Brother Armin Luistro, in white shirt, is seen with tribal students. (Photo courtesy of Armin Luistro)
Amnesty International Philippines has bestowed a human rights defender award on De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro for his work in promoting the rights of vulnerable people. Luistro, a former secretary of education during the administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and current De La Salle University president, was awarded the prize for his dedication in fighting for the people’s right to an education, the rights group said. Other awardees included the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for the group category. “This season’s recipients … share one dedication, that is, to fight for basic rights of Filipinos,” said Butch Olano, section director of Amnesty International Philippines. As education chief, Luistro spearheaded a healthy eating campaign for nearly 60 million children in government schools. This included banning junk food and genetically modified organisms.
In 2011, he introduced vegetable gardening to the curriculum where students grew fruit and vegetables. The program also allowed students and teachers to take their harvest home. Luistro had said that one of the ironies in Philippine society was that children go hungry, yet the tropical climate allowed Filipinos to grow fruit and vegetables all year round. He said malnutrition leads to mentally weak students who perform badly in the classroom. Luistro also integrated the sex education law in the curriculum despite church opposition that the program would promote promiscuity among the young. Senior Catholic bishops believed teaching sex education was the job of parents, not teachers, as it may encourage children to experiment, leading to unwanted pregnancies. Women and civil rights groups doubted Luistro’s fair implementation of the law due to church pressure, yet he allowed instruction on the use of contraceptives which required teachers to attend seminars and training to teach the subject. When people were asking whether to have Filipino or English as the language for instruction, Luistro responded by allowing students to speak in their first language (regional language), making it easier for students to grasp academic concepts. “It is easier to understand a concept if the learner is using his own mother tongue. There is nothing wrong in learning concepts using one’s own native language. In fact, it is more efficient and productive because it sticks in the student’s mind,” Luistro told reporters. In 2013, Luistro added two more years to the 10-year basic education curriculum, making Philippine education on a par with international standards. The Amnesty International Philippines awards are aimed at inspiring more Filipinos who are struggling against injustice to continue fighting for human rights.
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