28 November 2009

What gives, Bicol Mail?

WHILE waiting for the rice cooker to do its thing, I checked the Bicol Mail website this morning, hoping to see its latest issue -- which hit the newsstands yesterday -- already online. I got my wish. So folks, here goes another serving of what I hope will be this blog's weekly ritual: Say that again, Bicol Mail?, putting its resident angry old man under the microscope once more. This week's piece?

Pushcart classroom

EFREN PEÑAFLORIDA, who was named CNN Hero of the Year for his “pushcart classroom” in the Philippines, has contended that even a poor man can provide basic education to poor children, share his gift of education more meaningfully in communities where the concern of the local government has been found wanting. This requires an initiative and an unflinching dedication despite difficulties. Such a spirit of sharing does not expect any award in return.
Our editorial writer starts well, and rather innocuously. But the phrase "local government" flashes a warning sign: isn't public education the primary mandate of the Department of Education and by extension the national government? Uh-oh. I'm afraid the bias is showing this early.
The “pushcart classroom” idea is less appealing than the School Board to any of the more enterprising minds in the local government of Naga, known nationwide for being innovative and being first-among-equals. But with the honors Efren Peñaflorida is reaping throughout the country and the world, it will not be surprising if the local government of Naga will join the bandwagon of those who are honoring the pushcart hero. Peñaflorida is a good name to be associated with today as the national elections are just around the corner.
I didn't know he's already dabbling in fortune telling. Let's see if the city government, through the sangguniang panlungsod, will take the bite. Personally, the accolades coming Efren Peñaflorida's way is more than enough; the bigger challenge is learning its lessons and actually applying it.
Already Malacañang, in trying to make up for its shortcomings in education, has announced that the Order of Lakan Dula, one of the Philippine government highest honors awarded to a civilian who “has demonstrated by his life and deeds a dedication to the welfare of society” would be conferred upon Peñaflorida. In a press statement, Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, even said the government was willing to extend financial aid and other forms of assistance to help Peñaflorida expand his groundbreaking program on education.
A statement of fact, which needs no disputing.
Fajardo said Peñaflorida’s program was a good example of how the private sector could “augment whatever inadequacies the government may have.” This is a shameful statement coming from a government mandated by the Constitution to insure the education of children. A government that gives excuses for its inadequacies in education or passes the blame to others for its inefficiency or cannot take responsibility for any outcome does not have the right to discharge that mandate or to operate as an agency of that government.
He hits the nail right in its head on this one.
In Albay, Governor Joey Salceda has sounded instructions to the provincial council to pass a resolution conferring the highest provincial award on Efren Peñaflorida, giving him a cash gift of P250,000, and making him an honorary son of Albay. The province of Albay has all the moral right to honor Peñaflorida in as much as the province has always a good word for its teachers, has annual awards for outstanding teachers, and has open arms for teachers rejected by another division for alleged inefficiency due to the poor ratings of their division in the National Assessment Tests.
So far, so good. Which only goes to show that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. As a footnote though, let me say for the record that the City Government of Naga, the regional partner of Synergeia Foundation, has been helping the towns of Libon and Tiwi pursue their education reform projects. Incidentally, these are two of the five finalists for the first-ever Kadunong Award that seeks to recognize the most outstanding Albay LGUs with education programs. And one of them will go home next month as grand winner of the search. (Disclosure: I took part in the final judging representing the city government and Synergeia.)
Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect for the teaching profession and more, for teachers who have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return. He has achieved more than what Manny Pacquiao has. Peñaflorida has been combating ignorance not in 12 rounds of face-bashing in a ring but in the streets, day in and day out, without banking on a hundred-million-dollar kitty for the bout winner.
Now, this is somewhat a stretch. Come to think of it, Peñaflorida's outstanding achievement actually indicts the formal schooling system (i.e. the DepEd) in the country, where certified members of the teaching profession, including those whose names carry an alphabet soup of academic titles after them, lord over.

Distinction should be made between the formal, which employs close to 500,000 public school teachers, and the non-formal (now popularly known as alternative learning system); Peñaflorida belongs to the latter. The failings of the former actually creates the necessary preconditions for the latter, and magnifies Peñaflorida's achievements to heroic levels. When 3 of every 10 Filipino schoolchildren entering Grade I fail to reach Grade VI, you need a strong ALS to catch these dropouts and give them a second chance. But in the same breath, it means that the formal public school system -- and the whole certified teaching profession underpinning it -- is falling short of the standards.

For the sake of accuracy, it should restated as: "Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect to the alternative learning system, whose teachers have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return."

Maybe he's just confused. Or is it a case of deliberate confusion? The last two paragraphs will provide the answer.
The Naga City Local Government’s indictment of the inefficiency of former Division of City Schools Superintendent Dr. Evangeline Palencia during her stint in the city begs the issue whether it has the moral right to honor Peñaflorida. The premium importance the City of Naga gives to ratings in assessment tests in school more than to learning values for life shows that the educational system in the city has much to be desired. This inanity cannot be covered by seeking the transfer of Palencia to Ligao City or by giving honors to Peñaflorida.
Clearly, it is still all about Naga, and the editorial writer's obsession and consuming desire to badmouth its local government. I think this unmistaken obsession has forced him to wittingly or unwittingly twist facts, like (1) the confusion between formal and alternative learning systems, (2) and the confusion as to which level of government is responsible for public education.

This unhealthy preoccupation with Naga has in fact put on a dangerous set of blinders on Bicol Mail itself, for an editorial supposedly speaks for the paper as a whole. For a paper that purports to be "Bicolandia's only regional newspaper," all it can see is the city government of Naga, when there are six other provincial governments, six other city governments and 107 municipal governments in the universe of Bicol LGUs.

This dangerous obsession compels one to ask: What gives, Bicol Mail? Certainly, there is more than meets the eye here.
The system implemented by the city with a highly charged School Board has fared poorly. The pushcart classroom of Peñaflorida could be the better system.
Sadly for him, the editorial writer seems to have been so punchdrunk with bitterness towards City Hall that he has yet to snap out of his world of make-believe. Garo iyo ang narugado ni Pacquiao, bakong si Cotto.:)

Hello! The last time I checked, (1) it is still DepEd running the public school system, in Naga and in the entire country; (2) we don't need pushcarts in Naga to provide ALS services, because we have mobile teachers, ALS classes and sub-contracting arrangements with local schools, particularly the Universidad de Sta. Isabel, (although data shows that while ALS coverage has improved from 20 to 36%, three of every five OSYs have yet to avail of its services); and (3) we will only consider mass investment on Peñaflorida's pushcarts if DepEd-Naga and our local institutional partners finally admit they cannot get the job done.


23 November 2009

Say that again?

AFTER that most unexpected editorial slamming Camarines Sur Gov. LRay Villafuerte, my favorite Bicol Mail editorial writer is back, he whose life revolves around City Hall, in particular Mayor Jesse Robredo.

Which gave me an idea: to inject some life into this blog (which is supposedly part of the so-called new media), why don't I dissect the rantings of the venerable Bicol Mail's resident angry old man and expose him for what he is?

So for this week, what a fitting way to start than with -- tadaaah! -- the city public schools.

Cruel and unkind

THE TRANSFER of City Division of Schools Superintendent Evangeline Palencia to the City of Ligao is unkind and cruel to both -- to her and to the City of Ligao.
She was blamed for the poor showing of Naga City public school students in the National Achievement Test. These students from Naga City did not come up to the expectation of the city officials who would refer time and again with pride to the ratings attained by students who had taken the examination last year.
Hello! My favorite editorial writer is clearly shooting from the hip. Naga's elementary schools last exceeded expectations in the 2005 National Achievement Test (NAT), when Dr. Nenita Ramos was still superintendent. Since then, their performance has been deteriorating.
In any which way the city officials explained the transfer -- that it was routine, that it was the decision of the higher-ups in the Department of Education, that the transfer may be done at any time of the year which is reportedly beyond the control and not of the making of the city officials, and that it cannot but be associated with the poor showing of the examinees about which the city officials felt dismayed.
He's making things up again. Let me make it clear: the city government actively sought Dr. Palencia's transfer, as early as November 2008 after news of shenanigans at DepEd-Naga first surfaced, arising mainly from COA's 2007 Audit Report.

That report cited 10 negative findings, including (1) Non-adherence with existing auditing/accounting laws, rules and regulations to prevent irregular, unnecessary and excessive expenditures resulting to wastage of government funds amounting to P1,811,340.72; and (2) Payment of P264,395.00 for job contracts, cash advances, reimbursements for travel expenses and other expenditures of four relatives of the OIC-SDS, in violation of pertinent provisions of Republic Acts No. 6713 (“Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees”) and 3019 (“Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act”).

When that COA report came out, the relationship between City Hall and DepEd-Naga was never the same again.
Last year the performance of the examinees was highly commended because Naga City was ranked among those in the top, very much reflective of the excellence that city officials would like Naga City to be reputed in any endeavor.
Excuse me? Since when did a 7th-place performance (out of 13 divisions in Bicol) become "highly commended"?
This year the examinees were ranked 187th among the 204 divisions in the national and 13th, the last in the heap, in the regional level.
Ahhh! At last! My favorite editorial writer finally got one paragraph right.
If Superintendent Palencia were the one responsible for the poor ratings of the public school students this year, then the City Division of Schools of Ligao City should feel insulted by the appointment of Palencia in the division. Ligao would not like to be the recipient of a loser, to be a dumping ground of an ineffective superintendent to head the division in the training of their children.
Let me tell you: they are. I was there last week.
The acceptance without any reservation of the City Division of Schools of Ligao City for Superintendent Palencia flings down the gauntlet on the unkind imputation directed at her by the City officials of Naga.
It was outgoing Supt. Dads San Antonio (who was promoted to the DepEd Central Office) who joined Mayor Linda Gonzales in showing us around. Enough said.
If Superintendent Palencia were the one responsible for the poor ratings of the public school students in Naga City this year, then how come the buck should stop with Superintendent Palencia. There are officials who have been dipping their hands in the education of public school students in Naga. They should equally be made answerable for the poor ratings of these students.
That is called "command responsibility," and I agree that there are others who should be made answerable as well, particularly the school heads who are not doing their job. An off-year is understandable, but three consecutive years is certainly not acceptable.
No amount of funds released for the public school children in Naga by the Local Government of Naga -- for their school bags which contain the names of City Hall officials, for scholarships that are given by reason of political patronage -- can assure quality education.
True, without a superintendent leading by example and competent school heads doing the same, the city government is only throwing good money after bad. Palencia's tenure is Exhibit "A" and the Bicol Mail is faulting us for exacting accountability.
School children are not equally gifted. Some batches are not as good as others. No matter how insistent teachers are in their classroom instruction, if the students are not intellectually endowed, there is no room for excellent ratings in examinations.
Probably, especially if it is a one-off thing. But four consecutive failing years, the last two with Palencia at the helm?
Considering that these students had the same teachers as the students who had taken the assessment test last year, there is no doubt that they were given an equally strenuous classroom review if only to prepare them for the assessment test.

Laying the blame on Superintendent Palencia when she has no direct hand in the results of the assessment test is truly unfounded to say the least -- cruel and unkind to say the most.
As superintendent, she is primarily responsible for the performance of the DepEd-Naga Division and therefore accountable for its education outcomes, including the NAT results.
The city officials who blamed Superintendent Palencia for the poor ratings of the public school examinees should look at themselves and lay the blame on themselves too. After all, they are in the same boat as the Superintendent. If Superintendent Palencia was blamed for the poor ratings of these students because she was their City Division chief, City officials should equally be blamed since they have command responsibility for the education of these public school children. These officials use to bruit about in their pagsalingnoy that their program called QUEEN is one that assures quality education, and that under their leadership the number of public schools has increased through the years.
We fully subscribe to the principle that "education is a shared responsibility" in spite of the fact that public education is not a devolved function and therefore not within the control and supervision of the local government. (The mayor, for one, cannot hire and fire the superintendent.) Others could have invoked that argument and get away with it. But not us.

As early as December 2007, with Palencia having already warmed her seat at DepEd-Naga, I warned the city's school heads and supervisory staff about the danger signs. Their response was a division planning conference at Regent Hotel that I attended as an observer; one thing that stood out from the individual plans presented, which I pointedly underscored when asked for comments, was the absence of clear numerical targets for each intervention. They never invited me again.

In October 2008, when Mayor Robredo presented his second State of the Children Report at the Naga Youth Center, with Palencia and the new assistant superintendent Carlito Boni in attendance, the same concern was raised with greater urgency: Naga's performance has been slipping. And this inconsistent performance does not match continuing investments of the City Government. Both chose to skip this year's report that highlights the celebration of Children's Month every October.

Which is why at the very outset, when the 2007 COA report surfaced confirming our worst fears about Palencia's leadership, Mayor Robredo immediately sought her replacement. The city's public school system deserves a better leader. And it took the DepEd Central Office one full year to realize this.
Money released for salaries of teachers in the public schools in Naga City, even the establishment of a School Board or the enactment of an ordinance establishing the QUEEN will amount to nothing, if education is treated as a business enterprise and as a political item.
Correct premise, wrong conclusion. All these will amount to nothing if the Nagueno child cannot be assured of two things, and only two: access, that he has every opportunity to graduate when he enters Grade I and First Year; and quality, that what he is getting is the best that his city has to offer. All others are mere propaganda.
Many of those who had unkind words for Superintendent Palencia do not even know how to run an educational institution and how to teach a class of 60 students, with not enough room space and not enough books, students who report to school with empty stomachs and with parents who avail of any of their free time for home and livelihood chores.
I should know: all my school-age children are enrolled in the public schools of Naga, two of them in an elementary school that we share with the less well-off residents of the city. Which is why I am mad because they deserve far better than the rut that our public schools are in.
Government officials who are accustomed to be conferred with awards of excellence cannot claim that they have the right to treat unkindly anyone who falls short of it.
We are not claiming it now or in the future because that imagined right is definitely home, safe and sound, with Bicol Mail's angry old man. But we reserve the right to demand better public schools -- including better superintendents, school heads and teachers -- and better newspapers -- including better and more well rounded editorial writers whose lives do not revolve around City Hall, and for that matter Mayor Robredo, alone.


09 November 2009

The law of unintended consequences

According to Wikipedia,

The so called "law of unintended consequences" (or "law of unforeseen consequences") is ... a humorous expression in common use according to which any purposeful action will produce some unintended, unanticipated, and usually unwanted consequences. Stated in other words, each cause has more than one effect, and these effects will invariably include at least one unforeseen side-effect. The unintended side-effect can be more significant than the intended effect.

Like Murphy's law, again a humorous expression rather than an actual law of nature, this law is a warning against the hubristic belief that humans can fully control the world around them.

Reading this Philippine Star article, I have a feeling that not only incumbents Rep. Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya stand the possibility of reaping the unintended consequence of Sen. Joker Arroyo's singleminded effort to reapportion the 1st and 2nd congressional district of Camarines Sur. Should he decide to run and win, Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte, who sponsored the original House Bill, may also suffer the same fate.

Let's review how Andaya explains it again:
In a recent interview, Andaya said whoever runs and wins as representatives of the two districts would be unseated if the Supreme Court strikes down the law splitting the first district as unconstitutional.

“If I and Rep. Dato Arroyo run and win, pareho kaming sibak (we will be both unseated), because it’s as if the two districts did not exist,” he said.

Asked if the winning candidate in what remains of the first district would also lose his seat, Andaya, who is a lawyer, gave an affirmative answer.

Because Villafuerte's district gave up Gainza and Milaor in the reapportionment law signed by GMA, doesn't it follow that the smaller 2nd Congressional District he will be running in for reelection next year also would not exist -- effectively removing any representation to the 1st and 2nd districts as we know it today?

I think a plausible argument to that effect can be made. What do you think?