Monthly Archives: June 2006

Private or public education?

Public education is under attack. The media has been reporting the pitiful state of our public schools. However, instead of pressuring the government to invest more on education, commentators and scholars are batting for the privatization of Philippine education. They question the viability and even the logic of giving free education to our kids. They ridicule the quality of learning in our public schools. They are furious that salaries of our teachers comprise the bulk of spending for education. 

Education funding is now a contentious issue, especially in other countries. There is a debate on whether who should shoulder the burden of financing our schools: the government or the private sector?

Policymakers cite the increasing role of private industry in the management of education in other countries. We are told to adopt the same strategy. But they fail to remind us or even acknowledge that education in most countries has long been a State responsibility. Decades of heavy subsidies for schools – from primary to post-graduate education – has resulted in education systems sustaining the needs of vibrant economies.

On the other hand, the Philippines has one of the worst budget support for education in Asia. It is not true that state universities are crowding out private schools. More than eighty-percent of our colleges are owned by non-sectarian profit-oriented institutions.

The much-heralded superior private education is not entirely accurate. If you think private education in the Philippines is represented by Ateneo, La Salle, Poveda, St. Paul, Miriam or Xavier, then you may be led to believe that public education pales in comparison with its private counterpart. But this is a distortion of reality. The average private school in the Philippines is no better than the ordinary public school in the remotest parts of the country.

Students from both private and public schools have almost the same passing rates in NEAT and NSAT. More than half of college students flunk the board exams. Blame the private schools, where majority of college students are enrolled, for producing substandard graduates. Decades of private-controlled college education did not make the Philippines a rich nation.

Public schools suffer from government neglect. Yes, quality of learning is declining. But it does not follow that private schools are better.

Yet the propaganda continues. Private schools are named as saviors of RP education. The last hope. The better option. The wave of the future.

To a certain extent, I agree that private schools should play a significant part in our education. They are actually playing an important role: they dominate tertiary education in this country. Their contributions in raising the standard of excellence in elementary and high schools should be noted.

But in the end, I will always advocate the strong presence of government in the funding, management and promotion of our schools. A relevant and healthy public education can be the key to progress.

Reading the barrage of commentaries about the supposed advantage of private education led me to worry that education could soon be in the hands of profiteers.

I think the era of free education would soon be over in this country once known as the nation of fifth graders, now the caregiver capital of the world. As early as 1999, studies sponsored by the Asian Development Bank want the free high school education policy to be scrapped.

In 2002 (or 2003?), during our courtesy call with Department of Education Sec. Edilberto de Jesus, he wanted to privatize our schools in elementary and high school. He even suggested that security, not education, should be the priority of the government. He complained that “we have prioritized quantity over quality since 1987,” as one explanation for the pathetic condition of our public schools.

Hail the new generation of bureaucrats and politicians reared in the economic school of thought where government spending for social services is frowned and discouraged.

We may be seeing the last glorious days of the crowded public schools….

Related entries:

Tax religious schools. It’s about time.
When education becomes business. Yes, Pacific Plans is a sister company of Mapua.
Education crisis: then and now. Mukhang walang pinag-iba

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Disaster preparedness

We need more scientists, especially volcanologists. I sincerely hope TV stations will aggressively promote the projects of our local scientists in the same way they advertised the race to the top of Mt. Everest….

First published in Yehey!News.

The last major earthquake in the Philippines was felt in 1990. Scientists are warning that a strong earthquake similar to what struck Indonesia a few weeks ago could occur in our country any time soon.

Mt. Bulusan is spewing ash showing signs that it may erupt soon. Alerts have been raised in Mayon and Taal volcanoes after tremors are recorded the past week.

The rainy season has already arrived. This means flooding and landslides will be in the news again.

Our country is no stranger to disasters, man-made and especially the natural ones. More than twenty typhoons enter and leave the country every year. We have so many active volcanoes. This is not surprising since our land is part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, the zone responsible for more than eighty percent of the world’s largest earthquakes.

The damage exacted by natural disasters in the country is often exacerbated by our lack of preparation.

There are residents within the danger zones of active volcanoes. There are housing subdivisions along earthquake faultlines. Coastal towns flourish even if they are below sea level.

We could have the most advanced technology to deal with volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, lahar flows, landslides, tsunamis and flash floods. We could have produced the best studies on Earth science and engineering geology. We could have the most sophisticated marine science know-how or the best shipping industry in the world since we are an archipelago and we have one of the longest coastlines of this planet.

But we do not prioritize these “mundane” things since we prefer to give more concern in producing beauty queens, boxing champs, caregivers and leaders who want to change the Constitution.

The price we have to pay for our indifference is catastrophic. Properties worth billions are lost every year due to flooding and typhoons. It seems we are no longer awed by news stories on the number of deaths after landslides, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

The government must allot money not only after every disaster. It is equally important that our agencies are logistically and theoretically prepared to deal with disasters. Leaders must pour more funding for local researches that improve our understanding and effective response to natural disasters.

We should not forget our experience after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. Local scientists gained international recognition after they gave superior studies on volcanic eruptions. But local leaders, ignoring the warning of our scientists, proceeded to build mega infrastructure projects to deal with lahar which proved to be ineffective and structurally deficient.

The lesson is that politicians must not have the final word when it comes to instituting mechanisms that enhance our capability to face disasters with minimum damage on lives and properties.

mirror mirror on the wall

To name a street after former President Diosdado Macapagal is not wrong. What is objectionable is the bloated cost of building that short stretch of road.

Renaming South Harbor is a government prerogative. Why it became Eva Macapagal Super Terminal should be explained (and justified) to the public.

I can stomach government’s empty boasts of making this country a strong republic, enchanted kingdom or retirement haven of the world. But I am strongly opposed to naming government projects/programs after incumbent officials.

From the office of the President to town councils, taxpayer-funded projects are named after public officials.

To cite a few of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s pet projects, she has Gintong Masaganang Ani or GMA program for agriculture, Gloria Rolling Stores and ‘GMA Cares’ slogan for major infrastructure projects.

In fairness to Gloria Arroyo, her predecessors can also be accused of promoting this kind of vanity politics.

In my diary entry dated July 22, 1993, I wrote the following lines:

May balak akong maging Presidente. Naiinggit kasi ako kay Ramos. May bagong bigas ngayon na ang pangalan ay FVR. Mayroon ding Fidel salt. Dati naman ay isdang Imelda. Tapos sumunod ang orchid na Cory. Ano ba yan. Ano kaya ang sa akin?

Perhaps a new pencil name called Mong instead of Mongol. Or a new variety of Mongo called, well, Mong.

Kidding aside, I think its time we should ban this kind of politicking in the country. It can save us a lot of money and we would be ridding eyesores from the streets.

If they insert this proposal in the Chacha, I may rethink my earlier position on rewriting our Constitution.

(Oops: I forgot to add Erap City in Montalban. Also on my list, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Ninoy Aquino Stadium – renamed during the term of Cory Aquino.)

Related entries:

Vanity politics. Trapos in the 21st century.
Name game. Different anti-GMA groups.
Family ties in the time of diaspora. Bakit mahalaga sa akin ang South Harbor?

Killing fields

Gloria vows to eliminate the Reds in two years. An all-out war has been declared to end the communist insurgency. Perhaps Rightists are sensing a global trend of sweeping victories of Leftist parties. I think they do not fear Latin America’s leftist governments. What they dread is the surprising success of Maoists in Nepal. After all, they are unable to defeat local guerillas for many decades. The Nepalese formula of political change is what reactionaries want to prevent from succeeding in the Philippines.

The heightened anti-insurgency campaign is being used to distract the attention of the people from the crimes of Gloria in the same way Erap used the war in Mindanao in 2000 to hide his misdeeds.

These are dangerous times for radical activists. However, the situation is also favorable for a revolution.

First published in Yehey!News….

Has anyone pointed out the irony of the President ordering the abolition of the death penalty law while the killing of activists, journalists and petty criminals are carried out without letup?

Would we believe the police and military that the anti-terror law can protect the rights of citizens after they are accused of illegally arresting and torturing pro-Erap supporters?

In any democracy, the life and liberty of an individual is valued at all times. But can we trust this government to safeguard our most cherished bill of rights?

According to human rights organizations, there have been 257 activists who are victims of extrajudicial killings from January 2001 to May 2006. From January to May of this year alone, 75 have already been killed. There are also 25 victims of enforced disappearance.

Since 2001, the Philippines has been the second most dangerous country for journalists. Our mass media may not be tightly regulated like in other neighboring nations but many of our journalists are censored by silencing them forever.

Though not widely reported in the news, the vigilante killings and ‘salvaging’ of petty criminals in the provinces are also disheartening. It illustrates our failure to run after lawbreakers and the lack of trust of many people in the country’s justice system.

We may often wonder how people are surviving in the war-torn Iraq or East Timor. But do we realize that people from other countries are also asking the same thing about us?

Not since the Marcos era have we seen a frightening pattern of killings such as what we are witnessing today. Have we degenerated into a lawless, violent society? Who are behind such merciless killings? What are their motives?

Many families of slain victims are accusing the military and police of orchestrating the killings of activists. Of course the military and police have denied the charge.

But government is not entirely blameless. The Commission on Human Rights reminded the government of its responsibility to protect the lives of all its citizens.

After the calibrated preemptive response policy, EO 464 and Proclamation 1017 which led many people to accuse the President of being a fascist and dictator, it does not help that government has failed to end the summary killings in the country.

Madame Gloria Arroyo must create more than a task force to investigate the pattern of killings. She must not promote military officers accused of violating human rights. She must relieve officers involved in torture and illegal abduction. She must bring the killers to jail and assist the families of those murdered.

Related entries:

Losing the war. Why the military cannot defeat a guerilla warfare.
Tibak sarbey. Profile of a radical activist.
The messenger in distress. Bush, Gloria and the media.
Who’s afraid of the Left? Don’t expel the Left from mainstream politics.

Land reform according to Gloria

The Gloria Arroyo-Fe Hidalgo scolding incident may have prompted government agencies to revise their accomplishment reports.

During a recent presentation in Congress, the Department of Agrarian Reform boasted of distributing almost seven million hectares of land or 82 percent of its original target. Only 1.48M hectares remain in the hands of big landowners.

In the same forum, land reform advocates castigated DAR for deceiving the public. They believe DAR and DENR included in their report the lands they distributed outside their defined scope thus lowering the balance of lands that must be given to the farmers.

If we believe the government, the inequitable land distribution in the country will be solved if we extend CARP by five more years.

This is impossible if we note the following:

a. Gloria Arroyo is the worst President when it comes to distributing lands. Fidel Ramos seems to be the most accomplished;
b. If we agree with DAR that only 1.5 M hectares need to be distributed, it must be pointed out that these landholdings belong to the most powerful landowners and corporations in the country. Most of them are friends of the First Family. Many of them have filed exemption from CARP;
c. The recovered ill-gotten Marcos wealth intended for agrarian reform was used to finance Gloria Arroyo’s hybrid rice program, fertilizer distribution and other projects not connected with agrarian reform;
d. Allies of Gloria in the House admitted that land may have been distributed on paper, but the real owners are still the traditional elite in the country. They even highlight that the country already has a new generation of big landowners;
e. The Courts are very enthusiastic in receiving agrarian related cases and land reform advocates are worried of Court decisions which reverse gains provided by CARP in favor of big corporations and influential families;

Since the 1900s, more than 42 laws/programs have been passed to address landlessness and to quell peasant unrests. So far, they have remained futile to reduce poverty and the inequitable land distribution in our society.

CARP is the most comprehensive compared to previous land reform programs and it also has the largest scope in the world (according to a foreign consultant).

Should we extend CARP? Or should we craft a new land reform program? CARP was signed into a law by a president who happens to be one of the owners of the biggest land estate in Luzon. Can we trust another landlord (and ‘tin pot dictator’) to draft a new land reform program?

Related entries:

Yes Virginia, landlords still rule the country. Hacienda Luisita massacre.
Travelogue. Tales from the provinces.

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Photo during an interfaith activity in Liwasang Bonifacio.

Politicians and educators

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the politician, was wrong in reprimanding Sec. Fe Hidalgo, the educator, when the latter insisted to peg the ideal classroom size to forty-five students. In fact, one does not have to be a teacher to recognize that learning can be hampered if students are not comfortable with their environment.

Mrs. Arroyo may be correct when she opined that classroom shortages are solved if we consider the two-shift policy being implemented in public schools. But this is a mock education reform. Schools are being forced to divide the class sessions exactly because they lack facilities and funding.

Students are scoffing at the idea that the government has provided adequate school facilities this year. Teachers are insulted to hear Mrs. Arroyo boasting to the public that her government has performed more than satisfactorily in improving Philippine education.

Why the audacity to deny the shortcomings of our public school system? Why continue to insist that there are plenty of classrooms when the obvious reality is known by everybody?

Perhaps Mrs. Arroyo wants to hide her culpability in the continuing decline of our public education. The high priority given to foreign debt payment and military expenditures was done at the expense of vital social services, especially education.

That Sec. Hidalgo would confess her error for pegging the classroom size to forty-five students despite the fact that it is close to international standards, just to placate the bruised ego of her boss, explains the sad plight of our education system.

In this enchanted kingdom of the far east, the politicians are free to mess up our education.

School woes

First published in YeheyNews!….

What is wrong with Philippine education?

Scholars, government officials, NGOs and even foreign creditors have tried to answer this question for many decades prompting a former De La Salle President to quip that perhaps the education sector is the most studied field in the country.

So far, after numerous restructuring in the education system, we can boast of low passing marks of students in all levels, high drop-out rate and a commercialized tertiary education.

Every year the Department of Education (DepEd) would remind us of the shortages in classrooms, teachers, textbooks and other instructional materials. Foreigners would gasp after learning this report but we who are used to hearing this news every year can only adopt a nonchalant attitude.

The opening of schools is just a few weeks away and as expected, the shortcomings of our education system are highlighted in the media while public servants have come up with their solutions.

We read the proposal of Senator Manny Villar to change the school calendar, the Commission on Higher Education appealing to school owners to lower their fees, DepEd’s Brigada Eskuwela program, President Gloria Arroyo’s scholarship and feeding program for poor kids and the proposal by Congress to make English the medium of instruction in our schools.

The government has been articulating the need to make education competitive and responsive to the needs of a globalized economy.

There is no debate that major reforms must be instituted so that education can be a significant factor in improving our economy. But we must not forget our basic problem: lack of investment in education.

Before dreaming of a school system connected to the world through the internet, we must first ensure that schools have buildings, armchairs, desks, telephone lines and, well, computers.

Before blaming the students for being stupid in Math and Science, the government must first provide them with adequate and accurate textbooks, motivated and well-compensated teachers and a positive learning environment.

Yes, we should modernize our schools. We have to catch up with other countries. But we cannot accomplish these tasks by just forcing the use of English on all students in all subjects.

Philippine education spending is among the lowest in Asia. Our neighboring countries saw the imperative of investing heavily on education. Why shouldn’t we do the same?

During the 50s, we are told by our elders that our schools are among the best in the region. During that time, one third of the national budget went to education.

Today, almost half of our budget goes to foreign lending agencies. Education funding is a pittance.

What is wrong with Philippine education? Or should it be what is wrong with our priorities?

Related entries:

An afternoon in the DepEd library, education then and now
Education report a farce, GMA’s SONA critique
Gusto rin nilang mag-aral, bakit mayayaman ang nag-aaral sa UP

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I recommend Kelvin Rodolfo’s Politics of Lahar (the first book I bought at the UP Press) to understand better why politicians must not have the final word in dealing with distasters. I also wrote about this topic in my Tinig column.

Hello Edgar

Following is an excerpt of a news item I wrote last year days after the Hello Garci expose:

The real Gary

While the nation ponders who is the “Gary” in the taped conversations released by Malacañang, the chief of staff of Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo of Negros Occidental came forward and claimed the voice of the man in the controversial tapes sounded like his own.

Edgar Ruado, who was once political officer of then Senator Macapagal-Arroyo submitted a two-page affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation after hearing the conversations on TV and recognizing his own voice.

He said PGMA and her husband called him many times during the 2004 elections but they never talked about rigging the election results.

We never heard from Mr. Ruado again after his confession in public. Mrs. Arroyo never spoke of her former political officer when she made her infamous ‘I’m sorry’ speech. In fact she admitted talking to an election officer but she never mentioned Mr. Ruado.

If Ruado is Gary or Garci, Malacañang should have asserted this point. But obviously, it is not the truth. Why do educated people allow themselves to be used by devious politicians?

People never bought the claim of Ruado that he was Gari or Garci. So Gloria’s spinmasters abandoned the idea.

I believe the Edgar Ruado episode is one solid proof that Malacañang cannot be trusted. In fact, Malacañang still would not admit that Gari or Garci is no other than Virgilio Garcillano.

Related entry: Hello Garci and Dovie Beams, Marcos and Gloria scandals

Indian doctors in RP hospitals

During a roundtable discussion, Rep. Ferjenel Biron of Iloilo revealed the plan of the Department of Health to hire Indian doctors next year as an emergency measure to the dwindling number of doctors in the country. That the Philippines would already import skilled workers (instead of being the traditional supplier of manpower needs of foreign nations) underscore the precarious situation of our health system today.

Indeed, the ad which warned the public that in these trying times, “bawal ang magkasakit”, is very sensible not only because of the high cost of medicines but also because of the following information:

1. Four thousand doctors have taken the nursing licensure examination and 3,000 are enrolled in 45 nursing schools;
2. Two hundred hospitals have been shut down and 800 are partially closed;
3. 4,000 doctors have fled the country since 2003;
4. 85 percent of our nurses are to be found in other countries;
5. The country does not have an oversupply of nurses. We produce about 15,000 nursing graduates to meet the same number of demand abroad but only 4,000 are able to pass the board exams. Therefore, the country is sending not only its newly licensed nurses but also 11,000 of its experienced nurses;
6. Public health workers are not receiving the benefits, allowances and other incentives provided by law. The Department of Health is moving for the full implementation of the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.

Rep Biron believes that we cannot (and should not) prevent health workers from leaving the country. He insists that we must not curtail the right of health workers to have a better life. But he suggested that government can institute mechanisms to delay their departure, like increasing their salaries.

Rep. Janette Garin of Iloilo is supportive of the proposals to increase the salaries of health workers. But she noted that even if the government doubles the compensation for health workers, this would still be low compared to what other countries are offering.

She said the migration of Filipino health workers is a long term problem that should be addressed by the global nation and not by Filipinos alone. She mentioned that government must seek diplomatic/bilateral talks with countries which recruit our doctors and nurses and explain the problems generated by the departure of our health workers.

In exchange of supplying their manpower requirements, Rep. Garin wants recipient countries to give aid, grants and other forms of assistance to the Philippines. She said government must warn foreign countries that if they do not participate in strengthening the health and education system in the Philippines, their people will suffer if we export poor quality nurses.

She also noted the unethical practice of some public health workers who migrate to other countries but manage to keep their jobs (if ever they decide to come back) by filing a ‘leave of absence’ instead of filing for resignation. Rep. Garin declared that this is unfair to unemployed licensed nurses who are desperately seeking work.

Ms. Emma Manuel of the Alliance of Health Workers narrated how nurses were overjoyed by the enactment of the Nursing Law in 2002. But for the past two years, the law failed to stem the migration of Filipino nurses since the government has no funds to implement the said law. She said the root of the problem is the low funding for the health sector.

I wonder if Mrs. Gloria Arroyo would agree with the observation that we have a shortage of doctors and nurses. She may probably insist that there is no such thing in this Enchanted Kingdom of ours.

Related entries:

Labor as export, globally competitive raw tayo eh.
Nannies in Hong Kong, masisipag raw kasi tayo eh.