Cebu Philippines Web Portal OP-ED: SAVING THE NATION

Grinding poverty, rampant drug use, and corrupt officials? No problem! Just one law can fix everything that's wrong with the Philippines. Except maybe the typhoons.

It was pointed out to this columnist that bitching and whining are not in conformity with the title and theme of this web site, namely, Wa'y Blima! Cebu (No Problem! Cebu). Consequently, in a positive spirit, we would to offer today some bright, pro-active measures which will give Cebu and this nation hope for the future. Messed up country from which you have to emigrate to feed your family? No problem - we can fix it!

Before we begin, we must acknowledge how far the Philippines has been left behind. Thirty years ago, Malaysia was in even worse shape than the Philippines. But look at them now! The place is starting to look like Korea or Japan, full of gleaming buildings, immaculate subdivisions, expressways, F1 circuits, rail systems, and an overwhelming middle-class population that worries about financial portfolios and pet salons, rather than scraping together enough cash or credit for the groceries that go into tonight's evening meal.

Why is this so? Well, basically, the Philippines is stuck in a vicious cycle.

As we all know, a tiny proportion of absurdly rich folks control most of industry and commerce, the small middle-class is hard-pressed to make ends meet, and the vast majority of people are either laborers or dependents who do nothing all day. Now, since we are in a democracy, the designated way out of this situation is for everyone to vote into office capable officials who are good at organizing things and leading the community forward, so that things start changing and income levels start rising.

Here's the hitch: for a democracy to work, you need an educated and smart population that's good at choosing the right kind of leaders.

Unfortunately, however, this isn't quite the case. The public schools are essentially useless, and getting more useless all the time - as shown by the dropping levels of English-language fluency. As a result, the population stays ignorant, or gets even more ignorant as time goes by, and is incapable of voting into office of the right kind of official. The lack of intellectual depth and knowledge in the general population means that anyone can get into office as long as he has a familiar surname and enough money to spend on T-shirts, vote-buying, and so on.

Once elected, officials are largely free to do as they please, since an ignorant and uneducated population is not that good at keeping its leaders in check. Neither is there any pressure to bring about drastic reforms that will improve the bureaucracy and the country in general.

Meanwhile, the wealthy sliver of society - including officials and the business owners - sends its next generation to private schools. The kids go on to get MBA's which help them run the family business, making them even richer. The kids of private officials also learn the networking and PR skills necessary to keep the family business - politicking and the like - in good shape.

The poor continue to go to public school where they learn nothing except perhaps how to scrawl their name in capital letters.

Nothing changes and everything is still the same as it was 50 years ago - the rich are very rich and well-educated, the poor are very poor and ignorant, and those in-between are best off emigrating to the the USA.

This is why, despite free elections, freedom of speech, and 20 years of democracy, the Philippines still lags behind other Asian countries. But no problem! As promised, we have a fix. Here it is:

Pass a law that requires the children of any elected official to be sent to public school (as opposed to private school).

You can bet that standards at public schools will improve overnight. With their kids forced to go to public school, public officials will have no choice but to pressure for higher standards and more funding. Pretty soon - in 3 or 5 years - public schools will be performing as well as, or even better than, private schools. Public schools will no longer be churning out ignorant laborers, but a bright and mentally keen generation eager to change their world and empower the nation. In just a few short years, we will witness a drastic change in culture, a shift from an overall lack of intellectual curiosity to an emphasis on academics and new ideas, rather what is seen in developed countries throughout the world.

The next generation, far better educated than the previous, will be more adept at electing able leaders that can make a difference. Instead of the current sitcom of characters talented at little else than making wisecracks and insulting each other - thus catering to the lowbrow tastes of the present electorate - we will have a roster of overwhelmingly capable and sensible officials.

This new wave of public officials - harshly checked and scrutinized by a new culture of transparency and vigorous debate - will do all the dirty work of eradicating corruption, incompetence, and nepotism in the bureaucracy, and get to grips with the fun tasks of developing exciting new projects that will massively alter the infrastructural landscape of the Philippines.

Quite a dramatic result from just one law.

Now, it must be said that, since the current climate in the Philippines is far from intellectually vigorous, people are prickly and easily offended by criticism, and it is to expected that there will be those who will take umbrage with claims such as the aforementioned statement that our public schools are "useless." Are you one of those who disagrees? If you deny, kind Sir or Madam, that public schools are indeed useless and choose to claim otherwise, you are challenged to send your own offspring and relatives to the local public school, forthwith, no ifs and no buts.

Incidentally, passing a law that requires all elected officials and their families to be treated solely at government hospitals - such as the CCMC or VSMMC - in case of illness or injury, would also bring a rapid and marked improvement to the standards at those two beleagered institutions.

October 22, 2006


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