The Bypass Passes the Buck to the President


A bypass is not a knockout.  In the case of a human being, a bypass can save a beating heart.

In this case, the human being was Gina Lopez.  The bypass was saving her heart beating for the Philippine environment – and for the Filipino poor she is convinced the environment should serve.

The bypass in the Commission on Appointments showed that she is not a lawyer, nor a mining engineer.  It showed that she had never entered the technical world of the geodetic scholars from UP.  It showed that her heart does not beat to the rhythms of those who invest big in the stock market, and certainly not of those  foreigners who dazzle the economists with their billions, then exploit and devastate the Philippine environment.

The bypass in the Commission on Appointments allowed that heart to continue beating as it did before she was appointed to the DENR – when everyone applauded her for cleaning up the Pasig river using her own energy and tapped private resources, when everyone recognized her role in restoring the trees and forest essential to Metro Manila’s La Mesa Dam, when environmentalists rallied with her in opposing mining in Palawan in favor of its outstanding biodiversity.  That heart, President Duterte recognized, is the heart of a crusader.  That is why he appointed her his DENR Secretary.  He recognized that her heart beats with the same arrhythmia as his, preferring the welfare of the rural poor and the Lumad over the welfare of the Makati magnates and foreign billionaires.

Such arrhythmia, it is clear, can be life threatening not only to a Secretary, but to a President as well.

The congressional bypass now passes the buck on Gina Lopez back to the President – who had asked the Commission on Appointments to hear Ms. Lopez out.  The pressure from the magnates was also on him.  It was a deft move of the CA that refused to deal the controversial yet popular secretary a death blow.  This secretary, they knew, was not lying.  She was in fact disarmingly simple in inviting the commissioners – even those who ought to have recused themselves from the hearings because of glaring conflicts of interests – to see the truth.  If the Philippine environment was to be saved, it could not be based on the developmental assumptions of the economy that has erstwhile so harmed the environmental and  kept its immediate stakeholders, the poor on the ground, so impoverished.

That was indeed the truth that could not be bypassed.

What was in fact remarkable was the way this so-called environmental crusader had been pursuing her responsibilities in the DENR.  She had not only been busy stopping the illegal logging and illegal mining activities that previous administrations had failed to curb, but paid extraordinary attention to the poor affected by the environment.  Her presentations were of admirable programs based on success stories designed to bring wealth to the poor by involving them in the preservation of the environment.  She was not just a heart bleeding for the environment, but a heart passionate about bringing wealth to the poor in restoring to their economic lives the environment that is first given to them.

Her vision is certainly not illusory.  At an address delivered by the Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua recently at Davao’s Marco Polo he said that he personally commits that the tourists from China in the new friendship forged by between Presidents Duterte and Xi Jinpin shall jump from 600,000 to a million this year, and can actually grow to many more millions annually.  Each tourist spends an average of US$1,800. per trip.  But he asked:  are we ready for this type of tourism?  Are we ready to offer Chinese tourists the accommodations and goods they shall be eager to patronise?  We must be able to offer them more than dried mangoes, he said.  In this context, Sec. Gina’s formula of empowering the local poor to protect the environment for ecotourism and developing them into wealthy tourism entrepreneurs makes economic sense.

Where so much of the conflict in Mindanao has been related to the operation of the mines, it also make sense in the peace process.

So the buck passes to President Duterte, who appoints in a cabinet secretary an alter-ego.  A crusader for the environment is not disqualified for the DENR because she is passionate about saving the Philippine environment, neither is one who thinks differently from the Makati magnates.  A crusader, as Pres. Duterte knows, is not disqualified from public office.  The competency of this crusader is in her heart for the poor.

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Hope for Free Higher Education for All in SB 1304

The Senate has approved on second reading Senate Bill 1304, “The Free Higher Education for All Act.


Despite the limelight concerns the Senate has had dealing with the recantation of Mr. Arthur Lascañas, the confirmation or non-confirmation of DENR Sec. Gina Lopez and Foreign Affairs Sec. Perfecto Yasay, and the spectacle of yet another among its ranks incarcerated, the Senate quietly approved last March 7, 2017 a bill that brightens the prospects of all Filipinos desiring college degrees.

Originally, the bill was proposed by Sens. Bam Aquino and  Win Gatchalian for free tuition only in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).  But through a number of amendments introduced by Sen. Ralph Recto on the urging of leaders of the Coordinating Council for Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the bill now provides not only for free higher education in the nation’s 113 SUCs, but also for tuition subsidy and financial assistance for students in private higher educational institutions (HEIs) and technical vocational institutions (TVIs) through strengthened Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs).

This is a landmark bill.  While the Constitution provides for free basic education for all, this bill provides a framework for funding universal access to higher education for all either through public or private higher educational institutions.

It explicitly recognizes the complementary roles of public and private higher educational institutions and technical-vocational institutions in delivering quality education in the Philippines.

All Filipinos currently enrolled in or shall enroll in state universities and colleges (SUCs) for any first undergraduate degree shall not have to pay tuition, provided they meet the entrance requirements of the SUC.  SUCs on the other hand shall stay at their current level of enrollment and may expand only subject to the conditions set and approved by CHED.

The CHED, through the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (“UNIFAST” cf. RA 10687), shall strengthen all scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans, subsidies and other incentives.  Student Financial Aid Programs (StuFAPS) shall also be made available “to cover the cost of tertiary education, fully or partially, to students who wish to pursue tertiary education in other HEI’s or TVIs” (Sec 11).

“Students who wish to enroll in private HEIs and TVIs shall be covered by the appropriate STUFAPs in such modalities where they qualify as may be determined by the UNIFAST Board. The subsidy up to the amount approved by the UNIFAST Board shall cover tuition fees and/or any additional financial assistance to cover for the other costs of education in the private HEI and TVI of choice, subject to its admission policies.

“Provided that the amount of tuition subsidy and/or student financial assistance shall be based on the guidelines set forth by the UNIFAST Board and on the annual budgetary allocation for this purpose…” (Sec. 12)

The bill states that “the amount necessary to effectively carry out the provisions of this act shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act” (Sec. 13).

This means that the funding “for free higher education for all” shall be sustained.

The Senate has yet to pass this bill on third reading, but with the sponsors of the bill including senators from the majority and the minority, passage is likely.

Complementary legislation in the House of Representatives has been passed by the Commission on Technical and Higher Education.




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The Free Higher Education for All Act (S.B. No. 1304)


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OF THE PHILIPPINES                                                             )

First Regular Session                                                               )

Version 2

As of Mar 7, 2017, 10:30 AM



S.B. No. 1304

Prepared jointly by the Committees on Education Arts and Culture and Finance with Senators Recto, Villanueva, Ejercito, Aquino IV, Gatchalian, Pangilinan, Angara, Legarda as authors thereof




Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled:

1     SECTION. 1. Short Title. – This Act shall be known as the “Free Higher Education
2    for All Act.”

3       SEC. 2. Declaration of Policy. – It is hereby declared that
4      universal access to quality education is an inalienable right of the Filipino.
5      Therefore, it shall be the policy of the State to make higher education accessible to all,
6        especially to the financially disadvantaged but deserving students BY recognizing
7        The complementary roles of public and private higher education
8        institutions     (HEIs)     and technical-vocational institutions     (TVIs)     in
9        delivering quality education. Towards this end, the State shall renew its
10      constitutionally mandated duty to make education its top budgetary priority by
11     providing tuition subsidy and financial assistance
12     to students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs), private HEis and TVIs.

13     SEC. 3. Definition of Terms. – As used in this Act, these terms shall mean:
14         a) Cost of Tertiary Education refers to (1) tuition, and Other School Fees, (2)
15              Educational Expenses, and (3) the cost of living allowance;
16          b) Educational Expenses refer to expenses related to the education of a student,
17                such as books, school supplies, and electronic devices necessary foreducation,
18                but excluding tuition and miscellaneous and Other School Fees;
19           c) Higher Education refers to the stage of formal education, or its equivalent,
20               requiring completion of secondary education and covering programs of study
21                leading to bachelor and advanced degrees;


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1         d) Higher Education Institution (HEI) refers to an institution of higher learning,
2                   primarily offering bachelor and advanced degree programs;
3         e) Other School Fees refer to those fees which cover other necessary costs
4                     supportive of instruction, including, but not limited to, medical and dental,
5                      athletic, library, laboratory, and miscellaneous fees;
6        f) State Universitiesand Colleges(SUCs) refer to publicHEIsestablished by national
7                      laws which are financed and maintained by the national government, and are
8                      governed by their respective independent boards of trustees or regents;
9        g) Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET) refers to the post-secondary
10             education or training process which involves, in addition to general education,
11             the study of technical and related fields and the acquisition of practical skills
12             relating to occupations in various sectors, comprising formal (organized
13             programs as part of the school systems) and nonformal (organized classes
14             outside the school system) approaches;
15        h) Technical-Vocational Institutes (TVIs) refer to learning institutions offering post-
16              secondary TVET;
17        i)    Tertiary Education refers to the stage of education following the secondary cycle 18                which subsumes post-secondary nondegree diploma, TVET, and Higher
19                Education programs; and
20        j)    Tuition Fee refers to the fee representingdirect costs of instruction, training and 21                 other related activities and for the students’ use of the instruction and training 22                facilities;
23         k) Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST)
24              refers to the harmonized, state-run and administered system of Higher
25              Education and technical-vocational Scholarships, Grants-in-Aid, Student Loans, 26              and other modalities of StuFAP created by Republic Act No 10867;
27        l)    Student Financial Assistance Program (StuFAP) refers to a system of
28          Scholarships, Grants-in-Aid, Student Loans, subsidies and other incentives which
29            are or shall be made available to eligible students;
30        m) Grant-in-Aid refers to a modality of financial assistance to poor but eligible
31               students which generally requires a minimum level of competence to complete
32             Tertiary Education;
33       n) Scholarship refers to a modality of financial assistance given to eligible students
34             on the basis of merit and/or talent, such as laudable academic performance, and
35             special technicalproficiencies and skillsand intellectualpursuitsofa Scholar that
36           give rise to research and development, and innovations as well as other creative
37            works;
38       o) Student Loan refers to a modality of student financial assistance consisting of
39              short-term or long-term loans which shall be extended to students facing
40              liquidity problems, regardless of economic status, which shall be paid by the
41           student, parents, guardians, or co-makers;

42     SEC. 4. Eligibility to the Full Tuition Subsidy. – All Filipino citizens who are either
43     currently enrolled at the time of effectivity of this Act, or shall enroll at any time
44     thereafter, in courses in pursuance of a bachelor’s degree, certificate degree, or any
45     comparable undergraduate degree in any SUC shall qualify for a full tuition subsidy;
46    Provided, That they meettheadmission requirementsof the SUC;Providedfurther, That


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1   all SUCs shall create a mechanism to enable students with the financial capacity to pay
2  for their education in the SUC to opt out of the tuition subsidy or to make a donation to
3   the school.

4     SEC. 5. Exceptions to the Full Tuition Subsidy. — The following are ineligible to
5        avail of the full tuition subsidy in SUCs:

6     a) Persons who have already attained a bachelors degree or equivalent degree
7            from any higher education institution, whether public or private;
8     (b) Students who fail to complete their degree and/or non-degree
9             programs within a year after the period prescribed in their
10           program; and
11     [(b)] (c) Persons who have been dishonorably discharged from any higher education
12               institution, whether public or private, for any reason other than financial
13               difficulty in paying tuition and other fees.

14   SEC. 6. SUC Tuition Subsidy Fund. – The SUC Tuition Subsidy Fund, hereinafter referred
15  to as the Fund, is hereby established. The Fund shall be used solely for the purpose
16  of implementing the full tuition subsidyunder the provisions of this Act. Tuition
17  for units enrolled by persons eligible for the tuition subsidy under the provisions of this
18  Act, payable to SUCs, shall be sourced from this Fund.

19   SEC. 7. Administration of the Fund. – The Fund shall be administered by the
20    Commission on Higher Education (CHED), which shall have the following powers and
21     functions:

22     a) Manage and administer the Fund;
23      b) Devise a reporting mechanism to be implemented by the SUCs which will detail
24           the exact amount of tuition subsidy availed of by persons eligible for the full
25           tuition subsidy under this Act;
26      c) Formulate and implement an efficient and transparent mechanism to ensure the
27           payment of the tuition subsidy, utilizing money from the Fund, to the respective
28           SUCs, pursuant to this Act;
29      d) Resolve and mediate disputes concerning the ineligibility or disqualification of
30             persons from the full tuition subsidy under the provisionsof this Act or any other
31            provision of this law; and
32      e) Any other powers or functions necessary for the implementation of the
33            provisions of this Act.

34     SEC. 8. Requirements for SUCs. – SUCs are hereby mandated to fulfill the
35        following before accessing the Fund:

36      a)    Establish a qualifying mechanism, which shall be meritocratic and equitable.
37              This shall include but not be limited to a qualifying examination and an
38               affirmative action mechanism for financially disadvantaged students;
39  b)       Determine and publish the maximum number of students the SUC can
40             accommodate per campus  and degree program.    For    the    initial
41             implementation of this Act, the maximum number of students SUCs may
42             accept shall be equivalent to the total number of students that were enrolled
43           in the school year prior to the effectivity of this Act. For subsequent years,


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1        SUCs may increase their number of students subject to conditions set by and
2                                     upon the approval of CHED;
3        c)        Submit the following documents to assist the CHED in implementing this Act: 4                    i.            Previous enrollment rate, student demographics and other relevant
5                                            information;
6                    ii.      Graduation rate, performance in previous licensure examinations,
7                                            and employability rate of graduates;
8                   iii.     Gross tuition receipts;
9                    iv.     Teachers’ welfare and training profiles; and
10                   v.     Other educational quality indicators, including but not limited to
11                          physical learning infrastructures, teacher-to-student ratio and student
12                            housing; and
13         d)       Formulate and submit to CHED and
14                    to the committee on education of the senate and the
15                    committee on higher and technical education of the house of
16                    representatives a detailed SUC Development Plan updated every ten
17                   years, which shall include plans for facilities and infrastructure development
18                    and expansion.

19      The submissions to CHED shall be subject to the Commission’s determination of
20      completeness. Provided, That CHED shall have the right to request for additional
21        information from the SUCs. Provided further, that any plans of expansion shall be
22       approved and defended before CHED and Congress during the SUCs’ budget hearing.

23  SEC. 9. Tuition Report. – The President of each SUC shall submit to the CHED,
24 within five (5) days after the last day of late registration for each semester, a report
25 detailing the names of persons eligible for the full tuition subsidy in their institution, as
26 well as the amount of tuition due based on the number of units enrolled.

27 SEC. 10. Payment from the Fund. — The CHED shall ensure the full payment of tuition
28  due to the state university or college, as reported under this Act, no later than
29 thirty days after the submission of the report to the CHED; Provided, That the CHED
30  shall reserve the right to withhold or disallow the payment of any reported fees which 31   are perceived to be anomalous or irregular until further investigation has been
32   conducted.

33  SEC. 11. Strengthening Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAP). – The CHED,
34  through UniFAST, shall strengthen all scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans,
35  subsidies and other incentives, to other educational expenses and cost of living
36  allowance that will be incurred by students pursuing higher education in SUCs and
37  private HEIs and TVIs. StuFAPs shall also be made available
38  to cover the cost of tertiary education, fully or partially, to students who wish to pursue
39  tertiary education in other HEIs or TVIs.

40  SEC. 12. Tuition subsidy and financial assistance for students in
41         private HEIs and TVIs. Students who wish to enroll in private HEIs and TVIs
42        shall be covered by the appropriate STuFAPs in such modalities where they
43        qualify as may be determined by the uniFAST board. The subsidy up to the
44        amount approved by the uniFAST board shall cover tution fees and/or


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1         Any additional student financial assitance to cover for the other costs
2         of education in the private HEI and TVI of choice, subject to its admission
3         policies.

4         provided, that the amount of tuition subsidy and/or student financial
5         assistance shall be based on the guidelines set forth by the uniFAST board
6         and on the annual budgetary appropriation for this purpose.

7         Provided further, that the conditions stipulated under section 5 of this
8         act shall also apply to students qualified under this section.

9    SEC. 13. Appropriations. – The amount necessary to effectively carry
10  out the provisions of this act shall be included in the annual General
11    Appropriations Act.

12   SEC.  14. Implementing Rules and Regulations. – Within sixty (60) days from
13   the effectivity of this Act, the CHED shall promulgate the implementing rules and
14    regulations necessary for the implementation of this Act.

15  SEC. 15. Separability Clause. – Should any provision herein be declared unconstitutional,
16  the same shall not affect the validity of the other provisions of this Act.

17   SEC. 16. Repealing Clause. – All laws, decrees, orders, rules, and regulations
18    or other issuances or parts inconsistent with the provisions of this Act are hereby
19   repealed or modified accordingly.

20  SEC. 17. Effectivity. – This Act shall take effect fifteen (15) days after its
21  publication in the Official Gazette or in two (2) newspapers of general circulation in the
22  Philippines.





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Counterproposal:  Don’t tax quality schools

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez apparently wants the government to tax the income that Catholic schools are generating from tuition and other fees.[1]   In so doing he has asked the BIR to study how the government can collect taxes from schools run by religious institutions.

Apparently, the Speaker has been irked by the position of certain schools against a proposed bill.

But Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III told lawmakers that such as religious schools are exempt from paying taxes. He quoted Art. VI, Sec. 28 of the 1987 Constitution:

“Charitable institutions, churches and convents, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all lands, buildings, improvements actually, directly and exclusively used for religious, charitable or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation.” We thank Finance Sec. Dominguez for pointing this out.

The Constitution is in fact more explicit for non-stock, non-profit schools. “All revenues and assets of non-stock, non-profit educational institutions used actually, directly, and exclusively for educational purposes shall be exempt from taxes and duties” (Art. XIV, Sec 3). The provision is self-executory.

The same article further states: “Subject to conditions prescribed by law, all grants, endowments, donations, or contribution used actually, directly and exclusively for educational purposes shall be exempt from tax” (Art. XIV, Sec. 4).

Revenues of non-stock non-profit schools, as all 1500 members schools of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) are, do not go to the pockets of individual investors, but are plowed back to improve the educational operation of the school. The quality of among the best schools in the country is supported by the private students and patrons of the schools.

In the recent Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Survey, eight Philippine Universities made it to the top 350 in Asia. Of these, one was a State university, another was Protestant-Christian, and six were Catholic universities.

I think it is time to stop bad-mouthing private and Catholic schools for the contribution they are making to Philippine education. Long before the public schools were instituted in the Philippines respectable Catholic schools were operating. Among these were the University of Sto. Tomas (1611), the Ateneo de Manila University (1859) and the Universidad de Sta. Isabel (1867).  They operate first and foremost to provide quality Catholic education to their students.

They have operated primarily on the basis of private funds and private support, even though their contribution to quality education for the country is a common good that government ought fund more.

This is the basis for their tax exemption.

As our Constitution mandates: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all” (Art. XIV, Sec. 1).

“The State shall (1) establish, maintain and support a complete, adequate, and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society” (Art. XIV, Sec. 2[1]).

Finally, “The State recognizes the complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system…”

The non-stock, non-profit Catholic schools are contributing to the Philippine system of quality education for all for which the State is ultimately responsible.

The rationale for their tax exemption is not that they are serving the poor, even though the majority of CEAP’s schools serve the poor directly, but because they are contributing to Philippine Educational System of quality for which the State has ultimate responsibility.

The rationale for tax exemption is not because higher education supports every position that the national leadership may propose, but to support communities of competent thinkers who can take positions critically and contribute to articulating the imperatives of the common good.

Were the non-stock, non-profit Catholic schools not to operate, the direct educational costs for the State would increase dramatically. Indeed, were the for-profit schools not to operate the educational costs for the State would increase accordingly.

Rather than tax non-stock, non-profit schools, prohibited by the Constitution, remove taxes on all quality schools, even for-profit schools.

For this is not simply a matter of cost. It is a matter of supporting the Philippine Educational System in such manner that the output is of quality. Essential to quality is critical thought. We want our educational communities – public and private – to take their reflected positions on the death penalty, the war on drugs, the peace processes, historical revisionism, the environment, corruption, and on the demands of right and wrong. Otherwise, we do not want education.

I ask the good Speaker to support quality education.


[1] Cf:

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Ash Wednesday and Gina Lopez’ “Secret”


Today is Ash Wednesday.  On this day I would like to share with you a profound experience with Gina Lopez.

I consider it one of the privileges of my life to have conferred the honorary doctorate of the Ateneo de Naga University on the environmentalist, Gina Lopez.  This was in 2011.  Our Board of Trustees had decided on the award because of her outstanding commitments to the environment as a private citizen.  She’d returned the trees to La Mesa Dam.  She’d cleaned up the Pasig.  She’d spearheaded a campaign for no mining in environmentally-rich Palawan. In Bicol she’d helped our university and our Bikolano stakeholders fight a mine in Rapu-Rapu that had been responsible for a huge fish kill due to heavy metals dumped into the sea.

So when she got up to give her response, everyone thought that she’d naturally speak about the environment.  Eventually she did.  But not without first sharing with our graduates what she styled as a great secret.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” she announced. “Do not forget it.  If you do, I will ask Fr. Joel to take away your diplomas!”  When she had everyone’s attention, when she had everyone thinking they were going to learn Gina Lopez’s special formula for energetic advocacy for the environment, she said – practically in a whisper:

“There is a God.”

And there being a God, she enjoined each ADNU graduate – no matter his religion, no matter her chosen profession – to get in personal contact with that God.  On that contact, no matter how achieved, the meaningful life would depend.

Next, she said:  there being a God, everyone must find time for silence in one’s life – deep personal silence.  “Without silence,” she said, “forces in the world will pull you in different directions and tear you apart.  Then you will no longer know who you are.”

Finally, only in the context of a deep personal relationship with God and of silence in one’s life is one able to appreciate the gift of the environment, given to us all as God’s gift.  Only from there do we experience the imperative to care for it.

On this Ash Wednesday, these three points of Gina Lopez may provide us precious food for thought.

Some are so full of themselves, they forget Gina’s first message.  It strikes the sadly ignorant or the crassly arrogant as a great secret:  “There is a God.”  It is God who sets the absolutes.   There is life; there is death. There is truth; there is untruth.  There is heaven; there is hell.  It is not man, no matter how powerful, who is the Lord of these absolutes.  God is.

Then, silence.  We spend so much time trying to escape silence, filling our lives with the noise that drowns out the silence and makes the communication with loved ones, including God, near to impossible.  We are afraid of silence; we fear its demands.  But silence has a way of breaking through in our lives. Or, in time, we finally break through to the silence of our lives.  This silence is not a void; it is the fullness, the truth, that makes all the difference.  In this silence, we may more deeply appreciate a central message of this day, “Remember, Man, remember, Woman, you are dust.  Unto dust you shall return.”  “Turn away from sin.  Believe in God’s Good News.”  In this silence, we may more clearly hear the voice of conscience.  Many of us don’t like that voice.  But it is there, deep within.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.  Its voice ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment….For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God….His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et spes, 16)

Only in acknowledging God and in obedience to the silent imperatives of our conscience can we navigate the challenges of our contemporary environment:  news and fake news, facts and alternative facts, political expediencies and moral imperatives, right and wrong, good and evil.  We are called to do good, and avoid evil.  Not to do evil to do good.  We are called to protect life, not kill it.  There is no politician who is God, and no party discipline that silences conscience.  We are called to live before God in silent consolation, not in self-condemning shame.

Only in taking silent responsibility for our common home, which is not only in fresh air and clean water, but in rational national leaders of conscience,  can we lift up our heads to our God in joy.



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CEAP and Senior High School


[Welcome Address:  CEAP National Basic Education Summit, San Jose Recolletos University, Cebu, 17 Feb. 2017]

After the beautiful liturgy presided over by Msgr. Ely Fuentes and the warm welcome accorded us by our gracious host, Fr. Christopher Maspara, of the University of San Jose Recolletos, it is my privilege as President of CEAP to welcome you to this National Basic Education Summit focusing especially on “opportunities, concerns and challenges faced by the private schools” – perhaps even especially by Catholic schools – “in the implementation of the Senior High School Program.”

The K-12 reform, we all know, was a necessary reform.  In the world we were one of two countries that did not have ten full years of basic education.  Our high school students were graduating at the age of 16 – still really too young to join the work force as adults and in many cases not ready for the challenges of college.  Our basic education curriculum was too congested, our schools trying to do in ten years what other countries do in twelve.  In our colleges, many of our courses were regularly remedial in nature, making up for deficiencies of basic education.

Implementing K-12

So the country took a deep breath, and bit the bullet.  With the political will of the Aquino administration and under the leadership of Brother Armin Luistro, the country embraced the K-12 reform.  Our association, CEAP, supported it fully.  To the ten years of basic education we added from the bottom a Kindergarten to better insure the survival of the grade school cohorts, and on top of ten years, we added two years.  Some of us thought these additions would be simple; we were very wrong.  We did not want it to be just a continuation of elementary education,  we also did not want it to be a college.  We wanted something sui generis – unique – in between the  basic education high school and the adult culture of college.  Early on, I wanted to call it a “career academy” – to focus it on preparation of youth for adult careers.  But in the end it was called senior high school, distinguishing it from what is now called junior high school and preparing its learners for a more mature college or for work in the labor mainstream.

You know as well as I that many of us really could not imagine how it could happen, and what role we could play in its realization.  Up to today, many of us still don’t believe it has happened and are amazed at the role we are playing in its implementation.  Despite opposition to the reform and confusing statements made by politicians who should have known better, more than a million senior high school students enrolled into Senior High School’s 11th grade at the beginning of this academic year.  Some of them have landed in the schools we had prepared with much uncertainty and trepidation – not quite knowing whether we would get students, or whether we would have enough classrooms or laboratories or teachers to care for them if they came.  We have welcomed them mostly into the SHS  academic track – some of them into the STEM strand, others in HUMMS, others in ABM, yet others in General Education.  Some of us have been elated by this experience, others bruised or burned.  Some of us are bitter, some of us happy, most of us quietly hopeful, trusting in the Lord that missions us to our educational service, but also in ourselves.

That is why we have gathered here at this summit:  to listen in hope to experts who can help us with the senior high schools we have given birth to after much anticipation, worry, expenditure, labor and pain.   With Msgr. Ely Fuentes and the organizing members of the National Basic Educational Commission, it is my privilege to welcome you all, participants and distinguished speakers. Dr. Dina Abad, DepEd Undersecretary for Programs and Projects, will be speaking, so too Atty. Joseph Estrada, our legal luminary, on educational issues, and even Doris Ferrer of PEAC who will update us on our favorite topic, the SHS vouchers.   There will be best practices shared, even insights offered on Vocational Technical education.

More Challenges

As president of the CEAP and for the next few months the chair of the COCOPEA, allow me to say what your other speakers may not say:

First, despite all the problems we may be experiencing in running our SHSs and working with the government vouchers that have become so important for so many of our schools, we have to be grateful that more government money is supporting our learners and teachers in SHS through the voucher program.  In the educational environment today, that is not something we can take for granted.  In the SHS there is a huge partnership between government and private schools that is working itself out.  It is a partnership that we must acknowledge in gratitude and support through the quality service we offer in our Senior High Schools.  The partnership needs to be expanded through the increased values of the vouchers that students bring to us in choosing our schools and through increased teacher subsidies that would put our teachers on par with teachers in public schools.  In the end both private and public school teachers contribute in complementarity to the education of Filipino students in a single Philippine educational system;  it is only fitting that government support all our teachers equally.

Second, we must organize ourselves and our stakeholders into supporting our senior high schools either through their own private contributions in cash or kind or through working together to gain more public support for our senior high schools  through increased government subsidies.  We must learn how to go to our congressmen and senators, our mayors and our governors, our councilors and board members and win their solid support for our schools.  In winning their support our numbers are important.  Ten people visiting a congressman is more effective than two, and one-hundred more convincing than ten.   On the CEAP regional level, we must be organized to bring our concerns effectively to our public officials.  Good education is not merely a private good, it is a common good.

Third, no matter the numbers, the argument for our schools will fall flat if our schools fail to deliver quality education.  This means at least reaching the minimum standards prescribed by DepEd.  Better, it means distinguishing ourselves in our schools through excellence in achieving learning outcomes;  this implies having capable and dedicated teachers; it mean have proper facilities and competent administrators.  Quality means achieving what our vision and mission mandates our schools to achieve.  It means satisfying the stakeholders of our schools, our parents, our families, our barangay and parish communities, our nation and Church.  For quality, the role of external bodies with the external instruments for checking quality will increase in importance.  This means, the role of our internal quality assurance mechanisms will also increase, where our schools take primary responsibility for insuring our quality.

Finally, as CEAP schools, we must discover the special niche of the Senior High School in forming the learner into a good Christian.  This is a work in progress, subject to actual experience unfolding.  Clearly the SHS learner is no longer a child, even though he or she is not quite an adult.  He or she is mastering the basics, equipping  him/herself  solidly for work in the labor mainstream or for the interdisciplinary challenges of college general education and the focused challenges of professional education.  For the SHS learner there is so much to discover, so much to explore, so much to integrate as adolescence explodes into adulthood.  There is energy, enthusiasm and vitality, even when sometimes there is distraction, despondency and boredom.  This is why instruction and formation in SHS are especially challenging, certainly calling forth the best from our teachers in care for the individual and innovativeness in pedagogy for all.  Especially in religious education – where the fundamentals of the faith must be learned and owned, and the challenges of the social doctrine of the Church including concepts like the dignity of man, the universal destination of goods, the social mortgage of private property, subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good must be learned and imbibed for Christian Catholic leadership in our society, the teacher must not only be an outstanding communicator; he/she must be an authentic witness. For all this, the administrator must be at heart a genuine educator.

These are exciting times.  Thank you for accepting the challenges of SHS as Catholic educators.  Welcome to this CEAP Summit on Senior High School!

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Happy Valentines’ Day! 

lewis-carrollWhether or not you have the appropriate red shirt to wear today or have the money to bring your beloved out on a date, it is good today to celebrate love with the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I may be many things, a married person or a celibate, an elder or a youth, a corporate manager or a union leader, bishop or a politician, a warrior or a lover, but if I do not have love, I am nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Many times I say I love, and many times I think I do.  But often, the way I act contradicts what I say and belies what I think.  I lose my cool; I scheme to be mean. I envy those better off than me.  I boast of my sins, rather than repent of them, using bravado to drown out the guilt.  I am chronically angry and complaining, because lacking love, I find no joy.  Evil which feeds my anger is more of a delight than truth that calls forth love.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 

Love never fails.  But we do, thinking power and violence and toughness never fail.  We continue to behave like children fixated on games of war and peace, of power and coercion, of punishment, retribution and death. We see unhappily, only partially.  Failing in love, we fail in being fully human

Love is patient, love is kind… 

And:  “God is love: whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 Jn 4:16).  Notice God in you loving.  Live him in your every kiss and embrace.  Live him in your every kindness. Welcome him in you being loved.  Be grateful in accepting him.  Be humble; you don’t deserve him.  Yet, he loves you.  Love loves you.

Happy Valentines’ Day!

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