Building a civic army of patriot-scholars
The midterm elections are a week away, and once again, the nation is at a crucial crossroads, yet others await in the wings. Future battles will turn on how well we prepare for them at present. The flare-up episodes of insurgency, poverty, corruption and crime that jerk us around will continue unless we achieve inclusive security, inclusive development and inclusive governance.
To achieve these, we require a civic army that we have yet to fully imagine and build.
The drive to reach the poorest of the poor provinces and municipalities and provide them with some form of assistance from the government is such a herculean task. It seems only the Philippine military is capable of reaching the yet unreachable interstices of the country.
But there are other armies that have been quietly on the move. At any one time, there are about 30,000 Filipinos who receive undergraduate and graduate scholarships from the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI), predominantly students from economically disadvantaged families, future science and math teachers, and pure “merit” scholars. These scholars receive monthly stipends ranging from P7,000
(undergraduate) to P33,000 per month (PhD students). Out of 1,650 municipalities, only 50 have no DOST scholars.
These are the “troops” the Patriot-Scholar Program are orienting and mobilizing. In a nutshell, the program aims to set these DOST-SEI scholars on a clear and strong pathway to patriotic service to community and nation, over the next 50 years of their professional careers.
The main rationale for the DOST-SEI scholarship program is to build the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals in the country to the 380 STEM graduates per million population level, as Unesco recommends. Under the leadership of SEI director Josette Biyo and Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, the scholarship program is now marching to an equally urgent and strategic drum, the 1987 Constitution, which mandates that patriotism and nationalism be fostered by education, science and technology, arts, culture and sports.
This patriotism angle should have been axiomatic for a program where the people’s money is being used to provide career opportunities to selected students. But this orientation and training for patriotism started in earnest only in February 2017, in the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology campus.
To date, the Patriot-Scholar Program has undertaken 20 two-day sessions across the country, covering over 4,000 patriot-scholar volunteers in various regions across the country.
This is no run-of-the-mill patriotism mobilization program. It is a field-tested, multiphased set of engagements that aim for the habitual engagement of science scholars in actual community problem-solving. The meat of the program is skill-building in participatory problem and solution analysis, a visit of the scholars to five to eight poor barangays in the region, and conversations with specific sectoral representatives—women, youth, senior citizens, persons with disability, men, LGBTQ and, where applicable, indigenous peoples — about their situation and challenges, and exploring the range of solutions and resource institutions that can help solve these problems.
The key message to the students is: The operational pathway to patriotism is volunteerism, an engagement in community problem-solving as opposed to personal or family problem-solving. They must begin to volunteer habitually now, not after they have built a successful career. Learning to develop oneself and the community must go hand-in-hand.
The battle for the minds of the Filipino people is the civic battle space we are in. Filipinos must reorient from privatizing public resources to learning to be instruments of community- and nation-building.
I look at the Patriot-Scholar Program not only as a source of volunteers. As I keep one eye on the May 2019 elections, I keep the other on future elections beginning 10 years from now, when patriot-scholars join the political fray and take the reins from political dynasties in their little corners of the country.
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