Politics, Education, and Poverty
Byline: Fidel Valdez Ramos
THE bitter, poisoned political debate continues with no clear resolution in sight. Every move by one side is answered by a countermove, every tape by a countertape, every witness by a counterwitness, every press release by a counter press-release, every opinion column by a counteropinion column, every talk show by a counter-talk show. So, when will it end? Meantime, every day that passes without our elected leaders coming to a consensus that would lead to short-term relief and long-term solutions prolongs the agony of ordinary Filipinos, especially the poor. By the vehemence of most of the discussions coming from different angles, it would seem that our politicians opposition and administration alike have no other interest but to eliminate PGMA, on one hand, or to protect her tenure as President, on the other. One of the most critical programs being sidelined and neglected by the interminable congressional investigations and mediabashing is education at all levels at a time when the quality of young working people is at a premium around the world.
At the XIV Triennial Conference of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) in Bangkok last month in which I participated as a keynote speaker, education issues were widely discussed, particularly in terms of the competitiveness of nations in the 21st century, globalization and its impact on human security, and people empowerment as a primary weapon to fight poverty. Among the important conclusions at that international conference is that, on balance, globalization can be more beneficial than disadvantageous. This is especially true for the developing country whose leadership is intelligent enough to moderate globalizations sometimes brutal impact on vulnerable communities and workpeople by balancing economic growth and social development. This is, in fact, what the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations is all about to which all member-countries, including the Philippines, are committed to achieve by the year 2015.
Democratic solutions essential
The solutions to our ills we must seek democratically; through a functional system of government that enables ordinary people to obtain their basic needs and achieve their ultimate aspirations.
In any listing of poor peoples priorities, education ranks among the highest because education is the ultimate ladder of opportunity for any aspiring individual. More than just an economic advantage in the struggle to earn a living, education enables poor people to look critically at the social and political situation and provokes them to act to transform the society that may have denied them the opportunity of participation.
In East Asia, this great awakening has been responsible for the transformation of even authoritarian states into working democracies. Cynics used to say democracy is a luxury poor countries cannot afford. To the contrary, we know that democracy can sometimes spell the difference between life and death for poor people.
For instance, Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sens study of the famines in India, Ethiopia, and the Saharan states led him to conclude that massstarvation can occur even when there is enough food if unaccountable governments remain indifferent to their peoples distress. He affirmed that, in all these famines, "it was the lack of democracy, not the lack of food, that left millions dead."
Of course, the lack of democracy can arise, not necessarily from authoritarianism, but simply from a weakness of the State. This is what PGMA, Congress and civil society must now tackle with urgency and positive effect. The weakness of the Philippine State prevents it from carrying our "hard" reforms and broadening our electoral democracy. Historically, this weakness has enabled economic oligarchs, political cronies and smart opportunists (read "turncoats")to use their privileged access to the machinery of government to extract "unearned income" from the economy. …