The problems of the country are many. The solutions are elusive. You look to the next presidential election for someone who can build on the gains of the current dispensation. Revolutionary progress is what you long for, someone who can lead us towards a great leap forward. Sadly there is no one who fits the bill.
Why the great leap forward? Well, the world has left us behind. And the gap only grows wider as we bicker among ourselves on petty things like who graduated from Wharton or problems of our own making, e.g. Metro Manila traffic.
Even if we were somehow able to correctly diagnose the root cause/s of our challenges and start working on the right remedies for these problems, we would still be at least half a generation away from seeing and feeling tangible progress. This is what makes the conduct of the current presidential race unbearably frustrating.
This early, I see the 2016 election as another lost opportunity in a long line of missed opportunities. The current line-up of candidates focuses so much on destroying each other. This leads me to believe that none of them have a comprehensive plan for government which would at least start to chip away at the gap between us and the rest of the world or dig us out of a hole that we have been digging for ourselves since well – forever.
I cannot even disagree with anyone’s platform of government because either they don’t have a sensible one or don’t have one at all. Motherhood statements as the entirety of one’s platform of government are so frustrating because of the sense that they are made for the sake of having a platform. They lack the substance that would make one believe na nag-iisip ang taong ito. And to think that having such substance is just the first step towards progress. The actual doing and what comes before that are certainly more important in attaining tangible progress. It is sad but wala akong nakikita na kandidato sa pagka-Presidente na nagdadala nito sa hinaharap natin na halalan.
My imagined ideal candidate would:
1. Focus on the elimination of barriers that keep the majority of our people poor. Economic inequality has engendered social inequality made worse by the fact that we don’t admit that it exists. Tangible steps towards this would include:
– a total makeover of the educational system which currently produces uncompetitive graduates. The educational system should be made more rigorous with students who fail being made to go back. Substantially more funding should be channelled to teacher education to make them better, well – teachers.
– remove economic barriers which have served to protect entrenched interests. This would include the removal of foreign ownership limits on industry to generate competition; a competition law with teeth; amendment of existing laws which limit competition.
– building on agrarian reform by re-directing or otherwise increasing financial and technical support to the beneficiaries of the program. We have spent so much on buying land to be distributed yet the promise of better stewardship of the land by the beneficiaries has not been realized as evidenced by agriculture continuing to be a dead industry.
– incentivising research and development in agriculture and manufacturing/ technology. We cannot forever be servants to the rest of the world by an overly skewed focus on providing services (e.g. OFWs, BPOs). We need to be building things para sila naman bumili sa atin.
– a strong Freedom of Information law.
2. Reduce the size of national government. We are definitely not getting our money’s worth with the inefficient delivery of government services. Continue to reduce the number of GOCCs by privatizing what can be privatized and shuttering those which have outlived their usefulness or failed their mandates. Reduce administrative/services positions of line agencies by further automation/ technological solutions. Remove layers of middle-management. Consolidate what can be consolidated. Do attrition through normal means (retirement/resignation) and extraordinary means (one-time separation benefit). Use some of the savings to increase compensation of smaller bureaucracy to match private sector compensation to attract more candidates for public service.
3. We cannot beat China, or any other interested country for that matter, in a shooting match over our territory. The best we can hope for is a military that can hold on until help arrives from allied countries. That is not being defeatist, it is being realistic. As such, our military should be built through training (including on strategy and tactics), organization and equipment focused on finally ending internal insurgencies. The police cannot do it. Do not overspend on a military that will not be able to withstand external aggression on its own. Continue to be aggressive with multilateral initiatives to defend our territorial integrity.
4. Stop focusing on resolving the problems of Metro Manila and start focusing on the problems of the whole country. Build infrastructure elsewhere. Be more aggressive with geographic economic incentives to build industry outside the current capital. Give people in Metro Manila incentives to go to other economic centers.
5. For the second time, rebuild our educational system. This is that important. Make it simple – math, science, english, critical thinking. Make it more difficult, more rigorous. Provide support for after-school programs (nutrition, tutoring) for those who need it.
6. Give more to local governments. They know more about what they need. They are closer to the people, they will become more accountable the closer they are to those they serve. Some local governments will be better than others. Some local governments will be more corrupt than others. That is what we have now, so what’s new. By giving more resources and responsibilities to local governments, those which are better at governance will reward those they serve with a better quality of life. Give people the opportunity to come closer to determining their own destiny. To curb excesses, strengthen national accountability bodies (COA, Ombudsman, CHR). Yes – this is a path towards a Federal state. The Philippines can no longer rely on a national government to do everything for everyone.
7. Most crimes that are committed in our country can be directly correlated to poverty or the lack of economic opportunity. This not only includes crimes against property but also crimes against people. Problems in our criminal justice system are mere symptoms of a more insiduous problem which are meant to be addressed by the other points in this platform. Yes – there are other crimes that fall outside the economic opportunity generalization and its solutions lie in making these difficult to commit, making them easy to detect and prosecute and making their consequences severe (motherhood statement, I know, but can be addressed later).
These would be the things I would lay out as a platform of government. It is a platform whose ultimate aim is more than the eradication of all forms of inequality in our country but rather ang pagkakaroon ng dignidad ng bawat Pilipino sa sarili niyang bansa. A dignity that allows him to provide for the needs of his family sa marangal na paraan. A dignity that allows him to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone in his own country. A dignity that he knows will allow his children to be proud of him in his own country.
ILOILO CITY – The primer of the Department of Education (DepEd) on the K-12 Basic Education Program states the following:
Enhancing the quality of basic education in the Philippines is urgent and critical. Education outcomes in terms of participation, completion and achievement rates attest to this urgent need. The poor quality of basic education is reflected in the low achievement scores of Filipino students in the National Achievement Test and international tests like TIMSS.
For something that the DepEd considers “urgent and critical”, as it well should, it offers the following as the framework for a solution:
One reason behind this is that students do not get adequate instructional time or time on task. This is partly due to the congested curriculum. The current 10-year basic education curriculum is designed to be taught in 12 years…Thus, the Department of Education in collaboration with various government and non-government stakeholders has developed the K to 12 Program which aims to improve basic education in the Philippines.
If this is the entirety of the solution to an “urgent and critical” issue then I daresay, we are screwed. It doesn’t give you much confidence in the technocrats, bureaucrats and other crats in the DepEd when you cite one reason for this crisis, re-build the entire basic education framework around this and fail to cite the other reasons. Moreover, this one reason is not even given the courtesy of being tagged as the primary or main reason, if it is that. Finally, how serious does the DepEd and its crats really think of this when all they say is that this exercise is meant only to “enhance the quality of basic education in the Philippines.” To enhance is a wimpy way of doing something for the sake of doing something.
There is no quality to the basic education system of the Philippines. The products of this system cannot read with comprehension, write with any form of coherence, do math without a calculator nor understand basic scientific principles. Instead this system provides false hope to many who see this as a way to escape the grinding poverty that they find themselves in.
Reading, math and science are the core competencies that an educational system must provide in as comprehensive a manner as possible to produce competitive citizens. The system must not only do so comprehensively but also make sure that the students that it serves MASTER these competencies. It is not enough that students go through these subjects as matter of course, again, the students MUST MASTER these competencies.
It is under this context that I firmly believe that adding two years to the Basic Education Program is not enough. And no, I do not mean adding more years. In math – 10 x 0 equals 0, 12 x 0 is still zero. To translate, if we do not improve the rigor and substance of the system, its products will still gain zero no matter how many years you add to it.
Rigor and substance.
The basic education system must be made rigorous i.e. difficult. In other words, hindi puwede yung pasang awa. Education is not just about the learning per se, it is preparing kids for life. Life is not an easy thing. So why should make the way to prepare for it, easy. Secondly, by cheapening and lowering standards, you also demean children by in effect saying that hanggang diyan ka na lang when what we should be doing is challenging them, driving them to do more. For if we do not, we will grow another generation of citizens who will continue to adhere to the lower standard of puwede na ‘yan.
I mean substance in education to be a deepening of comprehension of core subjects as opposed to providing a breadth of subjects taught superficially. Again, basic education should force students to MASTER core subjects and not just know them. If they fail to do so then they must be forced back to do it again and again. For what is life without its failures. What is more important is what we do after we fail. Our kids must be taught that there are no shortcuts in life. It is through hard work, perseverance and the overcoming of obstacles that we become successful.
Rigor and substance.
It is unfortunate but the reality is that we cannot do this now. See when DepEd settled on that one reason for the failure of our educational system, that kids do not have “enough instructional time or time on task”, they missed out on an even more important reason – the inadequacy of our teachers.
This is not meant to insult nor demean the thousands of schoolteachers out there who day in and day out heroically try their best under the most trying of circumstances to teach. It is not their fault. It is instead the fault of the system and indeed our own that we as a society have over time diminished the stature of our teachers. Yes, they remain respected but in a sort of nakakaawa naman sila way.
As the common saying goes, teaching is a noble profession. When we think that, however, there is a slight hint of condescension and the impression (or maybe the reality) that teaching as a profession is a sacrifice.
The task of teaching the young is the most important obligation of society. Yet we do not accord the required level of importance and appreciation for the teaching profession. In one measure, teaching indeed becomes a sacrifice for when have we heard of a teacher becoming rich. Maybe under our current reality, the economic value we place on the teaching profession is laughable. In a sense,it is so because becoming a teacher relative to becoming an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer is indeed easier. More economic value is placed om professions which are perceived to be harder to get into. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.
We already know that the Philippine educational system is messed up. One only has to look at the quality of products that it produces. Products that are not competitive.
We need a revolutionary change to our basic education system. The first step should not have been K-12. That is the “doing something for the sake of doing something” way. Yes, we will need it at some point but it could have come later. Sadly, the question as to whether we are prepared for K-12 is now up in the air (see http://opinion.inquirer.net/83234/ready-for-k-to-12). The first priority is teaching the teachers for how can they teach (and I mean teach in the true sense of the word) what they do not know. How can our teachers provide rigor and substance when they themselves were products of a system that was easy and superficial?
This revolutionary change should upend the way we think about things. Teachers should be among, if not, the highest compensated professionals for they do more for our society than all the other professions combined. By changing this dynamic, the best and the brightest among our youth will gravitate towards the teaching profession and from them we can pick and choose who we entrust our future to. Having said that, becoming a teacher should become a difficult academic and intellectual path. Enough of puwede na ‘yan.
Yup – I know what you’re thinking. It’s a nice and noble aim for who can argue with the thesis of this article. But unrealistic? Difficult perhaps but not impossible. As with many things that our country faces, we will need to make hard choices. What do we do about the several million badly equipped teachers which we now have in the system? Under a new and more rigorous teacher training program, most would undoubtedly fail and I say this without being condescending. Yet, if we are to remain true about saving our children from the shackles of poverty and deprivation, the unqualified will indeed have to go. Of course, we have to provide them with the opportunity to elevate themselves to the level that will now have to be demanded. Yet I fear that so many will still fail.
In the meantime, we have to toughen up the teacher training institutions that we have. We also need to weed out the unworthy diploma mills that contributed to the diminution of the teacher. To those that survive, admissions and the training within these institutions will have to be demanding.
Hard choices. That is really what we have left ourselves with after allowing our society to acquiesce to our decline as a nation. What was once an educational system to be proud of is now nothing but a system that awards (to paraphrase what Joe Pinsker of the Washington Post said) …”a diploma (that) starts to look a lot like a receipt printed on fine cardstock. It is proof not that one has learned something in college, but that one has paid for it.”