Twiddling your thumbs (3) | Inquirer Opinion
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Twiddling your thumbs (3)

Let’s talk about the other water problem: the water we use. A human being needs about 150-200 liters of water a day. For a population of 94 million, that’s around 19,000 million liters per day. A population of 170 million, a short 30 years from now, will need around 34,000 million liters per day. Metro Manila’s around 12.5 million residents need about 2,500 million liters of water per day. The entire metropolitan area is highly vulnerable to water shortage. The root of the problem? Its main source, Angat Dam (which supplies 97 percent of the residents’ potable water), cannot meet the demand anymore. Metro Manila needs more dams. But the plan to construct the Laiban Dam, which is projected to provide 1,900 million liters of water per day, has not progressed. And it seems little else is being done.

The longer-term future of the Philippines is being held hostage by an educational system that has deteriorated alarmingly over the years. There is urgent need to strengthen the curricula, upgrade teacher capability (and increase their salaries), and improve administration. But progress is hampered by a serious lack of funds. There just isn’t enough money in government to build the 150,000 classrooms needed to bring  down the number of students per class to a more realistic 45, let alone to the ideal 30 (which would need 220,000 classrooms). There aren’t even enough funds for the textbooks each child needs, let alone the desks and chairs—or computers. To fund this, government should release the Countryside Development Fund (pork barrel) to senators and congressmen only for projects related to education and health. Educating children should be the top priority after food and health. That will win votes too.

Education should have English as the major language beyond the early years. Once the leader in Asia, it is becoming the region’s laggard at a time when the “Information Technology” Revolution—a revolution that’s changing societies—is demanding more English-speaking people. The winners, quite simply, will be those who can speak and, most importantly, comprehend English, and are good at Math and Science (where the Philippines has sunk off the map, ranking 41st and 42nd, respectively, among 45 countries).

There are about 8.5 million Filipinos abroad because they speak English. Some 600,000 business process outsourcing employees (more than 60 percent of them in call centers) would have been added to the ranks of 4.2 million unemployed if they didn’t speak English. Nationality is not defined by language but by attitude. And if everyone spoke English as they used to, it would become the language at home.

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As to population, the Church has the right to have a position on population: that natural family planning methods are the only ones acceptable to God. Nonetheless, the Philippines is a secular state; it must take into account all Filipinos, not just the Catholics though they constitute the overwhelming majority. And some 70 percent of Filipinos, including Catholics, want family planning. The government has a responsibility to provide services to all citizens, no matter what their religious beliefs or consciences dictate. Accordingly, the government is duty-bound to provide information, assistance and access to all kinds of family planning methods to whoever asks. Catholics should abide by their conscience and the Church can guide them accordingly. But it cannot dictate to the State. The arguments—for and against—on the this issue have been articulated repeatedly and interminably (for some 13 years), there’s nothing more to say. It’s time to vote.

It’s time for Charter change, too—to thoroughly overhaul the economic provisions. They were written at a reactionary (to Marcos) time when protectionism was all the rage. Today, there’s national confidence recognizing the huge benefits that opening up to the world can bring. The opening-up should occur now.

The huge inequality that exists today—where 79 percent of the population belongs to the low-income group, while only 5 percent is in  the high-income group, and the middle class is way too small (16 percent) needs leveling. This can only be done through job creation; there is no other way. Yet the necessary high-level attention to achieving it isn’t there.

Business surveys list corruption, red tape, policy inconsistency, and poor and lack of infrastructure as major areas of concern. These must be focused on in the next few years.

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The government has identified seven priority sectors, but all attention and effort would best be focused on four of these: agriculture/agribusiness; tourism; information technology/business process outsourcing; and mining. These are the ones that can create jobs, and three of them do so where they are most needed—in the rural areas. Economic growth is fine, but job growth is what is needed.

But relying on just these four sectors won’t be quite enough to sustain the poverty-reducing 7 percent plus-GDP growth level over the next four years. Nor will it pave the road for inclusive growth. A refocusing on manufacturing-related industries, where the country can be potentially competitive, will. And growth at over 7 percent on sustained multi-year basis must be attained if poverty is to be truly addressed. Anything less than this won’t do it. Manufacturing creates the jobs, especially for most workers without the college education that the services sector requires. Thus is the most effective antipoverty solution. To encourage investments in manufacturing, adequate infrastructure and a better investment climate are essential. The failure of previous governments to provide these essentials needs to be corrected. The Aquino administration has a lot to do.

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TAGS: education, featured column, Population growth, water

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