Bernardo M. Villegas
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Reforms in Department of Education (Part 1)

           Studies done by both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank  in the late 1990s revealed that the two most corrupt departments of the Philippine Government then  were the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Education.  Hundreds of billions of pesos were stolen by public officials in connivance with dishonest business people through rigged contracts; defective textbooks, school buildings, or public works; and faked deliveries.  One of the legacies that will be left by the Government of President Benigno S. Aquino III is the dramatic turnaround in the governance of these two critical departments that can make the greatest contribution to inclusive growth because their operations impact significantly on the welfare of the masses.  I have often written on the institutional and governance reforms that Secretary Rogelio Singson of the DPWH has painstakingly and courageously introduced into his department from the very first moment he took over his position.  Even if he will not be  prevailed upon by the next President to stay for at least the first few years of the next Administration, I am sure that he will leave behind irreversible institutions and a culture of integrity among the young professionals in the DPWH whom he personally formed by both word and personal example.  Even if the next President makes a mistake in assigning the wrong person with bad intentions, that unfortunate creature will be vomited out by a dramatically reformed DPWH.

          I can say the same thing about the Department of Education in which corruption has been significantly purged, thanks to Secretary Armin Luistro and his late Chief Financial Officer, former Undersecretary of Education Francis Varela.  As Ramon del Rosario, Jr., Chair of the Makati Business Club wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last September 5, 2015. Secretary Luistro never stopped thanking him for introducing Francis to him.  In Ramon’s words, “we all now know…of the tremendous impact Francis had on the DepEd and its efforts to rid itself of corruption and to develop a culture of integrity and true reform.”  Many other similar testimonies were made by leading personalities in education and economics such as Neni St. Romana Cruz,  Chair of the National Development Board; Romeo L. Bernardo, Former Undersecretary of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Foundation for Economic Freedom; and Felipe Medalla, Former Director General of NEDA and ex-chair of FEF. 

          Francis, who died in a motorcycle accident last August 29, was my student in the Industrial Economics Program (IEP) at the Center for Research and Communication in the late 1980s, after which he became program director of the IEP and an instructor in both economics and mathematics of the fledgling University of Asia and the Pacific.  He was one of those brilliant graduates of the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro who were advised by their Jesuit mentors to pursue further studies at CRC.  As a former mentor of his, I would like to give flesh to the advice proffered by Ramon del Rosario Jr. to the people working at the Department of Education:  “And so, to my DepEd friends, while we all lament the untimely passing of Francis last Saturday, you know that you have it in your hands to give lasting meaning to the work of Francis over these last five years.  Pursue, intensify and institutionalize the reform he and your entire team have work so hard for, so that they become the irreversible norm.  And work even harder to make the DepEd the showcase of enlightened development and integrity that it should be.”  Just what are the details of these reforms?

          Thankfully, Ms. Trissa Manalastas, a key member of the staff of Francis at DepEd sent to the colleagues of Francis an email that enumerated some of these reforms. So that our testimonials do not remain at the level of motherhood statements, let me reproduce here the main portion of the message of Ms. Manalastas.  As Undersecretary of DepEd and CFO, Francis Varela was mainly responsible for the following achievements during the last five years:

          --Teachers, some of the most overworked and underpaid professionals in our society, obtained better access to loans:  lowered interest rates, especially through a loan program with the Land Bank (the first time that a government institution was considered among lending institutions for teachers in the 2015 General Appropriations Act).  This arrangement gave teachers more options for loans apart from cooperatives, etc.  In 2003, nominal interest rate was 18% per year plus 6% for other charges throughout.  In the previous Administration, the nominal interest rate was 12% per year.  Under this present Administration, thanks mainly to the initiative of Francis, nominal interest rate is 7.5% for 1 year, 9% for 2 years, 9.66% for 3 years plus 6% one time fee for other charges.  (To be continued)