Arroyo’s legacy in education

MANILA, Philippines–My father did not finish high school (my mother hardly attended primary school). However, he valued education as the gateway to success and the way out of grinding poverty. So, he worked doubly hard as a lowly government employee to see his four children through college. And to his delight, my eldest sister Tessie graduated “summa cum laude” with her chemistry degree, my only brother Nardo topped the board exam for electrical engineers, and my “Ate” Loleng finished her commerce studies.

Passion for education. To be a lawyer was my strong-willed father’s impossible dream. So, he overruled my own preference for chemical engineering and insisted on a law career for me, the youngest of the brood. But I could not enjoy my scholarship at the University of the Philippines because I could not afford the bus fare to the UP campus in Quezon City. “Diyan ka sa FEU. Hindi na kailangan ang pamasahe [Go to Far Eastern University. You won’t need money for the bus fare],” he told me.

His scrimping advice was prophetic because he died while I was still a pre-law freshman. (My mother passed away a few years after.) In deference to his wishes, I resisted the temptation of shorter courses and persevered with my law studies. My eldest sister and brother, who already finished their courses, provided me shelter and meals. But I had to maintain my FEU scholarship. To earn pocket money, I sold bibles to my professors and textbooks to my classmates. No stranger to hard knocks, I hawked newspapers, peddled cigarettes and shined shoes during my elementary and high school days.

Due to lack of means, I could not take up masteral studies at Yale. But I adhered to my father’s passion for education. I visited on our children my frustrated postgraduate aspiration. And true enough, each of our four daughters Len, Celine, Tet and Mabel finished graduate degrees in the University of California, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and Harvard. Our only son Archie did even better; he got two masters and a PhD (in engineering economic systems) from Stanford University aside from music courses in UP (summa cum laude) and in Munich, Germany.

Before I retired as chief justice, I helped my law clerks get scholarships in Harvard (Anna Su), Columbia (Cherry Bonoan), University College London (Joel Gregorio) and University of Toronto (Rommel Salvador).

Neglect of higher education. Please pardon my immodest breast-thumping. I merely wanted to show that in a poor country like ours, the ultimate aspiration of parents is to have their children or wards educated. And to urge President Macapagal-Arroyo to prioritize education as one of her enduring legacies.

Last Sunday, I discussed the two major programs of the Department of Education to provide basic “education for all.” While the feedback to that column has been favorable, readers nonetheless bewailed the inability of our government to conform to the 12-year global standard in basic education and its sheer neglect of higher education.

Illustrative of the government’s dereliction is the anguished call of the 170-member Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (Pacu) for a permanent head of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd). Pacu president Gonzalo Duque lamented that CHEd acting chair Romulo Neri’s “brilliance is misplaced.” Not having a doctoral degree, he is not qualified to head CHEd. Duque gave Neri a “failing grade of 4 (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest).”

Even more deplorable is the utter disregard of the results of the Education Summit convened last Jan. 31. I perused the impressive recommendations of the various workshops presided over by world-class educators (Drs. Patricia Licuanan, Rosita Navarro, Lydia Echauz, Maria Cristina Padolina, Reynaldo Vea, Emmanuel Angeles and Vincent Fabella), anyone of whom could be an outstanding CHEd chair.

Dr. Angeles was emphatic on the need for a close linkage between education and the human resources requirements of business. He saw the necessity of a two-year course after high school to prepare graduates for the specialized needs of the workplace, and to put our basic education at par with the 12-year global standard.

I am convinced that this selfless convergence of talent at the Education Summit has produced all that is theoretically needed to propel higher education. The wonder is that nothing has been done to implement the confab’s recommendations.

DM’s passion for education. Like my Kapampangan father, President Diosdado Macapagal–the poor boy from Lubao–had a passion for education. But unlike my “tatay,” he attained his dream: not only to be an attorney but also to be class valedictorian and bar exam topnotcher, with two doctorates in law and in economics to boot. He liberated himself from destitution through education. His worthy daughter, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has no less outstanding academic credentials from the best institutions here and in the United States, finishing her doctorate in economics prior to becoming our country’s top official.

Madam President, you too must have a passion for academic excellence. Please take time to look at the problems of higher education, and give the millions of Filipino students an opportunity to fulfill their dreams of conquering ignorance and poverty. You can start by appointing a permanent CHEd chair and by organizing the Legal Education Board as proposed in my column last April 13. You have enough time, two years more, to build a legacy in education.

At another time, I shall write on two other possible “e” legacies, the economy and energy.

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