POSTSCRIPT / February 4, 2003 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mine eyes have seen the Columbia omen

WILL BUSH SEE IT?: Many of us saw it as such, an omen, but would not dare be caught saying it in all seriousness.

But now Billy Esposo of COPA (Council of Philippine Affairs) writes of seeing “the omen” in the midair explosion last Saturday of the Columbia space shuttle in its homeward descent to earth — and we pass on to you his intro:

“The American president will not heed the counsel of allies. The appeal of the Pope meant nothing to him. He ignores the lessons of history. Maybe, now he will heed the warning of what appears to be the omen.

“Last night, shortly before 11 pm of Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, I saw on CNN breaking news the coverage of the Columbia space shuttle tragedy. The vision of the white streak across the blue sky on its downward trajectory resembling the feared ominous comet that preceded a world war, the significance of the name Columbia being the otherwise term for America, the further presence among the crew of the very first Israeli astronaut; Israel being the root of the Mideast crisis — all combined to suggest to me that this was an omen. By 11 pm, I was sending text messages to friends and kin about the foreboding I interpreted in the unfolding drama in the American skies.

“By early Sunday morning, Feb. 2, the foreboding was reinforced by further developments which were the scene of the action being the home state of George W. Bush and a big bulk of the debris having fallen on a Texas town named Palestine.

“I will have to admit that I am not presuming to have shifted career path into what are normally the turf of seers and prophets, but I do have genes on the mother side which in our clan history has manifested sensitivity to these readings.

“I cannot forget my late mother’s sadness on the afternoon of the 1965 inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos. Just when most of the nation was upbeat about the new president and his promise to make us great again, my mother saw signs (which I saw too) and said to me that the Marcos presidency will, in its later stages, be a presidency which will initiate a lot of sad times for the Philippines….”

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TAKING IT AWAY: Our inbox is bursting with email from Filipinos abroad expressing concern that the absentee voting law promised them by the Constitution and a parade of presidents might become illusory if and when moves to amend the charter succeed.

The bill, which has been rewritten and endorsed by the bicameral committee for final approval and eventual signing into law by the President, provides for the right of qualified overseas Filipinos to vote for the President, the Vice President, senators and party list congressmen.

But moves to amend the Constitution, meanwhile, all point to a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government.

In the parliamentary setups being discussed, the head of government will not be a president but a prime minister elected by the members of parliament (like our congressmen) from among themselves. In some proposals, there could be a president who is mainly a figurehead. There will be no vice president and no more senators.

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VOTING RIGHT ERODED: In short, under the absentee voting law, qualified Filipinos abroad will end up electing only a ceremonial president and maybe some party-list members of parliament. They will be denied the right to vote for the real head of government.

Overseas Filipinos anxious about being able to vote finally for key national officials are asking that charter change advocates rethink their position and consider the plight of overseas voters who might end upholding an empty bag.

There are seven to eight million Filipinos residing abroad covered by the upcoming law. But for various reasons, not more than three million overseas Filipinos are expected to turn out for the 2004 election. That’s still a sizeable swing vote.

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COMMUNICATION KEY: In this highly competitive world fast shrinking into just one common market, communication is crucial. And communication is language.

We cannot talk to the world in our own quaint language, as ultranationalist would have it. We have to speak the lingua franca of the world, which is English.

This is the simple, straightforward rationale behind the order of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to reinstate English as the preferred medium of instructions in our elementary and high schools.

There were other intertwined factors, but our early lead in regional commerce and economic growth started to dive after we replaced English with the native language in our schools.

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ASK BUSINESSMEN: Spouting the usual nationalist lines, many of us who have not seen much beyond our shores vehemently object to the President’s decision to arrest the decline in the competitive quality of our graduates.

But ask any businessman who has been around and who has seen how Filipinos are gradually being replaced by workers of neighbors who are belatedly waking up to English, and you see an excited supporter of the President’s move.

(There are, of course, other reasons why smart investors have been wary of Filipinos. One common reason being given is that our workers, particularly organized labor, have become too expensive and unpredictable.)

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TAN OFFERS HELP: We were not surprised when taipan Lucio Tan, who is not as fluent in the King’s language as most US-educated businessmen, promptly supported the President’s advocacy of English as medium of instructions.

In his reports from his sorties in the region, where he has substantial investments, Tan always warns of our neighbors aggressively learning English and priming themselves to grab foreign investments that would normally go to the Philippines.

The Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education Inc. (FUSE) — a non-profit non-government organization established by Tan in 1994 — has been sounding the alarm bells to the creeping problem as early as eight years ago.

What surprised us was that the usually media-shy Tan took a high-profile position and went on TV to support the President. He also committed the resources of his foundation to continue training programs that aim to improve English-teaching skills.

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AGGRESSIVE RIVALS: In his business travels, Tan not only deals with his foreign counterparts but also takes time to talk to migrant workers.

Coming from London one time, Tan voiced his frustration at how British employers complained about the bad English of Filipino nurses. They said the Filipinas could not even follow simple instructions because of their poor command of English.

Tan reports that even China and Vietnam — where he has investments — are now working hard to catch up in the English game, in addition to packaging very attractive terms for foreign investments. Before them, there were also India, Malaysia and Thailand joining the race.

While most teachers in our public schools cannot claim proficiency in English — and they are the ones who will carry the brunt of the President’s order for a shift — our neighbors are importing teachers to teach English to their people and fast-tracking their language program.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 4, 2003)

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