Of scholarships using PDAF allocations

Hundreds of students will lose their scholarships if the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Cavite 2nd Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla is cut by the government.

“I have to tell 7,000 scholars that without PDAF, I can’t help them,” she said on her Twitter account in a series of posts. She said that the abolition of the pork barrel funds will strip not only students of the scholarships, but also beneficiaries of medical assistance and burial donations.

“We give out scholarships to empower people. It is in our menu. Our constituents ask us for medical and burial assistance,” Mercado said.

– via Philippine Star

Ms. Mercado’s statement brings the State and nation back to square one:  what the State and nation are doing to make the country competitive.  In other words, the oft-cited economic growth and development as a national goal (with emphasis on ‘inclusive’).  We are – should be – done with the mindset and attitude of looking up to patronage politics to dictate individuals’ economic security and progress. Aid, in this time of global market economics and Silicon Valley-type start ups and innovative business models, is only effective during emergencies (e.g. disasters) and crises (e.g. nations in transitions). This is the 21st century when those who have the knowledge and skills and who work hard will be rewarded. In fact, this is what the American Dream (or the dream to make it abroad) is all about. The question on us is how do we make this a reality here?

The Philippines is not short of strategy and plans needed to achieve economic growth and development from national down to barangay. As mentioned in an earlier article, Chief Executives only have to peruse these plans.  For cities and urbanizing towns, there is the National Urban Development and Housing Framework (NUDHF).  The sad case is that the NUDHF is generally well known and understood by the academe than by decision-makers and implementers.

How could Chief Executives and the City Council facilitate job creation for all in their locality? How could economic gains benefit everyone in the locality? How could the jobless benefit from social security services within the time they’re looking for work? How could, for instance, the local PESO, facilitate job-related services for locals looking for work? How could the private sector be tapped as partners in job creation? How could civil society be tapped as partners in preparing young people for the world of work? etc. etc.

In my more than a decade working in the localities, the reason that families go around the system and ask for scholarships directly from their elected officials is that institutions in the system are not working.  For one the Special Education Fund should be reviewed as this is for the longest time riled with bad politics. Further to this, the Local School Boards ought to be functioning but are not. To use the PDAF allocation here is redundant and covers up for the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the actual process and mandated bodies.

As to funding tuition beyond basic education, this is something that ought to be primarily a family’s responsibility (which has to do with jobs and incomes not to mention responsible parenthood/family planning). Nonetheless, on top of the scholarships already available (i.e. from academe, private sector, civil society, private citizens) the City Council should facilitate regular discussions with members of the community. International models are available, if one care to look, such as student loans (e.g. through microfinancing) and the more common deferment plans (study now pay later).

At the individual level, the students, I think that university students are at that age when they can already decide independently for themselves. I for one was a working student in college. I refused to be further spent for by my folks and got myself a part time job. I was happy working (in fact, happier than being in school) and putting myself through university. I think that parents need to reframe the meaning of success and put that as a choice to their university-aged children rather than planning everything for them (e.g. getting a scholarship for their children in the narrow focus that their children should finish university but what if their children do not want a university education and have other plans for their own lives? In fact, this is one reason why scholarships are not completed by availing students — at some point they realize university or a particular course is not for them. So the issue of university education is not just about the money or tuition but involves career counseling and making available a menu of learning modes to suit learners’ needs — is Ms. Mercado doing that for her 7,000 scholars for instance? It’s a gargantuan task to ask from one person.).

At the institution level, say, State Universities and Colleges, there remains the task to bring them to level up with private institutions such that graduates will have the same level playing field as with graduates of say La Salle and Ateneo?  How to sustain and increase funding to them are issues needing address. How are Representatives contributing to the discussion?

This is to say that Chief Executives need to have a systems view in the development of their localities. Children’s access to education is linked with their families’ and when they’re older with their own incomes which are in turn linked up with other issues such as job opportunities in the localities. This in turn has to do with the investment climate in these localities which as the private sector has long been harping about (but falling on deaf ears) is in need of major reform. There is also the imperative for infrastructures (i.e. roads, telecommunication networks, utilities, etc.) that would entice investors to come in. The Comprehensive Development Plans should’ve already outlined these.  These plans only need to be financed in order to realize planned outcomes. If Chief Executives can only focus on this (i.e. financing and implementing the CDPs) the rest should follow. Ms. Mercado in her capacity as a legislator should stand away from scholarships (or direct implementation) and instead support her Chief Executives on the ground through relevant policies (touching on education, job creation, investments, private sector partnerships, etc.).

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