An Unlikely Christmas Gift in CHED’s Spirit of Serendipity

It was during the Region IX consultation in Davao last September 14,
that I first made the suggestion that the CHED postpone approval of
the proposed Outcomes and Typology Based Quality Assurance Policy
(OTBQA) until the upheaval caused by the implementation if K-12 is
allowed to settle, I was surprised how much resonance it received
there. Educators of Mindanao who had been reticent relative to their
reservations about OTBQA and most anxious about K-12, came to me to
thank me for my intervention.

Last 23 November 2012, the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) General Assembly unanimously
approved a resolution that its members focus on the implementation of
K-12 as today’s key educational reform, and a co-relative resolution
to request CHED en banc to postpone approval of the yet-unnumbered CMO on OTBQA. It was clear to the PAASCU educators that K-12 was causing them problems, that many policy determinations relative to the
implementation of K-12 still had to be made, and that the challenges
that come with OTBQA – with its own systemic upheavals – was an added
burden that they wished they did not have to deal with at this time.

I sent the PAASCU resolution to all the CHED Commissioners, including
its Chair, Dr. Patricia Licuanan, the day after..

Meanwhile, during COCOPEA-Mindanao’s annual convention in General
Santos City last 29 November 2012, its General Assembly unanimously
passed a resolution asking that CHED focus on problems related to the
implementation of K-12; these included policy formulations relative
to probable manpower displacements or redundancies on the higher
education level

Then, at the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the CEAP last
December 11, 2012, the proposed OTBQA Policy was discussed once again.
I focused on the necessity in quality QA that the assessing body be
free of the university, of the government, as well as of the market.
This is because the OTBQA must focus on the quality of the school’s
implementation of its own vision and mission.

Yesterday, December 12, in the midst of begging for funds for our
volunteer relief operations for the victims of Typhoon Pablo (among
the tasks that private Universities are expected to do: “It’s more fun
in the Philippines!”), I received as PAASCU President an eight-page
emailed letter signed by Dr. Patricia Licuanan basically stating that
CHED sympathizes with the plight of private schools as K-12 is
implemented, but that we now all need to address problems not in a
linear fashion, but simultaneously. In this context CHED waxes
philosophical: it states, rather incredibly, “CHED is forced by many
imperatives to pursue an iterative reform process that begins with an
imperfect plan. Such imperfection may lead to errors, but correcting
them might also lead serendipitously to unanticipated solutions that
would not have been discovered had the mistakes not been made.” It is
an admission of imperfection that will necessarily lead to error, but
instead of curing the imperfection, it hopes that by correcting the
errors, it will arrive “serendipitously” to unanticipated solutions.
Marx would have called the serendipity here mystification, or Adam
Smith would have called it “an invisible hand.” At bottom, the
optimism here is purely gratis, since starting admittedly with
imperfection can also lead to unanticipated problems which are
impossible to solve (like the loss of many private schools and the
inability of the State to take over), and a state far worse than the
status quo.

As lawyers are wont to say, Dr. Licuanan’s letter was a rehash of many
old arguments, missing the point of many of the criticisms already
articulated, and excusing the inability or lack of will to address the
imperfections with the serendipity or mysticism of the previous

As President of PAASCU and Chair of the National Advocacy Committee
and Trustee of the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines,
I had already begun consultations with educators and lawyers yesterday
concerning how to best respond to Dr. Licuanan’s letter. I wanted to
warn the Commission against this type of reckless and irresponsible
mystification in government policy formulation, and to reiterate the
position that the Policy Standard on OTBQA at this time is not ripe
for approval. Among the urgent arguments we saw to support this was
the need for a genuine legislated National Qualifications Framework
after due consultations with the private sector for an respectable
outcomes-based quality assurance system (and not merely an EO which is
not reliable for the long-term as a National Qualifications
Framework), the need for government to stay out of the QA work
precisely to protect the quality of quality assurance, the violation
of the academic freedom of private HEIs through the OTBQA,

It was while we were in the midst of these deliberations occasioned by
our receipt of Dr. Licuanan’s letter, that a message from Fr. Dionisio
Miranda, SVD, texted to Doris Ferrer, Executive Director of the CEAP,
stated that CHED Memorandum Order 46, Series of 2012 entitled,
“Policy-Standard to Enhance Quality Assurance in Philippine Higher
Education Through an Outcomes-Based and Typology Based QA” signed by
“Dr. Patricia Licuanan, Chairperson” had been approved on Dec 11, 2012. It is not signed by the other CHED Commissioners. It’s Sec. 40 states, “This CMO shall take effect 15 days after publication in a official gazette or in a newspaper of public circulation.” Was it already published in a newspaper or official gazette? I don’t know. Do the other Commissions have to
sign it for it to become a numbered Memorandum Order since CHED is a
collegial body? I thought they did. That is what Fr. Joaquin Bernas,
S.J., insisted on in a series of Inquirer articles around this time
last year. CHED is a collegial body. CHED is not about regulation of
higher education; it is about supervision. But today I guess Fr.
Bernas doesn’t count. We have to ask Dr. Licuanan. She’s running
CHED. She’ll tell us the truth.

I asked Dr. Jose “Chitchoy” Campos, President of the Coordinating
Council of Private Educational Associations, whether he had known that
the CMO had been approved on Dec. 11, the day before Dr. Licuanan had
sent her letter response to PAASCU’s request that the CMO’s approval
be deferred. He said he had seen the reply of Dr. Licuanan to the
PAASCU President, but that he had not known of CMO 46, Series of 2012.
I asked Atty. Joseph Estrada, Executive Director of the Association of
Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities (ACSCU) who in the name
of COCOPEA has been watching all government policy formulation. He
said he knew nothing of the approval of the CMO 46, s. 2012 on
Dec. 11.  It was the same thing with Fr. Greg Bañaga, CM, and Fr. Antonio Moreno, S.J., President and Vice-President respectively of CEAP. Neither had known of the approval of CMO 46, s. 2012. Before Dr. Licuanan wrote her letter to PAASCU, she had already signed and uploaded the CMO to the website.

One of the lawyers (whose identity I shall hide, since I don’t want
him/her in hot water with the powerful CHED Chair), stated: “That’s
bad faith on their part. They know there’s a continuing discussion
for its deferment. They should have at least informed us. Or have
waited till all issues are answered.”

Unfortunately, the Commission on Higher Education (or its Chair) is
not interested in issues being answered. It is satisfied with
imperfect beginnings, and trusts that serendipity will do the rest.
Relative to the request of PAASCU that the approval of the CMO be
postponed, I guess the answer is no. Why? Because she had already
quietly signed CMO 46, s. 2012 before she sent her Dec. 12 response to
PAASCU letter. There was no fanfare. No public announcements. It was
very quiet, sung to the tune of “Silent Night.”

Then, suddenly, born to us: a new CHED Memo on OTBQA!

Perhaps, on the 11th of December, Dr. Licuanan meant CMO 46, s. 2012
as a surprise Christmas gift, sending her Christmas letter to the
members of the PAASCU Board and the President of COCOPEA in hard
copies the following day. Of course, she didn’t write anything about
Christmas greetings in her letter. Neither did she say anything about
her already having had approved CMO 46, s. 2012. In CHED, serendipity
is in, reason out.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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