COMMENTARY: A 100 Million Strong

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/01 May) — The presidential election is just around the corner and pretty soon we will be bombarded by the same old rhetoric edifying the masa. The poor Filipino will once again be the subject of political piety and the object of unmet promises.

Let us change course and momentarily suspend the view of the population as a collection of ignorant and poor citizens begging to be “saved” by politicians. For once, let us look at Filipinos as a critical economic resource. Not simply the passive recipient of progress, but actually the main driver.

In his book Diamond Dilemma, author Tariq Hussain wrote about the Korean experience demonstrating this kind of economic viewpoint:

“Asked to explain the reasons for Korea’s rapid economic ascent, economists will provide different interpretations. Broadly speaking, the two mains schools are the neoclassical view, which focuses on competitive export industries, and the revisionist view, which points to the role of the government in picking and pushing national champions. Both claims are valid in a sense but both fail to sufficiently recognize the real creators of modern Korea. Ultimately, it was the Koreans themselves who were responsible for making the world take notice of their country.”

If we accept the potential of the Filipino population to be drivers of economic growth, then it would be very hard to ignore the immense size of this virtually untapped natural resource.

According to the National Statistics Office, around 52 million Filipinos are currently of productive working age. Meaning, about half of our population can potentially form part of a work force to power the economic engines of the country for the next couple of years.

The challenge therefore is how to translate this huge number into clear and tangible economic benefits for the country. Once again, the case of South Korea is very helpful and it points to just one way, EDUCATION.

In their book, South Korea Since 1980, authors Uk Heo and Terrence Roehrig wrote:

“Because of South Korea’s heavy investment in education and miraculous economic development, the World Bank describes South Korea as follows: “Korea’s successful knowledge-based development experience offers many valuable lessons for developing economies. The country has invested heavily in education and training, boosting innovation through intensive research and development, and developing modern and accessible infrastructure.””

Indeed, the view of the population as the main driver of economic development entails giving education, both formal and tech-voc, unprecedented premium. And even if education of the population is not the avowed development goal, the same should still play a prominent and indispensable part in the whole program.

Meaning, if the goal is to open the country to millions of tourists then at the top of the strategy list to attain this must be the training of Filipinos in hospitality services. Or if the objective is to exploit the mineral resources of the country, then the first priority must be to enhance education in geological science, engineering and technology. The point here is that whatever economic policy the government may formulate, the education of the people must never come second in its implementation.

Of course, I would rather see education as a priority economic policy. I want the government to comply with the directive in Section 17 of Article II of the Constitution which says:

“The State shall give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development.”

Unfortunately, unlike the government of South Korea, our government has never put such grave importance on education. This is ably proven by the national budgets of successive administrations. The most current proof though is the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.

A few years back a noted Filipino economist told me that this document was simply a compilation of facts and statistics explained by motherhood statements expressing aspiration more than strategy.

True enough, this development plan can only offer us this broad statement of ambition—“Equalize access to development opportunities across geographical areas and across different income and social spectrum through quality education…” But the plan is bereft of any specific and workable strategy on how to achieve this objective.

All 2016 aspirants should therefore take heed. Filipinos have grown tired of mere slogans or sound-bytes. As far as improving our education system is concerned, we demand a firm commitment to establish a genuine comprehensive national education framework.

Promises of more classrooms and textbooks will not be enough. We want to hear a specific policy to uplift the quality of educators. We want to hear concrete ways to increase their pay and definite steps to enhance their training. Indeed, we want Presidentiables to anchor their national development plans on the empowerment of our people through education.

There can be no doubt that treating the Filipino population as a burden has not worked for our socio-economic aspirations. The plain fact is Filipinos are an economic asset, a 100 million strong. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is presently completing a Masters of Law and Development in Melbourne Law School. He recently published a book entitled, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.)