[This article originally appeared in PSSC Social Science Information vol. 36, Nos. 1-2, 2008. Dr. Loretta Makasiar Sicat was the first executive director of PSSC (1977-1984). She was previously chair (1976) and member (1973-1975) of the executive board.)


The invitation of current Philippine Social Science Council Executive Director Virginia Miralao to write a piece for the 40th anniversary of PSSC gives me a chance to pay tribute to Dr. Loretta Makasiar Sicat in a personal way. This is decidedly a biased biography of her. Her story is intertwined with mine, for Loretta is my wife. Also, her story at PSSC is partly linked with some of my work at the national level. I think that Loretta has done well in her association with PSSC. Hence she deserves this story which is a significant part of the history of PSSC. If I exceed this piece’s restriction limits, I do hope that, in a good way, what I write will help to fill some gaps in the history of PSSC.

Loretta’s entry point to the Philippine Social Science Council was through Political Science. She discovered the rigorous Political Science program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when I was a student there at the Economics department. To take advantage of her excellent surroundings, she applied and received an assistantship during my second year of study. We arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a couple in 1959 and began to raise our family there while I was a graduate student. When we returned to UP in 1963, our family had doubled in size and she had completed almost a full year of graduate study in Political Science at MIT, studying at three-fourths time.

Upon our return to UP, she was offered an instructor’s job in the Political Science faculty. Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz, then Chairman of Political Science, recommended her for a Rockefeller study grant to continue her PhD studies at MIT. She returned (alone) to Cambridge in early 1965 and finished her academics for the degree by 1966, returned to UP again to do her field work on the political socialization of young Filipinos for the doctoral thesis, gave birth to two babies in 1967 and in 1968, and in 1970 returned to MIT to claim her PhD. Fecund, indeed, in all respects!

I can probably say in retrospect that the easy part of our education was that we were recipients of generous s cholarships to s tud y by the Rockefeller Foundation on separate occasions for our graduate studies. The hard part of our “tuition” fees to study for our separate PhDs was the task of raising two children per degree aside from learning the disciplines of our respective fields. As one can see, a woman’s role is more difficult in that regard.

As a member and one time Chair of the UP Political Science Department and later as an active member and President of the Philippine Political Science Association, she eventually got drawn into the policy making board of PSSC. This was during the time when PSSC was still footloose, without a permanent office, always moving its venue where the chairman of PSSC held sway. Meetings were held in some rooms at the UP departments and, at times, there at the Ateneo Institute of Philippine Culture where Frank Lynch,SJ, worked.

When Loretta joined the PSSC Board, she worked with some of the country’s eminent social scientis ts – anthropologists, psychologis ts, demographers, geographers, historians, linguists, economists and statisticians. These were the pioneers who were shaping the history of social science in the country, some of whom helped to found PSSC. Part of the first generation of postwar leaders who paved the way for PSSC was still around and participating in the Board. When she joined the Board of PSSC, she found the following as members: Frank Lynch,SJ, Alfredo Lagmay, Armand Fabella, Mercedes Concepcion, Cristina Parel, Rodolfo Bulatao, Eufronio Alip, Nathaniel Tablante, Emy Pascasio, and Abelardo Samonte. Over time, other names came into the fore – Andrew Gonzalez, Bonifacio Salamanca, Burton Oñate, Gloria Feliciano, Raul de Guzman, Vicente Valdepenas, Zelda Zablan and Consuelo Gutierrez – and still later, Domingo Salita, Leslie Bauzon, Ruben Trinidad, and Cesar Macuja. These are names that she interacted with in working on PSSC’s programs and projects. PSSC had limited resources to work with, but it had large hopes about the future.

In 1976, her peers on the PSSC Board asked her to become Chair. She must have done quite well in dealing with her work because when PSSC decided  to expand  its  activities,  h er PSSC colleagues asked her to become the full time Executive Director in the following year. I recall that, at the beginning, she was not enthusiastic about the job. Once in office, she put her heart to her duties and helped to build PSSC. She would remain in this post until 1984, shortly before my departure for work abroad in another new stage of my career.

Her accomplishments at PSSC were many. But I will focus on her efforts to make PSSC a visible and  permanent  entity.  The B oard  tried  to strengthen the membership programs of the various social science societies. This created a demand for an office. When the relatively large Rockefeller faculty houses built for visiting professor residences became available for lease to UP professors, Loretta was quick to realize that that would give PSSC a home and an address. In such cases where demand exceeded supply enormously, quick action established strong precedent if not priority. Justifying the use of such a house for a non-profit and non-UP organization rested mainly on the fact that UP professors who worked in the PSSC were also the country’s leaders in the social sciences. So she quickly secured the lease of the house. That was the first year she had become Chair of PSSC.

Two milestones in PSSC’s history happened during this time. The first was the Ford Foundation grant for the secretariat that was intended to be its last to PSSC. The second was the Japanese donation that led to the building for PSSC.

At about this time, I was occupying a cabinet portfolio in the Philippine government. I was Director General of NEDA and concurrently Minister of Economic Planning. My job included the allocation of aid resources in the Philippine economy.

The Ford Foundation was an early supporter of PSSC. Those who founded PSSC had the US Social Science Research Council as model for its organizational framework. For several years, the Ford Foundation had given seed grants to jumpstart the initial operations of PSSC. As time elapsed, some kind of weaning process became inevitable. Then also, the Ford Foundation was experiencing aid-fatigue. It was also in search of new activities in the country and new programs in Southeast Asia. Also, its program finances were on the wane.

One day, Dr. John Cool, then the  Ford Foundation official in charge of the Philippine country projects, paid me a visit at NEDA. It was customary for such officials to call on government officials largely to inform them about what their foundations were doing in  the countr y. The charitable foundations,  unlike  government aid donors, dealt with their own clienteles with little state intervention as a  matter of government policy. But it was essential for the foundations to demonstrate where and how they directed their resources.

Perhaps because John Cool knew that the Executive Director of PSSC was Loretta, he mentioned in the course of his summary of the foundation’s projects that the Ford Foundation was to give a final grant to the secretariat of PSSC. This led to a little more discussion on the history of that involvement with PSSC as it aroused my curiosity. I noted that what Ford Foundation had planned to do to close their involvement seemed small, and that as a grant to spend the money it would naturally be disbursed and dissipated as the need arose and as time passed. Thus, it gave only temporary relief. I therefore hit upon the thought that perhaps more resources could be appropriated so that the secretariat could have more financial resources that it could then invest and let to grow. In time this would provide some earnings to pay off secretariat expense. I recall saying that if Ford Foundation could raise the amount to a more substantial sum and release the money in one lump sum, then the government could commit more money to double the Ford grant.

This off-the-cuff remark had to be backed up by actual deed. Without telling him how I would do it, I had a working plan. With the approval of the President of the Philippines, I could channel some resources within my powers as NEDA Director General to sign on to help the Ford Foundation grant to PSSC. I could ask the USAID Director to channel some PL 480 money which was cash generated from Philippine purchases of US agricultural food aid to be used for the purpose. Therefore, I spoke with great confidence that I could deliver on the counterpart support. I was also not appropriating any money from the budget — which would have been difficult to do. At the end of that meeting, John Cool and I shook hands on the proposal to raise the Ford grant. I put the ball in the hands of the Ford Foundation. As overseer of Philippine projects, Cool was to persuade his headquarters to raise the grant that had been already programmed for PSSC.

I would not have made this immediate suggestion without first hand knowledge of PSSC’s value in harnessing the intellectual resources of the social science disciplines. The periodic conversations that Loretta and I had over dinner and other occasions were therefore valuable in this regard. Loretta was not the attention grabber that some wives nag their spouses about. But she would always succinctly tell me about the unique problems that PSSC faced.  They were  formidable .  They  were undertaking some small projects in helping social science activities and promoting coordinative efforts among the societies and preparing programs  to be of continuous  ser vice and relevance to the Philippine societies. But the organization was immensely challenged by lack of resources. Poverty in resources also meant becoming invisible rather than prominent. An essential strength of any organization in raising money is often its financial stability. Such a public face was missing. A large begging bowl is often not a proper method in attracting resources from potential donors.

Thus, through my conversations with Loretta, I had become aware of the activities and problems of PSSC, as if by osmosis. So when I told her of the John Cool visit and what we had agreed to do to help PSSC, it was an understatement to say that she was immensely pleased. She must have figured out what new activities such assistance could bring, including some measure of financial relief at least for the meantime. The rest of the effort then fell on Loretta and others at PSSC to influence Ford Foundation to raise the amount of the final grant for the secretariat work of PSSC. She succeeded.

About two  decades ago, Dr.  Bonifaci Salamanca of the UP History Department was commissioned to write the history of PSSC up to that time. He paid attention to this important episode. Loretta explained to him those events to clarify the matter  and  provided s pecific documentation of this, including the photocopy of the handwritten note of President Marcos on the decision  memorandum of NEDA when he consented  to  the donation  of government resources to PSSC because it was a private organization with a public purpose.

The second big event of PSSC is the story of how the Japanese government made a donation to house the social sciences societies in one building. Perhaps, this is the first time that some details in this episode are made public. Sometime in  th e  late  19 70 s,  Japanese  development assistance program added a grant program toward the building of facilities that contributed to  a recipient  country’s  human  resources development. This arose out of Prime Minister Ohira’s innovation in Japan’s aid program. This was a unique deviation from Japan’s traditional programs of soft loans and other technical assistance programs for economic development purposes. This new element in the aid program was precisely to support the building of physical facilities used for human resources development. Its best feature was that it was grant assistance and that it did not require intricate discussions of counterpart funding. The Japanese government totally financed the building and contributed donation of equipment besides. But it was a tied grant.

I instructed my NEDA staff to include the building of a social sciences center among the items to be included in the yearly pipeline for this phase of Japanese assistance. The Japanese government was very receptive to the idea during the technical level discussions. The process of aid identification begins at the technical level and moves up to higher-level approvals in the normal bureaucratic course of things.  Soon, joint communiqués on the yearly assistance programs included the PSSC building in the pipeline and had high priority.

Loretta worked with PSSC on the concept of a permanent building. She met with the Japanese aid representatives when talk about the prospects for the building became more advanced. Loretta argued that a permanent building would give a true home to the many social science societies of the country. PSSC would be in a better position to help strengthen these societies and reinforce their sense of mission. When the aid program had advanced approval stage, she got busy with the work on the building concepts. Such a facility would provide offices and conference rooms of different sizes to meet the needs of the Philippine societies when they had conferences. Part of the offices could be rented to provide income to PSSC. Thus, instead of hobbling the organization with huge maintenance costs, such a building would help provide PSSC with physical assets that could generate income while performing its public tasks. That could then help to make the society self- sustaining financially as well as boost its programs. Loretta brought this issue up to the Board and the idea became a major goal of PSSC. It was one thing to plan it but the resource had to be provided. With the Japanese grant assistance, it was to become reality.

For my part and through NEDA, it was a matter of getting the list of agreed projects to move forward. The aid projects from Japan were extensive and they were agreed on the basis of a list that was approved by the President of the Philippines. It was important to get the Japanese aid foreign ministry to agree to that list. Also it was important that the government did not change the components in the project list. That could happen. As the bureaucratic process of continuous iterations took its normal course, it was important to maintain vigilance at the home front. Sometimes – lo and behold! – someone with political clout could ambush and displace a project while no one was keeping watch. In the case of the PSSC building project, all went well quickly however on the approval side between the two governments.

The award and prosecution of aid projects could take time, caused by unexpected delays. From this viewpoint, the human resources building project for PSSC moved relatively quickly once the preliminaries of land location, plans for the building, and other contractual matters were finished. As tied aid, these programs were fully built by the Japanese government and it was Japanese government process at work: choosing their architects and their contractors. It was therefore important that specifications for the project had to be done with the recipient institutions, and that meant work for Loretta and PSSC. The specifications, requirements and design for the building had to be undertaken. These issues were not trivial for PSSC.

And Loretta was immersed fully in this work. Her attention to detail not only included the design, orientation of the building, but also what amenities to put in. When she went to Japan on the invitation of the aid program offices, she was glad to find the scale model of the building already f inished  and  that the construction schedules were already firm. The concepts that she and others had suggested concerning the design and structure of the building when the Japanese project engineers and architects visited in Manila had been substantially integrated into the plan. She had wanted to bring down the cost of building maintenance and the need to properly orient the building to make maximum use of sunlight and airflow.

Air  conditioning  would  be  essentially individualized, not centralized. Moreover, on details that seemed minor, she was emphatic. For instance, because she understood the problem, she saw to it that a ramp for the entry into the building of the physically disabled was properly planned. When the landscape seller of materials and plants that had been squatting on the site posed a threat to the construction start, she suggested ways for the Japanese contractor to expedite the process. The Japanese contractor paid fair compensation and the squatter hurriedly cooperated with the removal of the impediments.

Of course, the most important prior problem before construction could begin was to secure the land site. This had to be settled long before the work on the building would proceed. The only assets that PSSC owned were its office equipment, which was minimal. It had no land. To secure that land for the construction posed some legal and proprietory obstacles on the part of the potential donors.

At the beginning, there was debate in the Board where to locate the building. At first, the idea of locating it on private land – away from the dominant influence of UP and of Ateneo – was an attractive idea. But who would give private land for a non-profit activity like PSSC? The Ateneans (perhaps the gentle Frank Lynch, SJ might have favored this at the time, although during this time he had already passed away) would have preferred that the building be located outside the UP and possibly in Ateneo. This would avoid the impression that PSSC was like an extension of a UP social sciences department. The idea of Ateneo yielding land for PSSC was a question that Vicente Jayme, who was then on the Board, would explore with the Ateneo authorities. There were debates on the pros and cons of this at that end.

I think that Loretta could accept the long term prospect of independence of PSSC from dominance by UP as a sound idea. In that way, the social sciences would develop in a more inclusive “national” manner. But how was one to execute this within the framework of a private building in private or non-government land if there was no privately made available land on which to construct the building? It was a great fallacy that PSSC being located in UP would automatically imply UP dominance. In the end, the social sciences would grow strong where the institutions of learning and of research made that possible. PSSC, was in the end, mainly a receptacle of the collective achievements of each and every social science discipline wherever it grew and developed.

In the final analysis, the only good and practical option was to locate in UP. Ateneo’s authorities found it difficult to give up land that it could use for Ateneo’s own future growth. And then, there were many issues of local and institutional conflict of laws that intruded, including the matter of local taxes, and the length and renewal status of the land lease.

Within UP, the matter was not smooth, as well. For despite UP’s abundance of land, the problem of PSSC’s standing as a private, non-profit institution came back to the fundamental issue about the private use of public resources. The President of UP then was O.D. Corpuz and he understood as well the needs of PSSC. But UP could not just sever land and donate it. Long term lease was the only alternative but that was not necessarily assured. In the end, the argument that the social sciences working with PSSC included many UP social scientists in the country who were preeminent in the national scene and PSSC deserved UP assistance to advance the social sciences. It helped that many distinguished members of PSSC were also very much respected scholars within the UP system. Definitely, it helped that Loretta assiduously promoted the idea that UP could lease a plot of land for PSSC because it was an institution, although private in its nature, that had a public purpose.

In this sense, the words that President Ferdinand  Marcos  wrote  on  the  decision memorandum of NEDA when he approved the idea of donating public money to counterpart the Ford Foundation grant was significant in the further growth of PSSC. Finally, it also helped that during this critical period I was a member of the UP Board of Regents.

Despite her work and dedication to PSSC, Lor (I now use her preferred nickname among family and friends) always understood clearly where her priorities stood. Those who have dealt with her know that she was a quiet but effective worker, assertive in her own way but never intrusive nor difficult. She was in a way shy in that she seldom pressed her ideas unnecessarily. When confronted with difficult issues, one could easily tell how she stood on those issues by the questions that she asked. In her prime, she was a good communicator and a patient one who tried to steer decisions to her side without being unpleasant and pushy. She was Chair of the UP Political Science Department in her mid-term when I was appointed (in addition to my national duties) to become a member of the Board of Regents. Immediately she tendered her  resignation as  Chair  because as an administrative officer of the College she felt she was, ultimately, held directly under the supervision of the Board of Regents. She remained in the faculty, but she resigned her administrative post. She had that fine trait of delicadeza that is rare in such cases.

It was probably PSSC’s good luck to harness her services at about that time. In her position, she was working for something bigger than her own social science discipline. There were no barriers of the personal sort that was posed in her job at PSSC, a non-profit institution designed to promote the progress of the nation’s social sciences.

Recently this month, my children and Lor celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in nuclear family dinner. And here as I end this essay, I talk of Lor’s qualities that I had enjoyed over the years in the past tense. The stroke that she suffered three years ago had sapped away many of the abilities that she was very good at. Those qualities helped me immensely as a person and as an economist. She was my superb testing ground for ideas. She was an eloquent and perceptive debater on any issue – significant or inconsequential, world-changing or trivial – that we engaged in intermittently over the years of our married life. As all our children have noted during their growing years, two discussing PhDs provided a prescription for a noisy and sometimes contentious and impromptu classroom before their eyes. She was a great listener who could distinguish between good or foolish ideas as well as between substantial and shallow people. She modulated me although she did not succeed fully. For me, she would always put aside her own work to make my English more clear and my thoughts wiser.