When gov’t works with private sector

August 17, 2007 02:04:00

The front-page photo (“Batanes schools now fully wired”) in the Inquirer’s July 31 issue, which showed students of the University of the Philippines helping “erect an antenna near the Batanes National High School in Basco,” was reminiscent of a picture of Iwo Jima taken during World War II.

The story tells how the joint effort of local leaders, civil society and the private sector led to the interconnection of all public schools in the island province of Batanes. It is a particular story with general implications. Time and again we say, “Filipinos can do it.”

To drive the point: The government did not have to enter into a shadowy contract like the $329-million NBN deal (financed through an official loan, by the way) with China’s ZTE since Filipinos can actually do the job -- at practically less cost and with no strings attached.

To drive the point further: It shows that development and infrastructure projects (which the government is fond of) may be done by local industries -- with capital from the government for pump priming; the projects don’t have to be farmed out to foreign countries. This way, the benefits to be derived from the projects will be enjoyed by more sectors.

Think about it, the Department of Transportation and Communication need not even have run a full-page ad (Inquirer, 8/4/07) paid with public funds to defend ZTE. That was simply too much for a project that Filipinos can do.

MARCO M. DE LOS REYES, national president, National Union of Students of the Philippines (via email)

Applause in Congress, boos in streets

Last updated 01:23am (Mla time) 08/07/2007

Seems like the only people who applaud the President’s speeches are her aides and allies.

On several occasions, civil society has pointed out conflicting statements in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s speeches -- especially in those speeches regarded as policy pronouncements. For instance, some time last month, during the declaration of the La Mesa watershed as a protected area, Ms Arroyo said that the watershed is a protected area “subject to private rights.” Among those who applauded that pronouncement was former Mayor Lito Atienza, who is now the environment secretary.

Of course, environmentalists took a more critical stand. Rather than praising the President, they held a press conference expressing their resolve to continue their fight for the protection of the watershed -- the “lifeblood” of Metro Manila.

In reaction to another speech, no less than the State of the Nation Address at that, agrarian reform advocates took offense at the ambivalent stand of the government on agrarian reform. Ms Arroyo said: “DAR will be moved to Davao…. 'Dapat maging daan sa tagumpay sa agribusiness ang reporma sa lupa' [Land reform should become a way for success in agribusiness]…. We must reform agrarian reform so it can transform beneficiaries into agribusinessmen and agribusinesswomen.”

Where else could it have been better said than in front of the landed class in Congress? A thunderous clap. Outside, the farmers booed.

In many other instances, the President has blurred the difference between public concerns and private interests. It is no wonder, then, that the rift between the rich and the poor is widening. Ms Arroyo has become the symbol of affluence and lack of sensitivity, as well as the guardian of the elite.

MARCO M. DELOS REYES, national president, National Union of Students of the Philippines (via email)