By Edmer D. Bernardo
I got called into his office, so I went. I tiptoed to his presidential table and instantly knew; the man, by destiny, owned the place. I croaked good afternoon, Sir, and if he heard me, he didn’t show. He was signing documents, with nonchalance and gravitas both. It was my first time to meet him, and I pinned him for stern and stoic there and then. I was holding my breath, waiting for his first word, like I would the inevitable thunder after a really flashy lightning. The minutes slowly rotated, like the seconds seemed too expectant to move at normal speed. The man was taking his time, as if he was debating whether to speak at all, unmindful that he was yet to invite me to sit. He signed and turned page after page after page, and then… he looked up at me, right into my eyes and asked: “Kamusta na si Nanay mo Noy?” I liked him right away.
When he finally requested me to sit, I relaxed a tad bit. He spoke of how he knew my brother (but not of how he helped him) and of how he heard about my mother’s health condition, and truly meaning them, too. All the while I was thinking, here’s an accomplished, wildly busy man who can better spend his day commanding his subordinates to do this or that, but instead makes an effort to have them feel that he was in the school’s most powerful room not to commandeer, but to share it. When this President smiles, you are certain he means it. His eyes smile along.
In subsequent large group meetings, the respect, the admiration, and the affection people just spontaneously afford him are so palpable I can taste them. I would think to myself, oh boy, this man is a natural. His presence permeates. His charisma tickles. I suspect, he can be one of those reckoned men in history who shook the world and left it a better place.
So, who is this newcomer who has taken us all by storm, and who, days into his office, mobilized the entire faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders to get a hundred percent Certificate of Program Compliance for all of ISCOF’s 37 graduate and undergraduate programs – and succeeded, too? Who is this bold outsider who, weeks into his presidency, challenged us all to re-apply for university status despite the several failed attempts spanning a disappointing decade – and ended up inspiring us to dream again, indeed?
Who is Nordy D. Siason, Jr.?
He grew up in a barrio. As the fifth of nine siblings, he saw how poverty challenged the life of the family whose byword is, well, simplicity. Nevertheless, destiny always finds its power to arrange things due their proper end, in this case the SUC Presidency kind of end.
The trip to the ISCOF presidency was not an instant, epiphanous happening. It was an arduous 23-year passage from the lowest rung of the education landscape. In fact, he started at a private school, PAREF- Westbridge School for Boys, but after a year of serving the privileged, he decided he had better render his best to public school students instead. He joined the Iloilo National High School as Teacher 1 in July 1999. At Nasyo he was a classroom teacher for 10 years, teaching Social Studies, his baccalaureate specialization from the West Visayas State University College of Education. He was promoted Master Teacher 1 in September of 2005. He then took the lead as Officer in Charge of Iloilo National High School until April 2008. On March 23, 2009, he served as Education Supervisor I at DepEd Division of Iloilo and as Officer in Charge of Iloilo National High School. He held these positions until appointed full-fledged Principal IV of the school on June 21, 2010.
Knowing that change is constant and inevitable, he armed himself with what he considers the best armor – education. While serving Nasyo, he started working on his Master’s Degree in Instructional Leadership at ISCOF School of Graduate Studies, and his Master’s Degree in Education (Social Studies) at the WVSU College of Education Graduate School. He knows that as a professional, he must not stop learning, and that the best teachers are also the best students. So, he worked to acquire his Doctorate in Education in the Graduate School of West.
While he was Principal, he passed the Career Executive Service Examination in 2012 and was given greater responsibilities as a leader. He always reminds the teachers he leads to continuously seek professional development. He pushes them to attend trainings, workshops, and seminars. He markets his teachers to be trainers, lecturers, resource-persons, and facilitators that they may learn the ins and outs of the education system. He believes, he himself is what he’s become because of such exposures.
Experience has equipped him with lesson-weapons to face his tests as a leader.
Foremost of the challenges was to be a leader of leaders. When he became Principal IV of Nasyo, he was not simply in a top position of the administrative hierarchy. He was the head of several heads. In this, he has proven a philosopher’s wisdom: “A true leader is not tested in times of glory, but in times of conflict or trouble.’’
Known as the “schools within a school’’, Iloilo National High School puts a lot on the shoulders of its principal. As the head of the leading public high school in the province of Iloilo, he had to keep up with the expectations of the public. He was expected to not give up on the challenges of keeping the different academic programs, and he didn’t!
His hard-earned success at Nasyo prepared him for eventual successes in later posts: Chief Education Supervisor, Schools Division of Iloilo (2015-2016); OIC Assistant Schools Division Superintendent, Schools Division of Iloilo (2016-2019); Assistant Schools Division Superintendent, Schools Division of Iloilo (2019 – 2021); Assistant Schools Division Superintendent, Schools Division of Guimaras (2021 -2022); and now, SUC President II. Nordy D. Siason, Jr., EdD, CESO VI, assumed office as the 9th President of the Iloilo State College of Fisheries on February 4, 2022, by virtue of the official appointment by the ISCOF Board of Trustees led by Chairman J. Prospero E. De Vera III of the Commission on Higher Education.
“I had to think it over, a thousand times. DepEd had been my home, my life. ISCOF, on the other hand, was a big unknown. I had doubts as to where my post- ISCOF presidency would bring me. But I had no doubts about serving the Ilonggo community, and about the support of the people and leaders of the 4th District of Iloilo, where ISCOF’s five campuses are located. After much praying and consulting, I accepted the challenge. I hope I don’t regret it,” said the new President smiling, in one occasion.
Dr. Siason has been leading ISCOF’s efforts in complying with CHED requirements for full university status. Research, extension, linkages, and governance performances of ISCOF have significantly improved but if there were one defining accomplishment, it would have to be instruction. To date, 100% of the 37 undergraduate and graduate programs of ISCOF across its five campuses have been awarded by CHED with Certificate of Program Compliance. About 50% of its faculty have Doctorate Degrees, and 100% have Master’s Degrees. The Quality Management System of the Iloilo State College of Fisheries for Administration and Higher Education of five campuses has been assessed and registered against the provisions of ISO 9001:2015.
Of the 37 programs of ISCOF in five different campuses, 10 (27%) are accredited Level III, 19 (51%) are level II, and 2 (5%) are Level I accredited. ISCOF’s flagship program, BS in Fisheries has maintained its Center of Development status, and has consistently produced Board Topnotchers since 2007, the most recent being the Top 1 in the October 2022 PRC Licensure Examination for Fisheries Professionals.
By Dr. Siason’s humanized leadership, there is little doubt in my mind that before the year ends, ISCOF will be called Iloilo State University of Fisheries, Science, and Technology (ISUFST).
How he manages to accomplish so much in so little time makes one wonder. But I don’t, at least not anymore. From colleagues, I have heard stories of him personally greeting them on birthdays and family occasions (I myself got a birthday cake!), and comforting them during personal and family crises. I remember a time he had to manage the school from Mission Hospital, because he is so much a father that he didn’t want to leave his dengue-stricken son to the care of others. I suppose he lacked a week’s worth of proper sleep then, but none of his work at school got neglected. Yeah, I know right? We have that kind of President.
A few days back, Dr. Siason sent me and a couple others to the city to finalize the university-hood video we have been working on, and have it ready for the CHED Central Office validation visit in the final week of October. We were asked to be at the editor’s at 7 am. We got there over an hour late, and the President was waiting – not with words to admonish, but with packs of Jollibee to breakfast. He gave us a few instructions, and left for Tiwi to help the other committees prepare the required university forms. Every 30 minutes or so, my messenger would buzz, him reminding me – now coffee, now lunch, now batchoy, now taking a breather, now snacks, now dinner – you know, stuff only a loving parent or a sweet lover can think of squeezing in between power meetings at work.
We finished the video nearing midnight, and he was there to check on us and arrange our safe travel back to Barotac. He himself looked tired, as he came straight from San Enrique campus to attend a necrological service for a faculty member he barely knew. But when we viewed the final output, his was the loudest clap. Curious if he was just trying to be polite, I looked at him and saw genuine happiness and pride in what should have been his sleepy eyes. He offered to grab dinner along the way home, but out of sheer exhaustion, I pleaded pass. So, he promised lunch at school the next day, instead.
So… who is Nordy D. Siason, Jr.?
Lunch was a feast, and of my favorite dishes too.