Like It Is

As he wrecked his chair

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He may have wrecked a chair, but Billy Esposo exposed those who were wrecking this society. His hard-hitting but balanced columns were a must-read for anyone who cares for this country. Estee’s and my sympathies go out to Meyang, who looked after him so well as he battled the failure of his kidneys.  His book, “Surviving Chronic Kidney Disease: The Billy Esposo Kidney Diaries,” is an enlightening account of his travails, his fortitude and courage. An illuminating and comforting book for those who similarly suffer. An engrossing read in its own right for those who don’t.

The eulogizing always comes after someone dies. It’s sad that we don’t do it before that someone goes. In Billy’s case, we did; we took him and Meyang to lunch just a few weeks ago to express our admiration and friendship. His love for his country showed in the fights he undertook to improve the lot of Filipinos.

We need more people like Billy. Goodbye, my friend.

* * *

Someone asked me: “When is change real?” It’s a good question. The easiest way to answer it is: when it isn’t. It isn’t when it’s but a promise, an anticipation. There’s this strange belief, particularly amongst politicians, that once it’s said, it’s done. It’s when it looks like there’s been change, but it’s just cosmetic.

Change is real when there is measurable, demonstrable change. The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program is perhaps one of the better examples today.

President Aquino expanded this program started by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. For this year alone, he allotted P44 billion for the program that will benefit an estimated 3.8 million poor households. This is an increase by almost 800 percent from only P5 billion in 2009 (that benefited more than 600,000 poor households). And REAL CHANGE has occurred. Around 93 percent to 96 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds now attend school in villages where the CCT is in effect, and what I think particularly moving is that there’s been a significant reduction of severe stunting among poor children aged 6 to 60 months. Also, children are less likely to get sick as they are given immunization and undergo preventive checkups.

That is real change, but as I’ve argued endlessly, it’s an interim solution. The real solution is real change in the job market. Eventually, jobs must be provided to the beneficiaries. There are 2.9 million unemployed according to the government, and 10.1 million according to the SWS. (What a huge difference. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?)

That means real change to the things necessary to grow business has not occurred at sufficient levels. The President has made determined efforts to address corruption, and no one (except a few rabid oppositionists) doubts his sincerity and determination to eradicate it. But that’s only one factor in the many that deter investment. And in those many factors, real change, where it makes the ability to do business honestly desirable, has yet to occur.

For instance, real change has yet to occur in the infrastructure that business needs to operate competitively. Oh, it’s coming, but the numbers say it’s not there yet. There’s been improvement in the way monies are spent on infra, but the big stuff hasn’t happened. From a miserable 113th (of 139) in world ranking when GMA left, infra standing has improved to 98th (of 144). Commendable, but a long way from real change, from being in the top 25 percent, as it should be, as is this administration’s goal. Malaysia ranks 29th. Why? Why isn’t the Philippines there, too? It isn’t there because real change hasn’t occurred. The bold steps I suggested last week aren’t being done. So there’s no real change.

Where there has been real change, though, is in education. The K-to-12 program is in place, is being introduced. With this program, Djibouti and Angola are now the only countries that still implement a 10-year basic education program. Complementing the K-to-12 program is the Mandatory Kindergarten Act, which was signed by the President last year. Kindergarten education is expected to sufficiently prepare children for formal education and solve the high dropout rate among primary school students. Studies have shown that children who finish preschool are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and eventually complete the 6-year primary school cycle, while those who don’t are prone to dropping out of grade school.

No Philippine university now ranks in the top 50 in Asia. Four Indian colleges are there. A complete revival of education to its levels in the 1960s and 1970s can lead to real change in so much else. Of itself, an educated populace forces change in ever so many other areas; it gives us, the people, to effect those much-needed reforms. So quality, focused education must be at the top of the government’s list of reforms.

But there’s a long way yet to go just to recover ground, to get to where the Philippines used to be, let alone where it should be. Of the factors we’ve identified as having a negative impact on business and investment, only one, economic stability, has seen any significant change. The others, such as stability of policies, dealing with corruption, unfair competition (with others paying bribes), transport infrastructure and bureaucratic red tape, have not seen real reform. When will they?

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