Taking the ride in speeding TRAIN
A sudden halt sends me colliding with the passenger adjacent to me. Falling asleep in a jeepney is the worst.
Morning air and outside hubbub crash into focus as I take off my ear buds. Watch check: just a few more minutes. Through the window I spot a stall offering cigarettes, street food, and Coke; the sweet latter is appealing, but P40 for a bottle still seems silly.
I reach for gold and silver shine in my pockets, wondering if the fare has increased, just as costs have risen for fuel and the calibrated taxis.
Luckily, the driver accepts with no complaint and I hop off at the looming stop, onward to meet my school gates.
For me, it’s another regular day. But it’s also a picture of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, this time trickled down to a middle-class student’s life.
Dutertenomics is set to affect all walks of life, its primary facets being the decrease in personal income tax, the simplification of the value-added tax, and the increase of excise taxes on products such as petroleum, autos, sweetened beverages, etc.
In the simplest sense, it is a chugging ride of recalibration: higher take-home pay and purchasing power for average households and simultaneously increased prices to generate revenue. Thus, depending on who you ask, the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) is set to make over P130 billion, the bulk of which is meant to fund such priority activities as the administration’s “Build, build, build” infrastructure program and socioeconomic projects.
And the key letter we should watch for? “I,” for inclusive. Inclusive in the sense that it should protect the poor; inclusive in the sense that it should give a chance to those who can only imagine the luck and privilege inherent in my “regular school day.” After all, the motto is “No one left behind.” Every youth, each and every one of the nation’s 33 million young voices, will and should count in our nation-building.
The drastic truth, however, is that one in ten Filipinos (aged 15-24) is an out-of-school youth. This means that there is an alarming four million out there who are not attending school, who have not finished any postsecondary course, and who are not working. Even within schools, the situation is not conducive, with the average student-to-teacher ratios in public high classrooms reaching up to 55:1. The budget is also paltry, with the “chalk allowance” for annual school supplies at only P2,500.
Already, there are projects addressing the root causes of insufficient family income, conflicts of interest, and inadequate funding. The Abot-Alam of the Department of Education and the National Youth Commission are among these. Sadly, progress is at a snail’s pace, tracking only 1.2 million out-of-school youth and enrolling only about 600,000 in alternate skills training.
Hence the undoubted necessity of a policy on accessible quality education. The Department of Finance projects that the TRAIN, in the next five years, can fund 600,000 classrooms or two million public school teachers. Alongside are bigger prospects for teacher’s salary and the already sizeable P550-billion education budget. Promising, yes, but as in all legislation in infancy, remains a standing claim.
The question, therefore, is not whether there will be money, but, rather, where this money will go. We need to address the out-of-school youth, the unfortunate state of many school facilities, and the neglected students who we have decided we can do without.
If their numbers are left unchecked, we will have a stockpile of idle, wasted opportunities.
If the money is well-invested, then we will give a shot to numerous young people who could be productive workers, businesspeople, public servants, and private practitioners who will advance the economy if granted just a fragment of what it means to live my “regular school day.”
Because at the heart of the TRAIN is not only “I” for inclusion but also “I” for implementation. And it is ultimately at this railroad fork of execution that we can determine whether the light at the end of the tunnel is opportunity—or just another train poised to run us over.
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Felix Arthur C. Dioso, 18, of Davao City, is a “freelance procrastinator” at the Philippine Science High School–Southern Mindanao Campus.
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