Every day as he pulls into the annex campus of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela (PLV), Professor Rommel Apostol always draws stares from people he passes by.
But the local university’s Information Technology (IT) official is already used to shrugging off such pitying looks as he makes his way around in his wheelchair – a condition he has been dealing since he came down with polio at the age of 3.
Rommel’s predicament prompted his parents, Meycauayan natives Romeo and Letty Apostol, to move their family of 8 to Valenzuela City where the even roads in Lawang Bato would make schooling more accessible for their eldest polio-afflicted son.
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The 29-year-old educator excelled in academics throughout primary and secondary schools, even graduating as Valedictorian in Lawang Bato National High School in Valenzuela City in 2001.
However, tight finances at home – his mother works as a seamstress while his father earns his keep as a fisherman – dimmed the possibility of him ever going to college.
“Ang mindset ko po nu’n baka maging cigarette vendor na lang ako o kaya mamamalimos. Wala pong biro ‘yun,” Rommel said.
“Kasi kahit ano’ng galing mo, kahit anong talino mo, talagang kahit ano’ng isinisigaw ng puso mo na gusto mong gawin ang isang bagay kung walang enabling factor malabo eh,” he added.
Apostol was so sure that he would not be going to college that he did not bother to take entrance exams to any school.
To Rommel his chance meeting with Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian, who was then on his first bid as first district representative, became the enabling factor.
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He got a chance to speak with Gatchalian during the representative’s birthday, and it was a surprise to him when he was offered a scholarship straight off.
He said to me: “Rommel, gusto mo bang, pag-aralin kita? Kasi ang mama ko may mga scholar na pero ako wala pa. If ever, ikaw ‘yung una kong scholar. Gusto mo ba?” Apostol recalled.
Giving back by teaching
It has been more than a decade since that first meeting. Rommel then had finished a BS degree in Computer Science in 2005 and had obtained a Master’s degree in Information Technology from AMA University in 2013. He has pioneered various data systems for the local government’s police clearance, cooperatives, and TODA; and has been teaching at PLV in the last four years.
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He also developed the IT curriculum of PLV. The first batch of IT graduates in the public university had their commencement last year.
Essence of a scholar
After finishing college and finding work, Rommel helped out his parents by sending his third sibling to school.
For Apostol, getting an educational level is the field for anyone. And those with a scholarship are lucky and should make most out of the opportunity given to them.
“Tandaan natin ang pagiging scholar ay isang responsibilidad. Hindi yan isang pribilehiyo. At kapag may responsibilidad ka, responsibilidad mo na pagbutihin mo ang sarili mo at kapag may oportunidad ang ibang tao,” he said. (Fatima De Guzman)