ang inabot ko,” he said.

(…what should I prioritize? Readings or food? That day, I chose food. I was full for a while and a day passed. But it was only a matter of time before my fifty four pesos was gone, and in the end, hunger and a new perspective were the only ones I had).

He wondered how his mother was able to budget his father’s measly monthly income of P1,500 for his family of five.

“Kaya naman base sa aking natutunan, nag-kwenta ako—para sa limang miyembro ng aming pamilya, seventy pesos lang pala ang nakalaan araw-araw. Kung babalewalain ang inflation, labing-anim na piso lamang ang diperensya’t masasabi ko na na nasa poverty line na kami,” he added.

When asked about his advocacy, Tamor cited Dr. Nora Quebral’s 1988 book Development Communication Primer, where she tackled how “migration is a coping mechanism for the poor in developing countries” and how it became a way to find better job opportunities. She also mentioned that “rural migrants often settle for poorly paid jobs in the cities and end up in slums or in shantytowns.”

He said that the notion that the grass is greener in cities like Manila is a misconception because, in reality, not all opportunities are available in such places.

“Nangarap lang din naman sila. Gusto lang naman nilang maging mabuti yung buhay nila pero hindi na sila nakaalis ng Maynila kasi hindi sila nabigyan ng magandang opportunity when in fact pumunta nga sila doon for better opportunities,” he said of the urban poor.

(They also just dreamed. They just want to improve their living conditions, but they never got to leave Manila, because they were not given a good opportunity, when in fact, they went there in the first place for better opportunities.)

It then became clear to Tamor that his advocacy was to promote better urban planning and development by shaping sustainable cities and communities. 

Tamor said that he will apply his learnings and experiences as a Devcom graduate, specifically on participatory development and project management, in fulfilling his advocacy. He has made it his life’s mission to bridge the gap between legislators and the civil society by championing community participation in the design and planning of urban and rural areas.

He also aspires for the youth to do their part in raising awareness about the issues revolving around urban communities through information campaigns.

“Lahat ng ginagawa natin ay para sa bayan, higit sa sarili, para lahat ito sa bayan,” he said.

(Everything we do is for the people, more than ourselves, it’s all for the people.)

Catalyst of Change

But CDC’s first summa had actually planned to shift to the BS Applied Physics program of UPLB after his first year at the college. Having chosen the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) strand in senior high school, Tamor’s initial interest was in the field of the natural sciences. In fact, he graduated with highest honors and was given an Excellence Award in Science for his outstanding performance in subjects such as physics, chemistry, and biology.

But he realized that Devcom, through his field work and production courses, was something he could be passionate about, particularly in aspects involving immersing and being one with marginalized communities and leading efforts that would uplift their lives.

Throughout his undergraduate years, he lived up to the Devcom spirit of empathy and compassion for grassroots communities. He was not the type of student who just attends his classes and ace his exams.

He became an exchange student in urban and international studies at the University of Malaya. Immersing in a more developed country, he could not help comparing Malaysia’s living condition with the Philippines’, which further enriched his understanding of society.

He also became head of the UPLB Development Communicators’ Society. He fondly recalled leading one of their readership literacy campaigns for indigent children and he was amazed at how his organization’s small effort had a big impact on the children’s reading skills.

He also became a first class officer of the corps of cadets of the UPLB Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program under the Department of Military Sciences and Tactics (DMST), which honed his grit and leadership skills.

And as if these extracurricular activities weren’t enough, he even interned in three  non-governmental agencies to hone his communication and production skills and professionalism.

All of these efforts bore fruit through several awards that he received on top of being recognized as CDC’s first summa cum laude. These included the CDC Faculty Medal for Academic Excellence, CDC Student Leadership Award, Nora C. Quebral Medal for Scholarship in Development Communication, and the UPLB ROTC Award of Loyalty and Duty Medal Award.

Students of the country’s premier university can only do so much. His friends even wonder where he gets all his energy.

But one thing is for sure that with his awards and achievements comes the responsibility of becoming a catalyst of social change, as is the mission of the field of development communication.

Calling on his fellow graduates, he said, “Ngayon, pasan na natin ang responsibilidad na tumindig at kumilos. Mangahas tayo na maging mga aktibong iskolar na walang pasubaling magsisilbi para sa kapwa. Labanan natin ang pagiging manhid sa nararanasang karamdaman ng ating lipunan sa pamamagitan ng paggamit ng ating boses at kalayaan upang manindigan.”

(Now, it is our responsibility to stand up and take action. Let’s dare to be active scholars who will unconditionally serve others. Let’s not be apathetic about the condition of our society by using our voice and freedom to stand our ground.) (Rudy P. Parel Jr.)