POSTSCRIPT / July 29, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Golden idea of having a school per barangay

THE threatened investigation of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee into an alleged bribery for the recall of a presidential veto of a telecommunications franchise promises to be bloody.

That is, if the protagonists cannot be held back anymore. Or if the circus masters insist that the show must go on.

Some senators thirsting for blood want to hear from former Malacañang correspondence secretary Bing Rodrigo the sordid details of her accusation that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo took a P50-million bribe (he denied it) for the veto’s recall (it was not recalled).

We don’t know if the die is cast for Ms. Rodrigo. Some of her friends have expressed concern that some politicians might just use her as an unwitting bludgeon. We assume, however, that she is old enough to be able to see through that.

* * *

THERE is still a chance, however, that the Senate would not go through with the inquiry. The possible reasons for the showdown not materializing are (not necessarily in the order of their probability):

  • The Senate is unable to get enough incriminating documents to justify a fishing expedition. It is beneath the Senate to launch a full-blown inquiry and trifle with the reputation of private persons on the basis of a mere affidavit and cellphone text messages.
  • Ms. Rodrigo herself will balk at pushing her serious accusations and opening herself to detailed scrutiny.
  • Mutual friends of Ms. Rodrigo and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will patch up things between the two, who after all have been buddies since grade school and through some personal crises.
  • The Ombudsman will open its own investigation, as it is mandated by law, and preempt the threatened Senate investigation.

* * *

BASED on the information we have gathered so far, details of the personal lives of some people would have to be brought out to explain why they acted the way they did. It’s going to be messy.

IF I were GMA, I would do my best not to get angry with Ms. Rodrigo, but would look for a way to help her through this crisis as she (GMA) had done in the past.

And if I were Ms. Rodrigo, I would go on a retreat, shun politicians, and do some soul-searching.

* * *

THE night before she delivered her State of the Nation Address before the 12th Congress, President Arroyo hied off to the Batasan to rehearse her speech from the same podium where she was to deliver it.

In the middle of her speech, she started giggling uncontrollably. The reason? Asleep on one of the chairs in the cavernous hall was a man oblivious to the presidential presence and her verbal flourish. (He later turned out to be a tired technician waiting for her to finish).

The President was able to go on with her rehearsal, but later remarked to her handlers that she did not realize till then that her speech dotted with statistical data could be so boring that a listener would actually sleep through it.

That was one of the reasons, she said, why she edited out some of the heavier technical terms and replaced them with plain talk that everybody would understand.

* * *

EVEN her critics in the opposition, it seems, understood her SONA. Here was a road map showing in clear terms where the President wants to take the nation in the next year and the next till 2004.

She gave clear targets, schedules, budgets and explanations of how she intends to attain the goals. Now, that could be scary to opposition leaders looking for a chance for a comeback.

The President painted a bleak economic picture all right, but assured the nation that with everybody pitching in — including the opposition whom she asked to agree to a brief moratorium on political warfare — we could go over the hump within the schedule she had set.

Still, we were amazed at how opposition senators declared that the economy was worse than how she described it. Unwittingly, they confirmed that the economy was in shambles when GMA inherited it from former President Erap Estrada.

* * *

THE President’s report was dotted with specific areas of concern that the press (or even the Office of the Press Secretary) could turn into a series of interesting multi-media features that could be offered to the public in small digestible morsels.

The dramatic touch of three boys from the Payatas dump sending messages to the President on paper boats left to float on the Pasig to Malacañang is actually an old story but it can stand retelling.

The story of the three boys — Jayson, Jomar and Erwin — had been printed by a major newspaper and their picture published in another daily long before GMA even started to think of her SONA.

* * *

THE NGO looking after the Payatas squatter colony wanted an effective way of having their messages reach the busy President. They hit upon the idea of sending their notes on symbolic paper boats.

Of course Pasig does not meander near Payatas and paper boats placed on the river cannot hope to reach the Palace several kilometers away. One does not have to be a rocket scientist, or even a senator, to know that.

But the magic of the imaginative gimmick was that the messages of the boys, and through them the rest of the maralita (the poor), actually reached the President.

The end result is history. GMA made them a focal point of her SONA and rode on their paper boats to deliver an urgent message to the rest of the community on the crying need for addressing the issue of mass poverty.

The paper boats did not sink, after all. They and their important message have reached the President and, through her, the entire nation.

* * *

THAT point in the SONA about having a school building in every barangay caught our attention, because we have been thinking along that line since way back.

As the President pointed out, that is not a tall order, nor an expensive undertaking, because all that the government has to do is attend to the school building program to catch up with the backlog.

And it’s not only government moving in that direction. The Chinese community, for instance, has been building and donating school buildings to poor communities nationwide for the past several years.

* * *

THE idea of barangay elementary schools is revolutionary in a sense.

If there is a school in every barangay nationwide, including the urban areas, big enough to accommodate all children in the barangay, we will solve in one fell swoop the traffic problem caused by students commuting to and from school.

We have in mind a rule that parents who choose public schools must enroll their children only in the school in their barangay. Public schools will be forbidden to accept students who do not live in the area.

Every public elementary school will be within walking distance of the students.

* * *

NO student will ride to school. Parents-teachers associations will work out a system whereby students must not walk alone to and from school. They will be bunched together from their homes in their neighborhood and made to walk together to and from school.

No student will be allowed to leave the school premises if not with his group. Each group will have a nominal leader looking after the members.

Students must go straight home. If they want to go elsewhere, say to the mall, they must first go home and change.

Strict enforcement of the system will also help instill discipline and revive the Filipino’s being a good kapitbahay (neighbor). We’re sure parents of children going to public schools would welcome this.

Imagine the traffic, safety and discipline problems that the barangay school system could help solve if pursued in the spirit we described it!

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 29, 2001)

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