Bernardo M. Villegas
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Cleaner Toilets for the Poor

           Narenda Modi, the newly elected Indian Prime Minister, did not hesitate to combine two important seemingly disparate policy moves in one of his first pronouncements.  The first had to do with greater openness to foreign direct investments (FDI).  His message to foreigners was loud and clear:  "Come, make in India," emphasizing the value of investments in manufacturing.  Like the Philippines, India has to deepen its manufacturing base and cannot rely only on services for long-term growth.  Almost in the same breath, however, he was not in the least embarrassed to wage a campaign against the widespread practice among the teeming poor in his country to defecate in the open.  He is determined to invest more in modern and clean toilets for the public.  In his word, "the attempt to give dignity to the poor starts with sanitation."  Our public officials should have the same concern.

          In this regard, I was very glad to see the design of the numerous school buildings being built by the Government, many of them through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme.  For the first time, the Department of Education,  the Department of Public Works and Highways are getting together to build school buildings for public primary and secondary schools all over the Philippines.  Among the buildings I have seen, no expense was spared in including modern and solidly built rest rooms for the students.  Having these toilets--as well built and cleanly maintained as one would find in such fast food restaurants as McDonald's and Jollibee--in the public schools where the children of the less privileged families study can help  cultivate the appropriate sanitary habits of the future generation. 

          Actually, this concern for modern and clean toilets in public schools just reenforces a culture of hygienic behavior even among the poorest Filipinos.  Contrary to the impression that the majority of Filipinos are careless about sanitation because of the propensity of some males to urinate in public, the truth of the matter is Filipinos all over the world are praised for their cleanliness.  I have been personally told in some European cities, that Filipinos and Filipinas are preferred in such occupations as waitering, care giving and nursing because "people from the Philippines take a bath every day."  Actually, one can observe in the poorest Philippine barrios that even if they have to do it in the public plaza where there is flowing water, the rural dwellers use the "tabo-tabo" system to take a bath or they go to the nearest river every day.  That is why, we have to reenforce this habit by making modern and clean rest rooms as widely available in such places as public schools and in bus, airport, and ship terminals.  One of the most valuable contributions of fast food chains owned by multinational enterprises is that they have set the standard for clean rest rooms for their customers, many of whom come from the lower income groups.