Education and Jobs for all

This writer’s commentary on what President Aquino should do now after the success of the impeachment of the Chief Justice is a shared view for the many hoping this administration would do next.

 

Priorities
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star)

Updated June 01, 2012

A farmer in his early 60s, the father of someone I know, went to Metro Manila this week from his home in the province and sought treatment for a blood disorder.

Yesterday he returned home, with his illness diagnosed as a case of acutely low red blood cells that could be fatal, he was told, unless he received a transfusion of at least two liters of blood ASAP.

He returned to the province in hopes that his sons who live there would qualify as donors, since he can’t afford to pay for the blood transfusion and hospitalization even in a government hospital in Manila. His family has already sold a full-grown pig at the bargain price of P4,000 to pay for his initial treatment, and he might sell their carabao to cover further medical expenses. If the money still isn’t enough, he plans to sell his tiny plot of farmland.

For millions of Filipinos, the farmer’s predicament is common: if a serious but curable illness strikes, all they can do is hope for a miracle or wait for death to end their misery.

How to reduce the ranks of the destitute should be a top priority of the government. Now that President Aquino and his allies have achieved the seemingly impossible and removed from office the two individuals he identified as hindrances to his anti-corruption campaign, his administration can concentrate on other matters, particularly the task of easing poverty and expanding the middle class. Not just through dole-outs, although the conditional cash transfer has been effective in easing suffering, but by creating the environment for people to earn a decent living and realize their full potential.

* * *

I thought about unrealized potential earlier this week, during a stopover at a night market that I frequent. A girl about five or six walked up to me and reminded me of a promise I made to buy a garland of kamia again from her. The leis are strung together by her mother, who usually sits by a lamppost near the market together with other women, whose children presumably are also hawking kamia garlands for P20 each.

The girl was pretty sure I was her suki or regular customer because, she said, she had made a mental note of my car and its license plates. “Sabi mo (you said) next time,” she told me, the Filipino and English words clearly and correctly pronounced, as she held out the leis to me.

I did tell her that, so I bought the leis. She said she also remembers “Mr. McDo” – a man in a car who regularly treats her and the other street kids to McDonald’s burgers.

Growing up in the hardscrabble neighborhoods of the city of Manila I have seen that street smarts is a good indication of a quick learner with a high IQ potential. With proper education especially in the early formative years, that girl can rise out of poverty and contribute much to this nation.

It’s doubtful though that she will be in school starting next week. The girl lives with a sibling and their mother in a park near the market, and kids with no fixed address usually don’t qualify for free public education.

The girl said her mother threw out her father because all he did was drink and gamble; he took with him four of the six children. That’s too many kids, the girl said; she didn’t think her mother would want a new husband. I wondered where a child could get such ideas at that tender age.

There are thousands of such families in the city of Manila alone. The other night in the heavy downpour, a number of them could be seen hunched under umbrellas and plastic covers, barely moving and refusing to leave their spots for the night along the city’s Baywalk and under the trees on Roxas Boulevard.

They will be truly blessed if P-Noy delivers on his campaign promise, expressed in the battle cry, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

* * *

As far as the second Aquino administration is concerned, the ouster of Renato Corona as chief magistrate is a major victory in efforts to bring the corrupt to justice.

A day after Corona was convicted and removed from office, it did look like his fate had sent a strong message that it could no longer be business as usual in government, at least in complying with the law on filing statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

It must be stressed that there are public servants who do make an effort to fully comply with the detailed requirements for filing the SALN, as provided under Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. One political appointee tells friends, in half-jest, that the only thing he does not declare in his annual SALN is his porn collection.

But the appointee holds a minor position. Those occupying higher office, particularly in the legislature and in local governments, can usually afford financial advisers who can help them fudge their net worth and tax declarations.

What’s the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance? You pay for the second, by hiring an expensive accountant, and you normally get away with it.

Corona’s fate could radically reduce efforts to fudge SALNs. Or at least that’s the public expectation. Much will depend on the follow-through, by agencies tasked to guard against lying in asset statements, and also by vigilant citizens.

If the momentum of reform is sustained and transparency is promoted down to the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy, the fruits of good governance may trickle down to the grassroots.

Combined with efforts to improve the economy, the impact of better governance may be felt sufficiently and soon enough to save even that young kamia vendor from a lifetime of poverty and lack of education, or from dying of a curable disease for lack of money.


 

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