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Republic of Sisyphus

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Sisyphus_by_von_Stuck There is no shortage of well-meaning activity in this country; but there are times when it seems like all the effort is an essentially futile task, and that our country's like Sisyphus, condemned to roll a stone up a hill, only to see it roll down again, every time. Last February 19 I went to the Aurora A. Quezon Elementary School in Malate, to represent the family in the school's commemoration of my grandmother's birth anniversary. IMG_0382.JPG Before the program started, I had a chance to talk to some of the teachers and the principal about the situation of the school, which has long had a very good reputation for the excellence of its teaching, teachers, and the scores and marks the students obtain in contests and national tests. IMG_0396.JPG One thing she told me about bothered me. The PAGCOR has a feeding program in the school, which helps 50 malnourished kids. Assistance is to the tune of 30,000 Pesos a month, at 30 Pesos a meal. Now what bothered me was the arbitrary nature of the program (stuck at 50 kids, irrespective of the actual incidence of malnutrition in any school; my impression, though the principal didn't say it, is that there's simply a quota of 50 kids per school, so that PAGCOR can provide assistance to many schools). The program has a limited duration, 120 days. The principal said, when I asked her what this sort of limited assistance accomplished, that the program, ideally, rescues kids and restores them to health; that afterwards, hopefully, parents can be convinced to devote more of their resources to feeding their kids. IMG_0397.JPG The principal added that there are other projects taking place at the same time, with various sources of funding, both local and national (noodles, nutritious bread and milk, etc.) but they all have limited durations and teachers just have to hope it helps some but not all. The programs require ingenuity, too; the school has taken to planting vegetables to keep the costs of subsidized meals low, for example. One interesting problem schools face is that because of the UN policy that kids cannot be refused an education, schools can't impose limits (academic, or enrollment, or locality, etc.) on those applying, which means some schools are swamped with kids even from far flung areas when there are other public schools nearer the kids. But the growth in population is taking it's toll. 7 years ago, when the principal started, they had an enrollment of 3,500; this year, they have 5,700. And while proud of their completion rate of 87%, the 3% who drop out is still quite high. Like most public school teachers I talk to they also have major problems because many kids lack one or both parents and any discipline efforts can result in Bantay Bata lawsuits. Another problem is kids being withdraw from school to help the family by working, in some cases, by begging. A heartening thing, and this is something apparently growing in strength in some public schools (two or three years ago, the principal and teachers of Manuel L. Quezon elementary school in Manila told me similar stories), is that cooperation between parents and teachers is close, and parents go out of their way to help the school with its needs. This is particularly noteworthy because regulations exist, in Manila, forbidding teachers and principals from actively seeking monetary or other assistance from parents or students. It seems the parents have taken to actively finding out what the school needs, and how they can help, whether by donating a single can of paint (a great sacrifice for most families), or providing coffee and snacks to other volunteers who help with maintenance, etc. The head of the PTA (a phenomenon entrenched since martial law) is a Police Major, who himself went to the school, has one daughter in Grade 6, and two children in college, all of them in state schools. His two eldest plan to be a doctor and an engineer, respectively, treading the path from lower to upper middle class. But is stories were of the rise of petty crimes and of syndicated crime. The result of this visit was three columns: Permanently poor, The end of social mobility, and Insecurity and the Invisible Class. In them, I made reference to the following. The 1971 roundtable on the Philippines, and the quotations of Sixto Roxas and Onofre Corpuz are from President Marcos and the Philippine political culture by Lew Gleeck (to my mind, this is the most insightful book on the late dictator). Information, too, from "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World" (Niall Ferguson) You can read a synopsis here, or better yet, find a way to grab hold of the documentary series on which he based his book. For population figures, there's Jan Lahmeyer's  historical demographical data of the whole country. There's the Asia Economic Forum's online report (for the 1st AEF) on The Human Development Index (HDI). The Philippines falls under the category of "Medium Human Development." Countries in the region were classified according to three clusters, with the Philippines in Cluster 2: Malaysia (61), Thailand (73), the Philippines (84) and China (85), and with the following observations:
Using comparable data-sets where available, there has been a general upward trend in HDI values over the past almost 30 years. Major points of interest are that: the 'Asian tigers' (Hong Kong, Singapore and the Republic of Korea) clearly became part of Cluster 1 over the period prior to 1995; the Philippines has progressively dropped since 1975 to a relatively low position in Cluster 2; and Mongolia has transitted from Cluster 2 to Cluster 3 over the period 1985-1995; whilst China has done the opposite since 1995.
However, while our overall rankings are pretty low, and our rankings suggest an overall deterioration over time, in individual, current, rankings we're actually rather decent. This may help explain why a holistic look at the country is depressing but if individual constituencies are asked, who might be inclined to focus on particular aspects, they might answer that things are pretty good and even improving. And then there's the UNDP's 2007/2008 Human Development Report on the Philippines. (Additional data on various indices can be found here). You can also compare this recent report with the 1994 Philippine Human Development Report). In particular, these charts and graphs. phl_1 The Human Development Index, as a more accurate measure of the development of a nation's population than the more traditional per capita GDP. phl_2 This suggests that the overall trajectory of the Philippines is one of steady improvement, though not as steeply improving as regions as a whole. But as I pointed out in my column, the Philippines has dropped in its rankings. table1 table2 table3 I also referred to this report: And while Dean Jorge Bocobo often points out that self-rated poverty is essentially meaningless, I think it goes a long way in explaining the gulf between official statistics and the skepticism to outright hostility with which public opinion often meets official pronouncements of slight to significant gains. This is all by way of exploring the question of social mobility. This recent story from a British newspaper makes for interesting reading: Social mobility: Labour tries to revive flagging crusade to help poor childrenMinisters are promoting a series of policies in an effort to bring their key project back on track. Two other stories that make for relevant reading: Marooned on the Fal: sailors stranded on the ships that are going nowhereShipping crews from all over the world caught in Cornwall as global trade slows and Downturn hits Philippine remittances.
This document, too, was provided in a link in the previous entry, and makes for interesting reading in comparison with another document, which I'm reproducing below it: 2009 Year of Outsourcing Dangerously or Asian Perceptions 2008 Final

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This page contains a single entry by Manuel L. Quezon III published on March 3, 2009 2:50 PM.

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