12:33 AM July 4th, 2013

By: Conrado de Quiros, July 4th, 2013 12:33 AM

I was dumbstruck by a couple of stories last Tuesday.

The first was that P-Noy would personally supervise the handing out of new guns to the police. Specifically, the President was all set to distribute 22,603 9-mm pistols to Philippine National Police personnel in Camp Crame. These are part of the 59,904 pistols acquired by the PNP last year with the aim of equipping every cop with a handgun.

“This will be the biggest distribution of firearms,” Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac said proudly. He noted that the government was able to save a substantial amount of money with the procurement. One Glock 17 Gen4 costs P40,000 in the open market, but the PNP got it at P16,659 in a special deal with a local distributor. The government was able to save P200 million from an original P1.2-billion budget.

The second story was P-Noy vowing to modernize the military, and in particular the air force. “While we look back at the rich history of the Philippine Air Force,” he said in a speech at Clark Air Base during the PAF’s 66th anniversary, “there is one thing that is noticeable: While we, in 1963, had the capability to help and send squadrons to other nations, why is it that in the last decades, it seemed that the wings of our Air Force had been clipped, and we rely only on old, rickety planes and equipment?”

He swore to spend P75 billion over the next years to upgrade the Armed Forces, P43 billion going to the air force and the navy. He said the P28 billion he spent in the first 19 months of his term to modernize the AFP already came close to the P33 billion that the three previous administrations spent on the same program. “In celebrating the 66th anniversary of the PAF, the government shows a new face and our soldiers display a new face to the world. [We are] flying with a new strength toward a stable future,” he said.

I don’t know how many people apart from the generals are going to be elated by these reports. Only a few weeks ago, several stories also came out that showed the following:

One, Quacquarelli Symonds, a British organization specializing in education, noted that the quality of Philippine universities was falling. Only the University of the Philippines remained among the top 100 of 300 schools in Asia; Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle, and University of Santo Tomas, though still in the middle ranges, slipped during the past year. Specifically, UP improved from 68th to 67th while Ateneo fell from 86th to 109th, La Salle fell from 142th to 151th, and UST fell from 140th to 150th. Nine other Philippine universities who were among the top 300 in 2012 were no longer there this year, having fallen below the 300 mark. They were: Silliman University, Xavier University, Saint Louis University, University of San Carlos, Ateneo de Davao University, Adamson University, Central Mindanao University, Mapua Institute of Technology, and Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Two, the Freedom from Debt Coalition noted that last year the budget for debt payments was P739 billion, three times more than the budget for education, which was only P224.9 billion. The latter was only 2.2 percent of GNP, well below the world benchmark of 6 percent. Unesco notes that the Philippines has the lowest expenditure for education in proportion to total budget. Since 1955, education has dropped from 30.78 of the budget to 15 percent post-Edsa. This year’s education budget at 14.97 percent is lower than the post-Edsa average of 15 percent. In fact, this is lower than the average spending for education in Southeast Asia and the regional average for East and South Asia.

No, I cannot see how other than the police and military chiefs, the rest of the country can greet the distribution of new guns and modernization of the military with much elation. While at this, what happens to the old handguns that will be replaced by the new Glocks? Given that some of the arms from the government armory have a way of finding themselves in unofficial, or private, or civilian, hands, indeed in less than savory unofficial, private, and civilian hands like the Ampatuans’, the question is worth asking.

In 1963, we might have been sending squadrons of planes to other countries while today we’ve been reduced to making do with rickety airborne coffins, which is truly lamentable. But in 1963, we were still experiencing an economic boom with a thriving industry courtesy of import-substitution, which Diosdado Macapagal would soon demolish by a policy of decontrol, and could afford it. More to the point, in 1963, our universities were among the top 100 in Asia, if not in the world, and drew students from all over the region. UP, for one, particularly its school in Los Baños, drew Thais in droves who learned the secrets of the “green revolution.” Now they are regularly producing jasmine rice, a hybrid of its own invention, while we, home of the International Rice Research Institute, are importing rice. That is an infinitely more lamentable pass.

Economics, as we learn from school, top 100 or not, is the art or science of husbanding resources. Or less politically incorrectly, it is the art or science of efficiently using scant resources. I don’t know how efficient our use of scant resources is in allocating huge sums to supply cops with more guns and fighter pilots with more planes when our education is in a state that makes “rickety” a benign description. I don’t know how well we can protect ourselves from our enemies with these levels of expenditures for arms and defense. Indeed, I don’t know how well we can protect ourselves from our enemies with even much bigger expenditures for arms and defense. What I do know is this: We may know what it is we’re protecting ourselves from, but what are we protecting ourselves for?

I’ve always thought ignorance was the greatest enemy of all.

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