Bernardo M. Villegas
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An Economist and a Gentleman (Part 2)

          A young member of the faculty of our School of Economics, Mr. Gregorio A. Mabbagu, was one of his students in economic history.  Mr. Mabbagu remembers that Amado used to start his classes on a light vein, telling Erap-jokes, cheering up the environment very early in the morning.  He would always start his classes on time.  He was prepared with copious notes and his thoughts were well organized.  He had a vivid memory of things and events that occurred during World War II.  This especially impressed the students because his memory was still very sharp despite his already being in his 90s.  His dedication to teaching, despite his advanced age, was a real inspiration to his students.  He expected much of them, making everyone participate in the class discussions.  His approach to history was far from just memorizing names and events.  He encouraged the students to think more analytically and extract lessons that can be useful for future policy making. 

         Dr. Peter Lee U, former Dean of the School of Economics of UA&P, had dealings with Amado for practically all the 21 years he taught in our institution.   Let me quote directly from a testimonial of Dr.  Lee U: “I had the opportunity to sit in many of his lectures and the passion he had for teaching about Philippine economic history was evident.  He often asked for more sessions and we would arrange additional meetings so he could cover material that he felt the students must know.  We often worried whether he might be tiring himself out in the process.  He was a witness and participant in many of the events and issues he talked about so that the students greatly benefited from his first hand point of view. 

         “He was meticulous in grading.  I often saw him going over students’ papers and marking them in red ink.  This was no small effort for him as he had to use a magnifying glass to read the handwriting, since his sight was no longer as sharp as in his younger days.  And he would take pains to correct students not just in economics, but also in their English grammar and style…. Despite the age difference, he was able to relate and establish a rapport with the students who easily connected with him because they found out that he had interests in such mundane things as cameras and cars, among others.  On the occasions that he was hospitalized, the students would organize visits to the hospital.  He enjoyed these visits very much.  On at least one Christmas season, he invited the students to his house to do some caroling.  As was his custom, he would take pictures of every batch that he taught.  He made it a point to attend the graduation exercises which he rarely missed.  Students/graduates would seek him out after the commencement exercises were over and take pictures with him.  Whenever students would run into him at the Philippine Economic Society conferences, they would rush up to him and take “selfies.”

         His very human approach to dealing with his students must have been reinforced by his exposure to the Oxford-Cambridge mentoring system he experienced at Harvard in which students and professors lived together in the so-called “Houses” around which student life revolved.  As Mr. Mabbagu narrates: “Our batch went to his house one Christmas time to do some caroling.  As we passed through the gate of his house, I noticed that there were many cars parked inside.  He told us later about his passion for cars. After welcoming us warmly and joyfully, he toured us around his house.  We were impressed with all the antiques that were displayed in the various rooms.  We also learned about his love for cats.  There were many of them wandering around, including in the garage.  Dr. Castro had a name for each of the cats.  There were pictures of him and family members framed in elegant old frames.

         “When we finished dinner, he showed us to a room where there was a special chair. He said it was from Harvard. Then he told stories about his years at that prestigious university.  That is when we learned about his love for music and his having sung at the parish choir and his having been an active member of the Harvard Catholic Club.  That night, those of us who were fortunate to have been invited to his home experienced his warmth and friendship.  Even in his old age, he was still investing a lot of his time in preparing the next generation of professional people.  We will always remember him for his humor and his cordial yet very professional relationship with us.”

         Dr. Cid Terosa, the current Dean of the School of Economics, had an even closer contact with him because the former was the professor in charge of the Economic History course of the Industrial Economics Program in which Amado taught the module on Philippine Economic History.  At the end of every semester, Amado would render a very detailed account to Dr. Terosa about his impressions of the students, explaining some low or failing grades he had given to some of them.  Dr. Terosa noticed how Amado was a stickler for the rules of English grammar and composition.  He would show Dr. Terosa some of the graded test papers that bore short reminders about the proper use of the English language.  Although he was annoyed by simple grammatical mistakes made by the students, he always had a good word about their diligence, discipline and determination.  He was especially pleased with students who wrote well and clearly.  He would easily recall the names of those who were able to combine mastery of the subject matter with almost impeccable writing skills.

         Dr. Terosa also observed that Amado was a camera hobbyist.  He would always take a class picture at the end of each semester.  On graduation day, as already mentioned above, he would take pictures of his former students with his trusty camera.  As his former students giggled and roared with delight to celebrate the end of their college life, Dr. Castro would brandish his state-of-the art camera and take pictures of them.  The students were more than happy to have a picture with the fabled Filipino economist.  A good number of them have kept these photos taken with Amado as souvenirs, reminding them of a very spiritual but very down-to-earth person.   They would remember that he never failed to start class with a short prayer.  Although he always shared a joke to jumpstart his class, the short prayer always had to be first. More than by talking about his religious beliefs, he showed by his deeds that he believed in the primacy of the divine over the secular.

         To summarize the lasting impressions Amado made on him, Dr. Terosa ends his reminiscences:  “My once-a-semester conversations with Dr. Castro were lengthy.  None ended in less than sixty minutes.  Aside from discussing grades and class performance, our conversations pulsated with Dr. Castro’s vibrant and joyful memories of his days in Harvard, his exciting years in the University of the Philippines School of Economics, and his unflagging passion for teaching economics.  I listened most of the time, and I always felt that I was being mentored.  I drew insights on commitment, loyalty, patience, perseverance, preparation, dedication, and service to country and fellowmen from our conversations.  I was never Dr. Castro’s student but indeed, I learned a lot from him.”  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.