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CHARACTER FORMATION: A CHALLENGE TO EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

Jove Jim S. Aguas, PhD

University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines

Introduction

Philosophers have always been accused of being sowers of the seed of doubt and uncertainty. Their critical inquiries have always been interpreted as serious challenges to existing norms and standards which shake the very foundation of our beliefs and rational life. In the end of philosophical contemplation, we are left with nothing to hold on, but the general explanations that philosophical inquiries have initially or provisionally achieved. Hence after shaking the grounds of our beliefs we are left scratching our heads and asking, then what, so what? After listening to the brilliant discourses and papers in this convention we ask ourselves, so what now? What happens now to our society and institutions? In this convention, philosophy has been discussed as a critique of our society and institutions, the next question that should be addressed is, what course of action should we take now? What should we do now with our society and institutions?

It is said that the business of philosophy is purely the analysis and critique of meaning, of reality, life, society and institutions, and this has nothing to do with influencing practical action. The primary aim of philosophy is understanding or clarification and not reform. Moreover, philosophical theories and philosophical convictions are of such general character that it is impossible to deduce clear and specific practical expected results from them.1 We can probably do well in our lives without philosophy, so let us just leave philosophers in their ivory towers!

It is because of these preceding considerations that I have decided to focus my attention on a topic that I believe philosophy will be of practical value to our life and society education. In this paper I will focus on the value of philosophy to education and the moral aim of education, character formation or character education, emphasize the foundation of a moral character, and the significance of dialogue in education and lastly highlight the role of educational institutions in the formation of moral character.

 

Philosophy and Moral Aim of Education

For the ordinary minds and for some uncritical thinkers, education can perfectly stand on its feet without the help of philosophy, for them, practical common sense and experience can guide our thinking about education. But there are definite ways, in which we can speak of philosophy being of help to education, if we clearly comprehend the sense in which philosophy can be of value to education. Certainly there are instances where philosophy cannot provide assistance to education or educators, like presenting a quantitative analysis of the expected outcome of a learning activity. It would be absurd, for instance, for a public school teacher to attempt to establish the reality of the external world prior to deciding how to discipline a recalcitrant student and it would also be ridiculous for an educator who is planning a curriculum for a private school to concern himself about the question whether Rousseau was right in his theory.

However, one characteristic of philosophical activity is that it can be practiced on subjects which are not in themselves distinctly philosophical. It can be valuable to different disciplines in certain ways, especially in providing the rational foundation of such disciplines. In education, philosophy performs three traditional functions which have bearing on educational concerns and problems: speculative, normative and critical.2 It can provide a speculative outlook, an overview of the whole field, a map of the universe and mans place in it and how the array of facts from science, history, arts and other areas are interconnected so as to provide a wholeness of outlook, this is the speculative or synthetic function of philosophy.3 It can also formulate goals, norms or standards by which the educator can conduct the educative process, this is the normative function of philosophy to education.4 And it can also subject the terms and propositions underlying educational thought and practice to rigorous scrutiny as to the form in which they are stated, this is the critical function of philosophy to education.5

But there is one crucial area aside from the speculative, normative and critical areas, where philosophy could be of great help, and this in the aspect of integrating these functions according to the ultimate end or aim of education. And the ultimate aim of education is essentially related to our notion of the individual person who in the educative process, is both the educator and the educand, the teacher and the learner. The individual person is an autonomous subject who possesses certain traits, qualities, propensities and abilities which must be actualized and developed. The individual person is a subject who is in the process of actualization or becoming. He is in the process of creating his own character. The ultimate aim of education therefore must be focused on the individual persons self-actualization and self-development.

Whitehead, aptly puts it when he proposed that self-development is the aim of education. He wrote:

A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on Gods earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge in some special direction. Their expert knowledge will give them the ground to start from and their culture will lead them as deep as philosophy and as high as art. We have to remember that the valuable intellectual development is self-development.6

But there is one aspect of self-development that must be given more emphasis now more than ever, and that is character, particularly moral or ethical character. I would say that character formation is ethical in the sense that character is formed or molded based on certain norms, whether social, moral or spiritual. Here lies the significance of philosophy in education, in forming or molding moral or ethical character.

Although different philosophical and educational theories have been formulated and have offered us different educational aims and proximate ends of education, they all point to the development and formation of character and personality.7 One theory proposed that the ultimate end is a well-disciplined mind;8 another proposed the perfection of the natural talents of the individual and keeping him on the right track from birth to maturity.9 William James proposed that educational aims should be conceived in terms of useful habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior.10 Dewey proposed that educational aim should be conceived in terms of the continued capacity for growth.11

Education then, in its fullest sense is a moral enterprise, it is a continuous effort to guide the student or learner to know and practice what is good and what is ethical, and to guide them to live the life that is meaningful. The aim of education is the personal development of the students concretized in forming or molding moral character.

Education should be holistic, all aspects of self development must be integrated into the whole learning process. The learning process must not be limited to the cognitive, affective and motor aspects taken separately, everything must be integrated into the formation of a moral or ethical character. And in order to achieve this aim, ethical or moral values and virtues must be integrated in the learning process.

Moral learning therefore, should be integrated with learning in general. Morality is not a separate domain with its own foundation. Rather, morality must be developed in the context of the study of culture, politics, economics, history, literature, arts, science and technology. We must know relevant "facts" in order to have sound "values," without sound values in general, we cannot know what is morally good and right.12

 

Character Education

The term character was taken from the Greek charakter, a word derived from charassein which means "to make sharp" or "to engrave." It refers to the persons sum total of traits, particularly the social, moral and spiritual, his behavior, habits, capacities and potentialities. For Aristotle, it is the over-all, generally fixed nature or tone of a person habits.

According to the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, "education worthy of its name is essentially education of character."13 The education of character or moral education aims to develop certain propensities in the student, it aims particularly to promote a responsible exercise of freedom and the continuing authentification of all intentions and deeds in the moment of their unique occurrence.14 Buber insisted that the imperatives for moral action emanate primarily from the urging of the person's own conscience, or "conscience courage," the kind of conscience that is informed through self-illumination.

The genuine educator then, does not only consider the individual functions and abilities of the learner, his concern is not only to teach this learner specific functions. His concern is always "the person as a whole, both in the actuality in which he lives and his possibilities, what he can become."15 Hence it is the responsibility of the educator or teacher to assist the students towards the achievement of the highest possible degree of self-awareness and personal illumination. His greatest task is to assist them mold their character.

In the general sense character simply meant the consistency between man's action and his attitude to his human surrounding, and the real ethical character involves the adoption of absolute but abstractly formulated values and norms.16 But while the education of character is significantly oriented towards absolute values and moral virtues, these values and values have to be discovered and authenticated at the level of self-awareness and in terms of the existential situation of everyday life which include relations with fellow men. Thus, a moral character is a well-rounded moral personality imbued with good values and moral virtues and the capacity to care for others.

 

Foundation of a Moral Character

Values and virtues and interpersonal relations are the foundation of a moral character and ought to be the foremost concerns in forming moral character. Character education or formation is about developing good virtues and moral values and the deepening on the individual the capacities for interpersonal relations. It aims at helping acquire good habits and moral values and the readiness to relate with others, all these, lead the young individual persons to be responsible and mature adults. Character education is not just about acquiring the right views or politically correct opinions and concepts, about politics, family, economy, ecology and other controversial issues. It is more that just forming ones mind and acquiring motor skills, it is about building a well-rounded moral personality.

 

Virtues Virtues are good habits cultivated from within the individual and actually improve character and intelligence. The word virtue itself comes from the Latin vir, which has a root meaning of "force" or "agency." It is equivalent to the Greek term arete which means "that at which something excels" or "excellence of function." In Latin, the expression virtus moralis became the established equivalent of the Greek expression arete ethike, "moral virtue" or "character excellence." Aristotle characterized moral virtue as a mean between too little and too much, it is between deficiency and excess. We are not born with moral virtues, we acquire them through practice and training. According to Aristotle moral virtues come to us as a result of habit.

The virtues we first get by exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by buildingSo too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.17

Virtues--habits such as diligence, sincerity, personal accountability, courage, and perseverance--actually enable us to do our work better and to enjoy it more as a consequence. It is our virtues, that enable us to become better students, better parents, better spouses, better teachers, better friends, better citizens. Self-esteem and the satisfaction that accompanies achievement are the fruits of virtue. Virtue needs to be cultivated first, they serve as means to human happiness.

Without a conception of what it may mean for a person to live in an honorable or contemptible way, the views one holds, no matter how well they may be defended, are empty. Without a clear sense of the good, personal values and the ability to show empathy remain hollow. Virtues enable us to give shape to and lead worthy lives. Virtues or good dispositions of the heart and mind that are regularly put into actions--is one of the foundations to a solid character development, the backbone of good character.

Values Values are intimately related to the search for meaning in life. Life is meaningful when a man has something capable of arousing his commitment to it, something that is deserving of his best efforts, something that is worth living for or more so worth dying for.

Values are the goals of man's striving, the goals to which a man tends, the vision which motivates him to action, the object of a positive attitude. They are the deeply rooted motivations of man's behaviors. They define what is important to a person and they form the bases of his decisions, reactions and choices. Many of these values are internalized through time from childhood into adulthood and surface every time one has to make a decision. Hence what may be considered valuable are objects or persons, ideas or goals which are important to life, and enables a person to understand, evaluate and direct his life. They may also be ideals and principles by which a person lives. Every person has his own set of values and good values are essential grounds of moral character.

 

Interpersonal Relations Another foundation of a moral character is the nurturing of relational capacities. The education of character should also be oriented towards the deepening of individual capacities for interpersonal relation. Character is not limited to the intellectual and physical aspects, it includes the social and the interpersonal relationships of the person. Individual growth is enlivened, deepened and fulfilled by the various relationships, interpersonal and social, which constitute human existence. In every stage of human life what matters most are the interpersonal experiences with fellow persons, during the early stages of his life, the young person acquires values and virtues in his relations with the persons who are closed to him, his parents, family and closed relatives and later on in his adolescent and adult life with his friends, colleagues and other members of the community and society.

Character is formed through our relations with other persons. Hence the great character is one who realizes the value of the other persons and interpersonal relations. The great character is always a character-for-others.

Character Education and Dialogue

Proper character education is not simply educating the mind or the intellect, disregarding the importance of the affective and moral aspect of the person. It is more than depositing or just putting information into the minds of students, it is developing values in their hearts. When we feed them with only information and ideas, students simply become wise or bright, but devoid of values like honesty, love, generosity, respect understanding, and others. Whatever subject or topic is being studied, values must be considered as an integral aspect. Any character formation in education conceived independently of its relational contexts would lead ultimately to solitariness and to a man all for himself.

Needless to say that education of character or character formation is such a difficult task. It is relatively easy to teach the child ideas, but the education of character is an arduous task. There is a great disparity between teaching certain disciplines or subjects, for example mathematics and teaching moral education. In moral education, if the teacher explains that it is wicked to bully the weak, at once he sees a suppressed smile on the lips of the strong. If the teacher explains that envy is despicable, he feels at once the resistance of those who are poor.

In teaching other subjects, the teacher can openly announce his intentions and it would not interfere with the result, in fact the results are evaluated by such goals. For character education to be effective, an attitude of openness must be taken. When students notice that the teachers intention is mould their character there is at once a feeling of resistance, once they sense that the study of a subject is being used to push or put forward a particular value position that they do not want, they will lose their interest.

Hence the teacher must be sensitive to differences - there are legitimate differences among people which should be recognized, people have individual differences, social, cultural, ethnic and religious differences, students are different from one another. But while these differences are recognized and respected, focus should also be on qualified generalizations, especially on values that are common among them and beyond the bounds of differences. This involves pointing out commonality and continuities, seeing common patterns in what people want in life and how to achieve it, like basic values in life - health, happiness friendship, community, fulfillment, relationships, which ultimately make life good and worthwhile.18 When we consider these basic values, students begin to forms their own value outlook. They are also able to see the greater similarity from culture to culture instead of diversities and differences.19

For this to be possible, the teacher should assume a specific attitude towards education and the students, an attitude that will not only see education as a mere process but as a human event. The learning process, the process of guiding students to become moral character is not just any process, it is a human event and the learner must be recognized as a living partner in this human event. The educator or teacher must see the learner as a person for the sake of whom he stands by his vocation as a teacher. He must consider his student as a concrete existing and feeling subject, not an object to be shaped according to the image that the he, the teacher, conceived of.

Education as a human event entails human relation and as such must be "dialogical." True dialogue is open-ended. It demands attention. It demands disclosure, an invitation to a deeper self-awareness and awareness of the other. Only in the dialogical relation between the teacher and student can education be considered as a living human event. Genuine dialogue in education entails true concern for the students, an honest intention of helping them to actualize their potentialities, to help them unfold their talents and good qualities, develop in them good virtues and moral values and the capacity for interpersonal relation. The essence of teaching or forming moral character is centered on the teacher-learner dialogical relation.

Here I follow the Buberian concept of dialogue.

The first essential element of this dialogical relation is the trusting reciprocation between the student and the teacher although such reciprocation may be limited by the reciprocating capacities of these partners in the relation. This trusting and spontaneous reciprocation is compared to the involuntary bodily reciprocation between the mother and the fetus in the womb of the mother. Just as trust is essential to the relation between the mother and the child so is the trust between the teacher and the student. "Trust in the world because this human being exists - that is the most inward achievement of the relation in education."20 The presence between the teacher and the learner of a trusting and mutually affirming reciprocation becomes an indispensable element of the dialogical relation in education.

Another essential element in this dialogical relation is the exemplary integrity of the teacher. Essential to education is the personal exemplification by the teacher of the values, the virtues and the integrity of the potentialities he seeks to be developed in the student. Children cannot be taught how to behave just by passing on a handful of moral principles and rules, they have to see these concretely lived by the teacher. The teachers life exemplifies the truth and his active and living concern for his followers and his wholehearted communion with them. Modeling constitute the very foundation of a moral philosophy especially in education.21

While learning is important to him, the teacher must place more importance to the personal integrity he exemplified. His influence is not ascribed to his superior learning but to the way he lives his life, he must be truthful as he teaches the truth, honest as he instills honesty to his student, just as he teaches justice, loving as he teaches love.

Another essential element is the teacher's active promotion of a healing concern for the personal well-being of the student. The healing concern of the teacher indicates the role of the teacher in restoring faith and self-meaning to those who are in doubts, those whose beliefs and hopes have been shattered by misfortunes. The teacher must show genuine concern for his

students, his sole intention is the well being of his student. They may sometimes disagree, but what is important is that both respect each other as person.

The last essential element is the teacher's confirmation of the student's potentiality for self-fulfillment and personhood. The teacher realizes that the student has his own potentialities, he need not impose his will or ideas on the student, what the student needs is a confirmation of his talents. In the dialogical relation, the teacher realizes that his role is to help in the actualization process of the child towards personhood. He must not interfere, rather he must assist the child unfold his possibilities. Buber described clearly how the genuine educator may influence the persons committed to his care Buber wrote:

He sees each of these individuals as a in a position to become a unique single person, and thus the bearer of a special task of existence which can be fulfilled through him alone. He sees every personal life as a engage in such a process of actualization... and the forces of actualization are involved in a struggle against the counterforces. He has come to see himself as the helper of the actualizing forces...He cannot wish to impose himself, for he believes in the effect of the actualizing forces.22

Education then, to be true to its meaning of "leading out" must be a channel, a way by which persons, students, unfold and actualize their talents and potentialities. But it does not mean letting the student develop by himself and merely watching over his development. Teachers are partners in his unfolding not through interfering and imposing but through their responding.

 

The Role of Educational Institutions

Character education is not merely an educational trend, it is a fundamental dimension of good teaching, an abiding respect for the intellect and spirit of the individual person. It must be the primary objective of our educational institutions. Educational institutions must the locus where virtues are formed, values are developed and where interpersonal relations becomes essential part of daily life.

While the word "institution" is impersonal and would suggest a non-personal being, it actuality it suggests a group of persons with their own personal values which in a collective manner determine the institutions values, goals and means. The educational institution is a structure composed of people; it. is the incarnation of a set of values. It is as such a primary medium of communicating values.23 An institution, therefore, is a public witness to the personal values or non-values of the people who run it and benefit most from its existence and operation.24

The school as an educational institution is a manifestation of the value of the educated person. It is for the sake of contributing toward the development of educated persons that schools are instituted; and to this primary value all else are subordinated in the sense of being support or means to this primary aim.25 Educational institutions have vital roles in forming values, clarifying values and communicating values.26 They must take the lead in instilling values to students, values that would be deeply rooted and remain firm when they step out of its walls. Values that would guide them when they venture into the outside world and start their own respective careers. Values that they would live by even during difficulties and trials. Values that will lead them to the right path when confronted with moral dilemmas.

Educational institution must also the locus where students acquire virtues, good habits that will prepare them for their future, teachers must become the models of the moral and intellectual virtues students want to develop. It is the moral duty of educational institution to provide an atmosphere where virtues could be cultivated.

Educational institution must also be the place where good harmonious relation is nurtured, a place where the value and actual practice of interpersonal relations becomes part of life. A place where the young students will strive to be person-for-others, instead of becoming persons-for-themselves.

The role of educational institutions is not simply to create great minds but to form great ethical characters.

While character formation is the one of the obligation of parents, of families, one valuable locus and agent for character formation are the educational institutions, where character formation becomes character education. Character education is an essential and inescapable mission of schools and other educational institutions and thus must be done consciously and well, this is the challenge to educational institutions. Schools must become much more effective not only in terms of teaching students about world and life, it must be more effective in developing in students the virtues and values and interpersonal relations needed to live a meaningful life.

 

Conclusion

Despite the governments efforts to ensure peace and order in our country , there is still violence not only in the streets but even in our very homes. Despite the efforts of non-governmental organizations and some civil society groups to promote good governance, there is still rampant graft and corruption in the various government agencies, and come to think of it, some of these government officials who are involved one way or the other to corruption are product of good schools. Despite the Church efforts to teach moral and spiritual values, there is still immorality in our society. Certainly we cannot take these evils for granted, we cannot be blind to all these, and we cannot continue to live as though they do not exist, for they affect our daily lives.

There is a need for change, a need for social transformation. And this social transformation cannot start from the outside, it has to start from man himself, from every Filipino. Any transformation of society must start with the people, with the individuals. Social transformation should start with personal and individual transformation. But how do we transform individuals or persons? We cannot transform them overnight, we cannot transform them when they are already old, or by simply changing the environment in which they live. We cannot transform them by simply telling them about good values or the need to have virtues or by simply presenting them with good ideas or making them acquire new skills. Filipinos they say have good values, they have bright ideas and they have competent skills. Filipinos can match the ideas and skills of other people. What we need is a transformation of character.

Hence social transformation must start with a transformation of the person or individual which is rooted in character transformation. But why transform character if we can form character? Why transform if we can actually help young people to form moral character? The ultimate answer then to the need for social transformation is a character formation. And this character formation must start with the young people, with the young students entrusted to educational institutions. Our national hero, Jose Rizal, once said, the youth is the hope of our nation. Hence if there is any hope for our nation, this hope springs from our youth. Character formation therefore must start with them. Here lies the challenge to educational institutions.

Schools and teachers therefore, must reassert their responsibility as educators of character. Schools have had from their inception a moral mandate. The moral authority has been vested firmly in both schools and teachers, and therefore they have to honestly work to promote good character in their classrooms and institutions. The most important task facing our schools and teachers today is helping children develop a good moral sense and a deep moral wisdom and a deep concern for others and helping them develop enduring habits and values that constitute good character.

True character education is the hinge upon which academic excellence, personal achievement, and the bright future of our country depend. There is a need to re-engage the hearts, minds, and hands of our children in forming their own characters, helping them "to know the good, love the good, and do the good."

 

 

Endnotes

1 Archambault, Reginald. ed., Philosophical analysis and Education. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972, pp.17-18.

2 Cf. Brubacher, John S. Modern Philosophies of Education. 4th ed., International Student Ed., New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1978, pp. 309-327)

3 Ibid. p. 313.

4 Ibid. p. 315.

5 Ibid. p. 317.

6 Alfred North Whitehead on Aim of Education quoted in Frankena, William F. Philosophy of Education. Ontario: Macmillan Co., 1965, p. 26.

7 Cf Wayne, John. Theories of Education: an Introduction to the Foundations of Education, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963. In this book, Wayne made a presentation and appraisal of the background, cultural conditions and philosophical presuppositions and logical implications of the different philosophical theories on education. And I mentioned here some theories treated in that book.

8 Ibid. p. 9.

9 Ibid. p. 45.

10 Ibid. p. 113.

11 Dewey. Democracy and Education, 117.

12 Beck, Clive. Postmodern Ethics and Moral Education in Kohli, Wendy. ed., Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 132-133.

13 Martin Buber, Between Man and Man. trans., Ronald Gregor Smith, New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1965, p. 104. (BMM)

14 Murphy, Daniel. Martin Buber's Philosophy of Education. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1988, p. 146.

15 Buber, BMM, p. 104.

16 Ibid., p. 108

17 Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, trans by W.D. Ross in The Pocket Aristotle. New York: Washington Square Press, 1958. p. 182.

18 Beck. pp. 132-133.

19 Ibid.

20 Buber, BMM, p. 98.

21 Noddings, Nel, Care and Moral Education in Kohli, Wendy. ed., Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education. New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 137.

22 Martin Buber, Knowledge of Man: A Philosophy of the Interhuman. ed., Maurice Friedman, trans., Maurice Friedman & Ronald Gregor Smith, New York:harper and Row, 1965, p. 83.

23 Hornedo, Florentino, Christian Education: Becoming Person-for-Others, Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press, 1995, p. 95.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid., p. 87.

26 Cf. Rebollo, Maximillano, Moral Education in Schools. Manila: University of Santo Tomas

Press, 2000.

 

References

Archambault, Reginald. ed., Philosophical analysis and Education. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.

Brubacher, John S. Modern Philosophies of Education. 4th ed., International Student Ed., New York: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1978

Buber, Martin. Between Man and Man. trans., Ronald Gregor Smith, New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1965.

Buber, Martin. Knowledge of Man: A Philosophy of the Interhuman. ed., Maurice Friedman, trans., Maurice Friedman & Ronald Gregor Smith, New York:harper and Row, 1965

Burns, Hobert and Brauner, Charles. eds., Philosophy of Education: Essays and Commentaries. New York: The Ronald Press Co., 1962.

Carron, Malcolm, S.J. & Cavanaugh, Alfred. eds. Readings in Philosophy of Education. Detroit: University of Detroit, 1963.

Frankena, William F. Philosophy of Education. Ontario: Macmillan Co., 1965.

Hornedo, Florentino, Christian Education: Becoming Person-for-Others, Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press, 1995.

Kohli, Wendy. ed., Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Murphy, Daniel. Martin Buber's Philosophy of Education. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1988.

Park, Joe. ed., Selected Readings in the Philosophy of Education. New York: Macmillan, 1974.

Parker, Stuart. Reflective Teaching in the Post Modern world. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997.

Phenix, Philip, ed., Philosophies of Education. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1967.

Rebollo, Maximillano, Moral Education in Schools. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press, 2000.

Reid, Ronald and Johnson, Tony, eds., Philosophical Documents in Education. New York: Longman Publishers, 1996.

Ross, W.D. The Pocket Aristotle. New York: Washington Square Press, 1958.

Scheffler, Israel. ed., Philosophy and Education. Boston: Allya and Bacon Inc., 1963.

Wayne, John. Theories of Education: an Introduction to the Foundations of Education, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963.

This paper was read during the Thomasian Philosophers' Reunion Convention A.D. 2002, held at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila Philippines.