Teachers’ month

Typhoon “Ompong” roared into northern Luzon over the weekend, wreaking the usual wide swathe of damage across the mountainous regions of Ilocandia.

But I honestly think that a lot more damage was averted by the heavenly appeals of millions of Filipino prayer warriors—not to mention the high level of preparation mounted by Duterte’s Cabinet, who reminded me a lot of how PGMA responded to “Ondoy” in 2009, and contrasted sharply with the miserable response to “Yolanda” in 2013 under PNoy.

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All that uninvited water from “Ompong” should remind us that the Philippines ought to be the last country in danger of a water shortage.

But this is precisely the danger we’re facing now. Speaking at a recent session of the Arangkada Forum, former MWSS chairman Ramon Alikpala said that the lack of water supply and sanitation projects in the government’s Build Build Build program makes the country’s position on water security a cause of concern.

Foreign business chambers replied that we need to designate a Cabinet-rank “water czar” to immediately address the impending water crisis. Over the long term, however, the recommended solution was the passage of a new law to create an independent Water Regulatory Commission to govern water service provision nationwide.

A Philippine Water Summit is being planned for November. That ought to be a good time to launch long-postponed initiatives to capture and store all that seasonal typhoon rainwater especially for the populous Greater Manila regions; plan creative approaches to different types of water resources and service areas; and ensure that the entire sector is properly priced, planned, coordinated, and regulated.

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At last Friday’s Nanka media forum in Quezon City—which went ahead rain or shine—our guest was the disconcertingly young Karl Kendrick Chua, a former World Bank country specialist for the Philippines whose main job now as an undersecretary at the Finance Department is crafting Duterte’s comprehensive tax reforms and shepherding them through Congress.

The first tax reform, TRAIN-1, went into effect last January and drew a lot of criticism for higher prices caused by the law’s new or higher excise taxes. But Karl assured us that those taxes are only a small reason for inflation (the bigger ones are higher oil prices abroad, higher food costs and peso depreciation at home); the excise taxes will soon be offset by higher disposable incomes among wage-earners due to lower personal income tax rates also under the new law; and in any case, the inflationary effect is only one-off.

The second package, TRAIN-2 renamed the “TRABAHO Bill” (Filipinos do love their acronyms), proposes to lower corporate income taxes (from 30 to 20 percent) as well as rationalize investor incentives. The foreign chambers, which include a lot of export zone locators, are already hollering, “Leave PEZA alone!” To which Karl’s calm response is that nobody’s incentives are being withdrawn. They are simply being reevaluated and will be reissued under an omnibus investment code, provided they meet the perfectly reasonable standards of transparency, locator performance measurement, sunset dates, and compliance with a broader strategic investment plan.

TRABAHO has already been approved by the Lower House—thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of Speaker GMA, who thinks nothing of calling meetings on Sundays—but will face rougher sailing among the inflated egos in the Senate, especially with campaign season around the corner for the reelectionists. We can only wish USec Karl good luck in those trenches.

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Talking about inflated Senatorial egos…we came across the following online claims about the “true facts” in the case of Senator Trillanes:

His alleged Certificate of Amnesty was signed by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, not by former President Aquino. Nor was the document authenticated.

What is on record is only a pro-forma Amnesty Application, with no “Received” copy and again not authenticated.

Records of the Makati RTC show that the Trillanes mutiny case was not dismissed but only suspended.

What’s on record is a video clip of his general admission of guilt, not a written admission of specific guilt which also requires official date and signature.

Because of all the above, Trillanes’ amnesty is claimed to be “void ab initio.” This means he remains subject to a military court-martial, even as the suspended cases against him in civilian courts can simply be revived.

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I was asked to write something about the ongoing celebration of National Teachers’ Month (NTM), which started last Sept. 5 and will culminate with National Teachers’ Day on Oct. 5. This is something close to my heart, my mother having received a doctorate in education and taught all her life (at PCU and then UP).

Following a precedent set by UNESCO in 1993, the local month-long celebration of NTM started in 2008 upon the initiative of soon-to-be Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro together with Metrobank Foundation president Chito Sobrepeña. It aims to “engage the public in appreciating the contributions of Filipino teachers and the nobility of the teaching profession,” under the leadership of a multi-sectoral NTM Council.

Since its inception, and with the support of R.A. 10743 and President Aquino’s Proclamation 242, the NTM has managed to roll out a total of 532 initiatives just for the years 2012-2014; book significant tri-media mileage costing over P600-M from 2012-2015; reach over 720,000 Facebook followers in 2015 alone; and increase the number of participating organizations every year since 2008.

We’ve all heard stories about the unpaid teacher-volunteers who man the precincts every election, or about heroes and heroines in impoverished rural areas who regularly dig into their meagre salaries to pay for needed classroom supplies.

Fortunately, things have slowly been getting better. Public school teachers today in fact receive more compensation in salary, allowances and benefits compared to those in private schools, enough to prompt a reverse migration of faculty. And they may yet see their salaries double under Duterte—the same as what he delivered to soldiers and policemen—subject of course to vetting by DBM’s Ben Diokno, whose thankless job is to be the grinch, the scrooge, the party-spoiler when everybody else just wants to party.

Unfortunately, mindless partying always ends you up the same place: buried in debt. Which is what happened to too many of our public school teachers, forcing the GSIS to intervene to refinance and consolidate—most likely at huge discounts—the debts they’ve incurred from salary loans and other sources, both formal and informal.

But refinancing can only be the first step. If GSIS wants to get its money back, it will have to re-educate our educators in the fundamentals of financial literacy. To my mind, this should include two essential learnings: numeracy, of course, and—just as important—values formation. We trust that Education Secretary Liling Briones, a former National Treasurer herself, will continue to do the right thing for her millions of charges.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Typhoon Ompong , Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine Water Summit , Voltaire Gazmin , Antonio Trillanes , National Teachers’ Month
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