Gearing up for General Education as Envisioned by CMO 20 s. 2013

[Address to the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Ateneo de Naga University. Oct. 3, 2013]


I would like to thank Dr. Lydia Goingo for inviting me to participate in this Annual Convention of the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences.  After some two years of absence from the Ateneo de Naga University community that patiently taught me how to be a university president, I am happy to be back here in this hall.  The convention theme is: “The College of Arts and Science:  Gearing for 2016 and Beyond.”  I presume that could mean the role of the College of Arts and Science in the rollout of the Senior High School in 2016.  But it may also mean the role of the College of Arts and Science (CAS) in tertiary level instruction, as it shall be affected by the K-12 reform in 2018.  Presuming the K-12 reform will succeed in producing students who meet CHED’s college readiness standards, I would like to focus on the latter, and especially on the role of the College of Arts and Science in the implementation of the tertiary level General Education Curriculum as prescribed by the Commission on High Education’s Memorandum Order 20, series of 2013 (CMO 20 s. 2013).


Here I will speak first about the importance of General Education; second, about General Education according to CMO 20 s. 2013; third, about the teacher of General Education; forth, the role of the CAS in the delivery of GE; and finally, how Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) wishes to implement GE as a vehicle of its mission responsibility as a Jesuit school.  However, let me simply state:  I do not wish my statements to be taken as definitive of anything; nothing here is written on stone.  I mean them rather, as your convention challenges, as stimuli towards gearing up to the General Education envisioned for tertiary level education after the K-12 reform.


The Importance of General Education

Last September 21, 2013, while Naga celebrated the height of its Fiesta with Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Ina, presiding over the Naga River, Dr. Lyd Goingo published a status statement in Facebook:  “Any respite for our country? The north is battered by Typhoon Odette.  The south is battered by war created by MNLF.  In Manila there is an anti-pork barrel rally.”  It was a cry for respite that in one way or another must have echoed in the hearts of millions of Filipinos and Filipinas as yet another story of woe had to be told concerning natural calamity, war, or corruption.

In our county the tale of natural calamities just in the recent past included Typhoon Sendong (Washi) in Cagayan de Oro, Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) in Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley, and most recently Typhoon Odette (Usagi). These are calamities which at one time might have simply been dismissed as acts of God; but with the consciousness of the role humans play in global warming and climate change, we are now more conscious of human responsibility even in natural calamities.

The specter of a bloody insurgency in Zamboanga City attributed to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was as dismaying as it was deplorable, just as the current peace process seemed nicely to be drawing to a close.  Calling for Bangsamoro independence and hoisting a flag to flaunt it, the insurgents used hundreds of civilian men, women as shields to protect them from the military response that they provoked.  The leader was Nur Misuari, though he publicly denied it; his combatants were manipulated into battle; many claimed they entered Zamboanga City merely to join a peaceful demonstration – hoping thereby to earn for themselves a gun and some cash.  Using mortars, automatic weapons, and hopes for an eternal reward, they took on the Philippine military and fought fiercely.  Hundreds were killed.  More were wounded.  Some 100,000 civilians were displaced.  President Aquino, the Commander-in-Chief, was on site in Zamboanga City in command, even though in subsidiarity the Mayor Beng Climaco continued to run the City.  While there were those who urged him to pulverize the insurgents, President Aquino took the longer, but more humane road, insisting on saving the lives of the civilian hostages.  As terrorist bombs were exploded in Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato City, Midsayap and even in the movie houses of Davao, people continued to wonder when peace could ever be achieved in Mindanao.

Competing for the attention of the Filipino people as an insurgency threatened to tear our nation apart, was the unfolding drama of the Napoles Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.  Throughout the country demonstrations were held decrying the corruption and calling for the punishment of those involved.  Thousands upon thousands of pages of documentation were hauled to the Ombudsman; they implicated, not only Janet Napoles, but three[1] senators, twenty-three congressmen and several former government officials.  We have lived with the specter of corruption in the Philippines all our lives, knowing of kickbacks here, and ghost projects there, numbed by its omnipresence.  But the nation was scandalized to hear of tens of billions of pesos involved in the Napoles scams, as images of the Napoles daughter living it up in privilege and luxury bought by money earmarked to ameliorate the poverty of the poorest of the poor was allocated to fake NGOs and mocked hardworking people of integrity.  Meanwhile, calls for the abolition of “pork barrel” in the Senate, House and in Malacañan had become deafening.

Dramatic stories of natural calamity, catastrophic insurgency, and appalling corruption taken out of our own shared experience within the last month! They are experiences which profoundly disturb us and push us to raise very fundamental questions.  What is the meaning of human life and human endeavor, if it is so easily destroyed by natural occurrences, so lightly blown away by a typhoon or volcano? What are our responsibilities to ourselves and to future generations in both controlling, respecting and preserving nature? What is the meaning of human life in the struggle for political recognition or political independence?  What is the value of human life in the defense and promotion of the common good?  When is it warranted to kill even human life in the protection of human society?   How callous have we become to corruption, stealing, and mendaciousness in our society? Why have we not been roused earlier to action by levels of corruption we already knew existed in our society?  Is our outrage at the Napoles scam a passing emotion of disgust, or is it an enflamed imperative for corrective action?

In the society to which we belong, with its local and global dimensions, have we arrived at a point where human beings can flourish together in peace? What would be the attributes of this society? In it, would there be worship of God?  But what if we do not all worship the same God?  What if some do not recognize God?  [FAITH, interreligious DIALOGUE.]  Would there be respect for human life?  Would people live life together in the same ways? Or would people speaking different tongues and finding God in different ways live life in different ways? Can diverse peoples still live together in peace?  [CULTURES] In this society, would contracts and agreements be respected and enforced?  How would they be enforced? What if there are disputes and people begin killing one another due to disputes?  What if there are crimes against life, and the punishment against these crimes, in order to deter further crime, is death?  Would this be part of our society?  [COMMUTATIVE JUSTICE] Would the burdens of running human society be shared by all, or would some be allowed to enjoy more of society’s benefits and other be coerced to bear more of its burdens?  [DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE]  In our society, would there be an abundance of goods produced by working productive people?  But what if some people are too lazy, too young or too old to produce anything? Would they be allowed to breathe, eat, drink and flourish as well? [SOCIAL JUSTICE]  In this society, would all speak the truth?  But what would happen when speaking the truth causes controversy, fear and death?  In this society, would there be love? Would love be more than lust, and love between man and woman issue in children and children’s children raised in homes of loving families?  But what happens when in this society love is deceitful, manipulative and untrue?  Or what happens when in this society love is true, but shared between a man and a man, or between a woman and a woman? Would this society view homosexual love as perverse or as blessed for persons truly in love? [CULTURE]

There are some in our society who flourish, not by the quantity of goods in their lives but by the quality.  But there are many who do not.  Do we recognize an imperative ultimately issued by God, or immediately issued by human conscience, to extend the numbers of those flourishing in society to those who do not? If so, in what is that imperative founded?  What would happen, should the imperative not be recognized and obeyed, but decried and disobeyed [SOCIAL JUSTICE].

It is in this context that I see the importance of General Education.  General Education is about life, human life, the life we contend with today, the life which allows us in the details of an orchid, or the beauty of a seascape, or the ecstasy of conjugal relationship, or the thrill of a successfully educated student, or the satisfaction of a happily-run community, to find the beauty and wisdom of God turned to us in compassion, just as it is about the exasperating life from which Dr. Goingo every now and then, with her personal hopes and cultivated sensitivities seeks respite – respite, not resignation, rest, not capitulation – because it is a life which she through her education has been formed to love and for which she ultimately refuses to surrender hope. Engineering will produce engineers, and Medicine will produce doctors, and Management will produce managers. General Education will produce nothing.  But it will help students to bite into life, as sweet or as bitter as life may present itself.  It will help students to engage life, as encouraging or frustrating as life is.  It will contribute to the formation of a reflective human being in our society who is sensitive to actual human life and its ethical demands and equipped to contribute to its realization. It will thereby contribute to the formation of educated and moral leaders of the future.

It is for this reason that I consider General Education important.  I am happy that it is fixed as a requirement for all tertiary education in the Philippines, regardless of particular professional concentration.


General Education According to CMO 20 s. 2013.

But in this context, an appreciation of General Education according to CMO 20 s. 2013 can be gained from understanding its avowed goals. Allow me here to quote generously from CMO 20, since I do not think I could formulate it better.

“Of the four missions of Philippine higher education articulated by the Commission on Higher Education, the first precisely defines the goal of general education, namely:

“To produce thoughtful graduates imbued with 1) values reflective of a humanist orientation (e.g. fundamental respect for others as human beings with intrinsic rights, cultural rootedness, an avocation to serve); 2) analytical and problem-solving skills; 3) the ability to think through the ethical and social implications of a given course of action; and 4) the competency to learn continuously throughout life—that will enable them to live meaningfully in a complex, rapidly changing and globalized world while engaging in their community and the nation’s development issues and concerns.  …  [For] the fundamental purpose of higher education, therefore, is not only to develop knowledgeable and competent graduates in a particular field, but also well-rounded individuals who appreciate knowledge in a general sense, are open-minded because of it, secure in their identities as individuals and as Filipinos, and cognizant of their role in the life of the nation and larger community.”

“General education thus lays the groundwork for the development of a professionally competent, human and moral person.  It also prepares the Filipino for the demands of 21st century life and the requisite abilities to anticipate and adapt to swiftly changing situation, to think innovatively and create solutions to problems.  General education enables the Filipino to find and locate her/himself in the community and the world, take part in and hopefully assert her/his identity and sense of community and nationhood amid the forces of globalization.”

In this context, CMO 20 s. 2013 also specifies General Education Outcomes.  These are student learning outcomes categorized into intellectual competencies, personal and civic responsibilities, and practical skills:


Category Competencies
Intellectual Competencies
  • Higher levels of comprehension (textual, visual, etc.)
  • Proficient and effective communication (writing, speaking, and use of new technologies)
  • Understanding of basic concepts across the domains of knowledge
  • Critical, analytical and creative thinking.
  • Application of different analytical modes (quantitative and qualitative, artistic and scientific, textual and visual, experimental, observation, etc.) in tackling problems methodically.
Personal and Civic Responsibilities
  • Appreciation of the human condition.
  • Capacity to personally interpret the human experience.
  • Ability to view the contemporary world from both Philippine and global perspectives.
  • Self-assuredness in knowing and being Filipino.
  • Capacity to reflect critically on shared concerns and think of innovative, creative solutions guided by ethical standards.
  • Ability to reflect on moral norms/imperatives as they affect individuals and society.
  • Ability to appreciate and contribute to artistic beauty.
  • Understanding and respect for human rights.
  • Ability to contribute personally and meaningfully to the country’s development.
Practical Skills
  • Working effectively in a group.
  • Application of computing and information technology to assist and facilitate research.
  • Ability to negotiate the world of technology responsibly.
  • Problem-solving (including real-world problems).
  • Basic work-related skills and knowledge.


In my reading, General Education according to CMO 20 s. 2013 expects the graduate to be able to think competently in our actual society (where thought in a global culture of universalized superficiality is increasingly rare), have the requisite knowledge and insight from different domains that condition competent thought (where specialized education tends to force its students to focus on “major” subjects and then consider all other disciplines “minor”), contribute to the realization of human society through the promotion of the common good (even while forces discourage such contributions and encourage focus on private good), and have the practical skills required for this (including being able to work with data, information technology, mass and social media – and even to speak with grammatical correctness!).  It is a monumental challenge for higher education that necessarily builds on the foundations of a successful basic education, enhanced hopefully by the K-12 reform.  .

In this context, CMO 20 s. 2013 requires for all tertiary-level students regardless of concentration 24 units of core courses, 6 units of elective courses, and 3 units of Rizal.  These are 8 core courses, 2 electives, and the Rizal Course previously required by law.


Title Description
Understanding the Self


Pag-unawa sa Sarili

Nature of identity; factors and forces that affect the development and maintenance of personal identity


Mga katangian at elemento ng identidad; mga salik at mga puwersa na umaapekto sa paghubog at pagpatnubay sa personal na identidad.

Readings in Philippine History


Mga Babasahin hinggil sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas

Philippine History viewed from the lens of selected primary sources in different periods, analysis and interpretation


Mga piling primaryang sanggunian ukol sa iba’t ibang yugto ng kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, pagsusuri at interpretasyon.

The Contemporary World


Ang Kasalukuyang Daigdig

Globalization and its impact on individuals, communities and nations, challenges and responses


Globalisasyon at ang epekto nito sa mga indibidwal, mga komunidad, at mga nasyon; mga hamon at mga tugon.

Mathematics in the Modern World


Matematika sa Makabagong Daigdig

Nature of Mathematics, appreciation of its practical, intellectual and aesthetic dimensions and application of mathematical tools in daily life


Mga elemento ng matematika, pagpapahalaga sa mga praktikal, intelektwal, at estetikong dimension nito; at gamit ng matematika sa araw araw na buhay.

Purposive Communication


Malayuning Komunikasyon

Writing, speaking and presenting to different audiences and for various purposes


Pagsulat, pagsasalita at paglalahad para sa iba’t ibang madla at iba’t ibang layunin.

Art Appreciation


Pagpapahalaga sa Sining

Nature, function and appreciation of the arts in contemporary society


Kalikasan, tungkulin at pagpapahalaga sa mga sining sa kasalukuyang lipunan.

Science, Technology and Society


Agham, Teknolohiya at Lipunan

Interactions between science and technology and social, cultural, political and economic contexts which shape and are shaped by them; specific examples throughout human history of scientific and technological developments


Interaksyon ng agham at teknolohiya at ang mga kontekstong panlipunan, pangkultura, pampulitika at pangkabuhayan na humuhubog at hinuhubog ng mga ito; mga yaman halimbawa ng mga pagbabago na siyentipiko at teknolohiko sa kasaysayan ng sangkatauhan.




Principles of ethical behavior in modern society at the level of the person, society, and in interaction with the environment and other shared resources


Mga simulain ng ugaling pang-etika sa makabagong lipunan sa antas na pantao at panlipunan at sa ugnayan ng mga ito sa kalikasan at sa ibang kolektibong yaman.


Key to understanding the GE courses, is its call for inter-disciplinarity applied to the self, the nation and the world:  “The core courses are inter-disciplinary and are stated broadly enough to accommodate a range of perspectives and approaches.  Starting with the self, the courses expand to cover the nation, then the world” (Understanding the Self; Readings in Philippine History; The Contemporary World).  The inter-disciplinarity covers various ways of comprehending social and natural realities including artistic, scientific and mathematical approaches” (Art Appreciation; Science, Technology and Society; Mathematics in the Modern World). Purposive Communications is an indispensable practical tool for expressing one’s self in the national and global world.  The promotion and preservation of humane values, which is among the key purposes of the GE is impossible without ethics.

The CMO’s rationale for the GE core courses is not meant as a dogmatic prescription of how the courses are to be handled.  It is meant rather to underscore the crucial importance of interdiciplinarity in handling these subjects, which are intentionally stated broadly as an invitation to diverse faculties and individual HEIs to treat them with the strengths and genius of their own multi-, inter- and cross-disciplinarity in the interests of achieving the stated student-learning outcomes. It is a program that the CMO 20 expects will gain in richness and relevance as it is practiced, reflected on, and improved.

This “inter- and cross-disciplinary approach” is true also of the prescribed 6-units of electives, or two elective courses in two of three broad domains of knowledge:  mathematics, science and technology; social sciences and philosophy, arts and humanities.  Once again the CMO’s insistence that one chooses electives in at least two domains, and not focus on just one, contributes to the broadening of perspectives of the student.

The Teacher of General Education

 It is probably clear that if you possess a doctorate in English, physics, engineering, or nursing that you are not immediately qualified to teach general education according to CMO 20 s. 2013.  Your doctorate would have forced you to focus on the particulars of your discipline, a course of learning that enables you to teach your discipline with competence, and to keep a respectful silence where other disciplines are involved. While your course of studies may also have taught you about the ethics of teaching, or the ethics of a scientific method, or the professional ethics of nursing or of engineering today, it may not have taught you about the moral imperatives in today’s world emerging from the perspective of climate change, nor about the ethics of chemical warfare, nor about the ethics of discretionary use of public money.  Indeed if you are an economist, your focus may be so fixed on gross national product, that you dismiss the concerns of the environmentalist and anthropologists as primary growth forests are felled and the cultures of indigenous peoples are destroyed in order to accommodate your economic growth.  If you are a theologian, you may be so taken up with the mysteries of an immutable, all powerful, supreme being, that you are blind to the empirical realities of squalor in a squatters’ quarter or to the historical connection between burgeoning populations and human suffering.

Where CMO 20 s. 2013 intends to broaden the perspectives of students by forcing them to think not only from the perspective of their chosen discipline but also from the perspective of other disciplines, teachers themselves must be exemplars of this interdisciplinary approach.  Such teachers today may be relatively scarce.  But I believe CMO 20 s. 2013 challenges us to invent them.

Between now and 2018, when the GE courses of CMO 20 s. 2013 shall first be taught, there is time for passionate teachers and administrators involved to develop this new phalanx of GE teachers.

I think it will have to start from a person in one discipline taking on the perspective of another discipline.  The philosopher, for instance, who proceeds from reflection on human experience, may begin to focus on reality from the empirical facts of a physicist.  The chemical engineer on the other hand, who contribute to the stuff of cellphones and computers, may begin considering reality from the discipline which seeks to understand the meaning of Christian revelation for humanity in our world today.  The lawyer may begin to look at reality from the viewpoint of the social scientist, and the environmentalist may start looking at the problem of flooding from the perspective of the landscape artist and soft engineering.  This means doing a minimum of studying the key concepts and method of the second discipline.  Taking on the perspective of a second discipline without losing the depth of the first may invite taking on the perspective of a third discipline.  Bottom line:  to be a teacher of GE according to CMO 20 s. 2013 one shall have to prepare.  And unless inter-disciplinarity erode into simple juxtaposition of positions not talking to one another, even the welcome possibility of team-teaching in General Education needs teachers who have prepared for General education.

To push inter-disciplinarity in my University, we have begun a bi-monthly series of documented multi-disciplinary discussions called Pakighinabi, shared on the social media, each involving fifteen to twenty representatives of different disciplines, often with participants from government or industry.  Some of the topics we have taken up: The Common Good, Wealth Sharing Annex of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Deeper Perspectives on PDAF, and Soft Engineering as a Remedy to Flooding in Davao.


The Role of the College of Arts and Sciences in the Delivery of General Education

In the university, it has normally been the College of Arts and Sciences that has taken cudgels for the implementation of the General Education courses as the main inter-collegiate service provider for GE courses.  Colleges and Professional Institutes shall have to provide for GE courses on their own, since CMO 20 s. 2013 applies to all tertiary-level students regardless of concentration.

As the implementation of K-12 unfolds, decisions should now be made as to which teachers can be prepared for teaching GE, even though because of inter-disciplinarity there is no a priori necessity to insist that all GE teachers come from the CAS.  In fact, it may be more advantageous if they come from different colleges.  Where applicable, educational institutions must decide whether it will open a Senior High School, and how it will be staffed. Where they shall be staffed from the college operation, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Enhanced Basic Education Act (RA 10533) provide guidelines.  In addition, schools must also decide the role it will play in assisting DepEd provide for some 400,000 senior high school students in 2016 that it is asking the private sector to take on.

However, the Colleges of Arts and Sciences in tandem with the Colleges of Education may take cudgels for the crucial preparation of GE teachers for 2018. For this, interdisciplinary teams may already be formed, syllabi prepared with clear course content and student-learning outcomes, reading lists drawn up, interdisciplinary activities planned, and quality assurance mechanisms agreed upon.


ADDU’s Proposal to Implement GE in a Jesuit School

As a Jesuit school, ADDU has traditionally not only taught the CHED-required GE courses but a set of mission-related courses like 12 units of theology and 12 units of philosophy.  In the current dispensation, with the required GE courses at 63 units (GEC-A) for humanities, social sciences and communications (HUSOCOM) related courses, or 51 (GEC-B) for non-HUSOCOM courses, and the mission-related courses as 26 units, we have a total ADDU core curriculum of 103 (GEC-A) and 91 (GEC-B) units, including 14 units of other CHEd mandated courses like NSTP and PE.  How now to take care of the CHED mandates and the mission-related courses without adding too many courses to the 36-unit GE program is the challenge.

In the definition of a Jesuit university, however, the defining document from the 34th  General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, “Jesuits and University Life” (Decree 17), describes the Jesuit university as, first, a the noun “university,” then as the adjective, “Jesuit.”  As a university it is committed to appropriate instruction, research and outreach and open to all forms of inquiry relevant to the God, nature and the human being.  As Jesuit, however, it appropriates the faith-justice mission of the Society of Jesus, which the same General Congregation defined as inseparable from sensitivity to cultures and interreligious dialogue (Decree 4).  The mission of the Society of Jesus has been gradually explicitated over the years to be five-fold:  the services of the faith, the promotion of Justice, sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue and the protection of the environment.

Our proposal is simple.  We will plan our inter-disciplinarity based on this five-fold mission, which is inter-disciplinary in itself.  We will teach each of the 8 core courses and two electives from the disciplines related to each dimension of this five-fold mission.

The GE core-subjects on the self, the nation, and the globe can be treated from the viewpoint of faith/non faith, justice, culture(s), inter-religiosity, and environment.  For instance, faith or non faith has a bearing on how one defines one’s self;  just as a self is defined by insightful commitments to commutative justice, distributive justice and social justice;  just as the self is co-defined by the culture or mix of cultures in which one lives; just as the believing (or non-believing) self must be confronted by the diversity of religions in today’s world; just as the self is co-defined by one’s environment and through one’s commitment to preserve the environment.  Similar, the nation and the globe can be viewed from perspectives of theology/science, the philosophy of moral value, anthropology, comparative religions, and environmental science.

The logic of mathematics and of right thinking can be applied to all of these mission areas, just as purposive communications – the advanced ability to communicate in various media in advancement of a purpose – can be developed as expressive of the struggle for faith, the pursuit of the common good, the transformation of cultures, for discrete and sensitive dialogue among religions, and for the defense of the environment.

In this manner, without adding any new courses to the courses prescribed by CMO 20 s. 2013, we believe we shall have fulfilled our mission responsibility in teaching GE as our core curriculum in a manner that is inter-disciplinary, creative and exciting.



On the convention theme: “the College of Arts and Science:  Gearing for 2016 and Beyond” I have focused on the importance of tertiary level general education as necessary for all tertiary education students to enable them to engage actual life as productive human beings and humane leaders in Philippine society and the global world.  I have discussed my understanding of CMO 20 s. 2013 in this context, and the type of teacher it entails.  I have said the Colleges of Arts and Sciences may not only play an important role in providing the future GE teachers, but with the Colleges of Education may play a key role in preparing GE teachers of the future.  I have shared with you how ADDU hopes to its fulfill its mission responsibilities as a Jesuit school in teaching the GE requirement from the five inter-related perspectives of its Jesuit mission. In this way I have given you an example of how flexible, useful and exciting the new GE is.  Life in the Philippines will continue to have extreme weather events, inter-cultural and inter-religious strife, and bouts with corruption in various facets of society.  It will also continue to hope in a practical manner to understand the paradoxes of holding to truth, law and traditions while being loving, compassionate, and open to the world.  It is for this reason that the new GE Program has been approved, and for this reason that I hope that the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences can support it with its experience, expertise and creativity.



[1] Three were charged with Plunder cases: Enrile, Revilla and Estrada.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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One Response to Gearing up for General Education as Envisioned by CMO 20 s. 2013

  1. Ruth Guzman says:

    Thank you Fr. Joel. We hope other University Presidents can be as pro-active as you for the coming rollout of and subsequent changes in the school curriculum.

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