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The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

(Second of three parts)

First Part

Last Part

THIS second installment of my “2021 Counter-SONA” covers the substandard state of basic education and the anemic response to the disastrous pandemic.

Failure to improve infrastructure of the mind

While President Duterte maintained a drumbeat of the completion of some mega infrastructure projects, he was silent on improving the infrastructure of the mind, particularly basic education.

Quality education, starting from the primary level, concededly is the great equalizer, the ladder of social mobility, the beacon of hope, the parents’ cherished dreams, the children’s avowed fulfillment and the guarantor of success.

Although President Duterte underscored the enactment of the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act”, his administration has utterly failed the pupils, the elementary school teachers and basic education itself.

The World Bank reported that of the 79 countries that participated in the Program for International Student Assessment 2018, the Philippines ranked last in reading and second to last in science and math. In Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2019, the Philippines’ rank in math and science was lower than in 2003. In the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Matrix 2019, among six participating Asean countries, the country never rose above fourth or fifth.

While it is true that the World Bank published the results of the three international education assessments without prior notification to the Department of Education, a breach of protocol for which it has subsequently apologized, the Duterte administration did not refute or contradict the validity and accuracy of the results.

President Duterte previously attributed the Philippines’ dismal primary education ranking to the country’s being poor, saying that “mahirap lang talaga kasi tayo.” This was a terribly embarrassing and errant excuse which places the cart before the horse because a Philippine Statistics Authority study obviously shows that it is poor education that contributes to poverty, not the other way around.

Common verdict: Anemic response to Covid-19

The acid test of President Duterte’s leadership and ability to solve a serious national problem is the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the people’s health and devastated the country’s economy until now.

President Duterte has failed the test and failed miserably.

The contrived assessment of the President’s apologists that his performance in confronting the pandemic is “excellent” is belied by irrefutable data and impartial evaluations, like the following:

  1. When President Duterte delivered his SONA last year, the number of Covid-19 positive cases was 80,448, compared to yesterday’s data of 1,548,755, which is 1,924 percent or close to 2,000 times higher than it was a year ago. The number of deaths due to Covid on July 27, 2020 was 1,932, yesterday it stood at 27,224, which is 1,409 percent higher.

    While the numbers were expected to increase, the inordinate escalation is an indictment of this administration’s ineffectiveness, to say the least.

  2. With respect to other ASEAN countries, the Philippines also fared poorly in fully vaccinating its citizens. Consider the following:

    Latest data show that Singapore placed first for having fully vaccinated a whopping 48 percent of its total population; Cambodia is second with 25 percent; Malaysia ranked third with 16 percent; Laos is fourth with 9.2 percent; Indonesia, with a population of 276.4 million, placed fifth for fully vaccinating an amazing 17.01 million people or 6.2 percent of all Indonesians; Thailand placed sixth with 5.1 percent; Brunei ranked seventh with 4.8 percent; the Philippines placed a lowly eighth out of 10 nations with a mere 4.6 percent fully inoculated; followed by troubled Myanmar at ninth with 2.8 percent; at tenth place is Vietnam, which has one of the lowest Covid-19 infection rates and deaths worldwide, thus making inoculation low in its priorities, with only 0.34 percent .

  3. Due to the anemic response of the Duterte administration to the contagion, Moody’s Analytics projected that the Philippines would be dead last among 45 countries of the Asia-Pacific region to recover from the pandemic-induced recession in the last quarter of 2022.

  4. Global media outfits, and foreign and local analysts and economists have similar assessments of the Philippine performance:

    • Nikkei Asia’s award-winning journalist William Pesek in Dec. 7, 2020 labeled the Duterte administration a “poser government” or one led by pseudo leader, “Southeast Asia’s weakest economic link”, its Covid response “heavy-handed with the lockdowns” and “far less competent with testing, contact-tracing and strategies to balance health risks with a reopening the economy”.

    • The Straits Times (Feb. 22, 2021) published an article entitled “The incompetence of the Philippines Covid-19 response” which discuss how government’s ineptitude led to the unforgivable delay in the vaccine rollout.

    • On the domestic front, geopolitics professor Richard Heydarian wrote in Nikkei Asia (Jan. 11, 2021) an opinion piece entitled “Duterte’s COVID blunders will set the Philippines back generations” where he asserted that President Duterte has “conveniently overlooked the vital importance of proactive leadership in times of crisis” and that his rejection of Western vaccines until the last minute and over-dependence on vaccines from China “has left the Philippines without quality vaccines until mid-2021.”

    • In Business World (April 25, 2021) economist Andrew J. Masigan wrote that “the international press has declared President Duterte’s government’s COVID response as the most incompetent in the region.”

    • On July 13, 2021, CNN Philippines enumerated the Duterte administration’s broken Covid-19 promises, foremost of which is that the government undertook to attain herd immunity by the end of 2021 as it promised to inoculate 70 million Filipinos by December. It documents, however, that as of July 2021, the Philippines has only managed to fully vaccinate just over five million, far lower than its target of 70 million.

Verily, it is not only the opposition which underscores President Duterte’s anemic response to the pandemic. It is the common assessment of the world community.


First Part

Last Part

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