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He’s our Dick!

“You’re our Dick!” exclaimed Bobby Joseph, a prominent tourism figure at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” that had as guest newly-elected Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon.

Despite the naughty connotations—about par for the course in these days of presidential cussing and off-color jokes—the laughter and applause that followed were indicative of the general support that Gordon enjoyed. A veteran politician, Gordon had spent the hiatus after several electoral defeats for the Senate and even for the presidency (in 2010) as chair of the Philippine National Red Cross. As such, he was seldom away from the public eye, given the frequency and gravity of the disasters that visited the country. He was also a broadcaster during those years.

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But these days, Gordon is preparing to assume his Senate seat. And perhaps unlike other winners who may still be learning the ropes, Gordon enters the halls of the Senate with a full menu of priorities and proposed measures to address what he sees as the major problems of the country.

Foremost on his mind, he says, is the state of education in the country, which he deems the basis for any sort of progress the country would hope to achieve in the near and farther future.

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“It’s the teacher, stupid,” is Gordon’s brief prescription for what ails the Philippines. To improve the level of instruction and bring Filipino children up to the level of their neighbors in the region, Gordon says it is necessary first of all to lift the status of teachers in society, and then give them the wherewithal to lead secure lives, develop their skills and competence, and improve their relationships with their students.

Gordon backs up his assertion with facts and figures. The basic monthly salary (in peso value) of a public school teacher in Korea is P115,000. In Japan it is P108,000. Teachers in Malaysia earn at least P90,000 a month, while those in China earn P50,000, and in Singapore P33,000.  Compare this with the P18,549 monthly salary of a Filipino teacher, and you  realize why our teaching force is not just underpaid, but also demoralized and disrespected.

“We need to invest in education,” Gordon asserts. And that means not just raising teachers’ salaries, but shelling out funds as well for such basics as classrooms, desks, books and teaching materials.

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The come-backing senator tells of visiting an elementary school in Sapang Palay (one of the first relocation sites for urban poor dwellers) some years ago, and being moved to tears by one elementary school student.

In the middle of the day, the 10-year-old pupil asked to be excused to go home. When Gordon asked the teacher why the youngster was being let off early, he was told that the child needed to rush back home to prepare lunch for his siblings. Their parents, he was told, had to stay in Manila for much of the week, and simply left their eldest child with money to buy food for the rest of the week. “If the parents went home every day,” said

Gordon, “then they would be spending most of their earnings on transportation, leaving little for their family.”

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This is the reality of abject poverty that every politician confronts if not during his term, then at least during the campaign, when house-to-house sorties bring the candidates in intimate contact with the misery in which so many of our people live.

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Apart from education, though, Gordon counts among his priorities the building up of communities devastated by natural disasters and the marshaling of government resources to address even the most basic needs.

This is where his years of experience with the Red Cross have served him well. He has a slide show of the many accomplishments achieved by the volunteer organization, with financial help from “the rest of the world” through the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the brains and labor of a largely volunteer workforce.

The slides show an impressive array of machinery and equipment, including tents and portable houses, built houses made with volunteer labor from materials provided by the Red Cross, earth-movers, and even a humongous “roll-on, roll-off” vessel from Seattle that the local Red Cross was able to buy at a bargain.

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But even if he may be counted among President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters in the Senate, Gordon urges the media present at the forum not to “leave the government alone.”

Despite the testy relationship resulting from Duterte’s confrontational style, the media really don’t have anything to fear from the incoming President, says the senator. “As a mayor of longstanding (of Olongapo) I understand where Duterte is coming from. That is how we talk to our local constituents. Although I suppose he will have to temper his language when talking before national and international media.”

One thing he can assure the public though, says Gordon. “Under Duterte, peace and order will be better.” The most basic requirements for any sort of progress to take place in a country, he argues, is “unity and stability.” And these qualities, given the stern hand promised by the President-elect, as well as his rabid support from the poorer sectors, should be easy to impose and maintain.

Perhaps giving the new President the benefit of the doubt may be harder in these times of testy relations. But while we have yet see a honeymoon taking place, an uneasy ceasefire might not be such a bad or difficult thing.

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TAGS: dick Gordon, Media, Rodrig Duterte, Senate
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