Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dear City, Wretched City

Are private contractors and construction companies doing enough in lending their heavy equipment like payloaders and dump trucks in order to help local governments, the MMDA, and the DPWH to clean up the mounds of mud, trash & debris left in the wake of the recent flood? Perhaps government should consider blacklisting those contractors that offer little or no help.

Those who can lend heavy equipment for the clean-up of Marikina communities are urged to send the equipment to Marikina City Hall and look for Ken Sueno or Ryan Salvador.
As we struggle with the wretchedness of our devastated communities and locales, let me share a partial reproduction of the piece "Dear City" by Filipina poet Conchitina Cruz:

"What comes from heaven is always a blessing, the enemy is not rain. Rain is the subject of prayer, the kind gesture of saints. Dear City, explain your irreverence: in you, rain is a visitor with nowhere to go. Where is the ground that knows only the love of water? What are the passageways to your heart? Pity the water that stays and rises on the streets, pity the water that floods into houses, so dark and filthy and heavy with rats and dead leaves and plastic. How ashamed water is to be what you have made it. What have you done to its beauty, its graceful body in pictures of oceans, its clear face in a glass? We walk home and cannot see our feet in the flood. We forget to thank the gods for their kindness. We look for someone to blame and turn to you, wretched city, because we are men and women of honor, we feed our children three meals a day, we never miss an election. The only explanation is you, dear city..."

"Dear City" is found in the book, "Train of Thought: Poems from 'Tulaan sa Tren,'" published by the National Book Development Board in 2008. Tulaan sa Tren was a project of the NBDB and the Light Railway Transit Authority in which posters of Philippine poems in English and Filipino were displayed in some of the trains of the LRT 2 line and recordings of the poems were played through the public address system of the LRT 2 stations during certain hours from September to November 2008.

As we help rebuild communities and lives after the great flood, may the words, verses, tracks and trains of thought and tone from our veteran and budding poets consolidate our collective conscience, clarify our sense of reality, and strengthen our sense of country.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Typhoons & the Creator Spirit

Creation is not a one-time event at the beginning of time but a process that the Creator began and which the Creator Spirit continues up to our own times. In Psalm 104:30, the psalmist praises God, and proclaims: "When You send your Spirit, creatures are created, and You renew the face of the earth." Through a process view of creation, Christians can welcome the scientific theory of the evolution of species.

What is the involvement of the Creator Spirit in calamities like those brought about by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) since Saturday last week and Typhoon Frank last year and by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991? Were these disasters willed by God as punishments for the sins of our people or of our leaders (like Gloria Macapagal Arroyo today and Cory Aquino in 1991)? Or to be accurate, were they not ecological-social disasters?

The Creator Spirit nurtures life and creation by freely opting to respect not only human freedom but also physical laws, which have evolved sometimes gradually, sometimes radically in deep time or millions and billions of years. The Spirit nurtures creation by making room for created creativity (and possible destructiveness) on the part of creatures and natural forces.

God has endowed human beings, animals, plants, and natural forces with significant autonomy from divine control. In this sense, the process of continuing creation is also the Spirit's free exercise of self-restraint in abstaining from a heavy-handed regulation of the natural world and history. The Creator Spirit freely abstains from gross intervention in the created creativity and destructiveness of nature and humanity, while at the same time this selfsame Spirit actively accompanies nature and humanity throughout their gradual and radical evolution. In this view, the Spirit's great and unequaled power is more persuasive than coercive.

The formation and movement of typhoons are part of the created creativity and destructiveness of the earth, its atmosphere, and its geo-physics, which are autonomous from the Spirit's control. Definitely the Creator Spirit did not want the loss of lives, livelihood, and homes and the displacement of people in the wake of the rains and floods initiated by Typhoon Ondoy, yet the Spirit respected the complex atmospheric and geo-physical laws that caused the sustained heavy downpour and the complex social forces and personal decisions that rendered individuals and communities ill-prepared for or maladapted to nature's ways.

Does this view offer adequate hope and compassion to the many people who are suffering from the calamity? What has to be added and expressed, not just in words, is the belief that, in the wake of the extensive suffering caused by natural, man-made, and eco-social calamities, God suffers with those who suffer, and grieves with those who grieve. God's Spirit groans with those who groan, and thus a true believer cannot be indifferent in the face of such suffering.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ensuring Textbook Quality

To ensure quality textbooks in the private school system, every school or school association like the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) should set up a textbook procurement system that requires all prospective books to go through an evaluation committee that has clear and established procedures.

Private schools should have an adequate screening system that carefully evaluates the books that they require parents to purchase for their children. If the schools effectively evaluate books before prescribing them, then the publishers will be forced to produce those of better quality knowing that there will be no market for substandard publications. After a textbook has been determined by reliable evaluation to be of good quality, only then should there be other considerations (e.g. discounts & incentives) for any procurement decision.

Unfortunately, it has been reported that some schools make their procurement decisions primarily on the basis of the discounts and incentives (e.g. low-interest loans to finance a school building, expensive gifts like a new school vehicle, or sponsorships of local and foreign trips of teachers & administrators) offered by the publishers. This practice is a major reason for the entry of poor quality books in some schools.

How can the National Book Development Board help private schools and their associations? The NBDB has a Textbook Review Service in which experts from different centers of excellence evaluate books or manuscripts that are voluntarily submitted by publishers and schools. Results of the evaluation are considered by the Governing Board, which then urges the publisher either to take into account the minor or major recommendations of the evaluators or, when the book has been determined to be of poor quality, to stop its production and sale.

Since 2008, the NBDB has given Quality Seal Awards to encourage publishers to produce better books. The agency solicits nominations from schools and publishers for the best books initially in Mathematics and English used in basic education. Six Math books and 1 English book so far have been awarded. These books were judged on the basis of content, editing and design.

I recommend that associations like CEAP should formulate and require their members to adopt a Code of Ethics in Textbook Procurement in which violators will be held accountable and which will promote fairness to the learners, their parents, and the publishers, and respect for rules and procedures.

Such a Code should make it easy for school administrators to answer questions like the following:

Is it right to solicit or accept gifts and sponsorships from publishers and suppliers?

Is it right for a school to demand high (e.g. 40%) discounts from the publishers and then sell the textbooks to the parents at the original prices?

Is it right for a school to monopolize the supply of its required textbooks especially before the opening of classes? (Some schools prohibit the publisher from making the books available through commercial outlets that might sell them at lower prices.)

In the particular case of CEAP schools, which are owned and managed by religious institutes or members of the clergy, should not Catholic parents rightly expect them to be models of fairness and accountability in their textbook procurement?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Education & Readership towards 2010 & beyond

“Our greatest asset is our people…We must invest in our people.”

This is one of the principles of the Citizens Reform Agenda 2010, which was publicly launched last September 2 by over a hundred citizens organizations. Many of our people suffer from hunger, homelessness and unemployment. To enable them to lift themselves out of poverty requires greater investment in quality education and health services.

The National Book Development Board firmly believes that the promotion of lifelong learning through readership leads to both national poverty reduction and book industry development in the medium to long terms. Thus, the agency completed the National Book Development Plan 2005-2010, and pursued its priority strategies of developing and supporting local authorship, enhancing the competitiveness of the industry, and raising textbook quality.

To develop authorship and the creative sector, the NBDB initiated and guided the enactment into law of the 2009 National Book Development Trust Fund (R.A. 9521) to support Philippine authorship in science and technology and other learning areas through annual grants that shall be distributed equitably throughout the regions.

The NBDB helped organize the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society (FILCOLS), which has been accepted as a member of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations. The agency will support FILCOLS in its pursuit of fair remuneration and adequate protection for authors and publishers whose copyrighted works are reproduced and used mostly by educational institutions and their teachers and students.

Among its accomplishments to enhance industry competitiveness are the 2003 and 2007 NBDB Readership Surveys, which were conducted nationwide and which provided pioneering data to publishers, authors, and educators on the reading habits and preferences of Filipino adults and children. In 2008, the agency organized the Philippine Association of Scholarly and Academic Publishers (PASAP) to address the needs of university-based publishers and authors.

To enhance textbook quality in the private school system, the NBDB has offered its Textbook Review Service since 2006, and launched in 2008 the annual Quality Seal Awards initially for Mathematics and English basic education books.

These accomplishments and more have been made possible by the professionalization of the NBDB as an agency and its insulation from vested interests.

May the new President in 2010 appoint members of the Governing Board who will be as competent, active and responsible as the current members. In and beyond 2010, may the NBDB continue to provide the vision and leadership in book development and readership promotion through policy and industry research, market development interventions, and capability-building programs in support of lifelong learning among our citizenry and for the growth of Philippine book publishing into a globally competitive industry.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Good vs Evil in 2010?

"If we continue to confuse political moralizing with political analysis, we will remain blind to the systemic nature of our political crises. We will forever be ousting leaders and putting in new ones, without ever making a dent on the mass poverty and social inequality that have plagued our nation since its founding." (Randy David)
Politicians who are projecting the 2010 elections as a battle of good versus evil are resorting to political moralizing, and are in danger of misleading our people especially if they reduce the root of the "evil" to one person or family, and obscure the systemic nature and the inter-generational persistence of our unsatisfactory national condition.
The primary root of our inter-generational poverty and inequality of opportunities is the enduring oligarchic system of rent-seeking families among whom are families that control media empires that prefer to entertain and sensationalize rather than provide balanced reports and validated information, and which seem to be excited to portray 2010 as a dramatic showdown between good and evil. Political moralizing is an easy but foolish attempt to raise our citizenry to a higher level of motivation and action. Let us resist this oversimplification of our national condition.