Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Peter Wallace on Renewable Energy for the Philippines

Back to school
The kids have gone back to school. According to the Department of Education, more than 22 million students trooped to public schools: 1.93 million for kindergarten; 14.25 million for elementary; 5.85 million for high school; and 205,000 for the alternative learning system.
The DepEd estimates that the country lacks 152,569 classrooms based on 1:45 classroom-to-student   ratio. We estimate a backlog of around 220,000 classrooms if we follow the ideal 1:25 classroom-student ratio. Add to that the shortage of 135,847 comfort rooms. So what is DepEd going to do? It’s going to build 12,000 classrooms this year. That’s just 7.9 percent of the current demand for classrooms. Worse,  construction has been stalled due to slow disbursement of infrastructure funds.  DepEd should’ve taken advantage of the good construction weather in the 1st half of the year—it didn’t.
On top of that, the country needs 101,612 teachers, they’ll hire 15,000.

Reviewing the 2011 budget, it’s good to see that some P1.8 billion has been allocated for the purchase of 32.3 million textbooks, but  there’s a delay in printing. Some won’t be delivered to schools until October—midway through the school year.

But credit goes to the government for setting  aside P8.6 billion, an increase of 22.9 percent from P7 billion in 2010, for scholarship grants, training programs, and student loan programs under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Commission on Higher Education, and Department of Science and Technology.

What I particularly like (being a man of science myself) is the increased  allocation for the production of science and mathematics equipment, from P500 million in 2010 to P727.5 million this year. The P227.5 million increase will finance science and math infrastructure in schools. This will enable universities to produce more scientists, technologists, and teachers and make the Philippines more globally competitive in industry and manufacturing. A much needed initiative, but still short of desired levels.

Results of the 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum showed, as so sadly often, the Philippines ranking poorly.  Out of 138 nations surveyed, the Philippines ranked 99th in terms of primary education; 69th in educational system; 76th on Internet access and 112th in science and math. To put that in sharper context, in all indicators the country ranked behind ASEAN neighbors Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Worse, in 1999, the Philippines ranked 36th out of 38 nations in both math  and science proficiency as assessed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Four years later the country’s ranking remained dismal as it ranked 41st for Math and 42nd for Science out of 45 countries.  In 2008 Filipino science high school students ranked last in an Advanced Mathematics exam conducted by TIMMS. The Filipinos scored 355 points, way below the international average of 500. Out of 100 primary school entrants, only 14 finish college.
Let me repeat what I’ve said so many times before—with little effect it seems (maybe I’m wasting my time).

The government should release pork barrel funds to senators and congressmen only for projects related to education. For reasons still unclear to me, President Aquino increased the pork barrel of lawmakers this year but none was specifically allotted for health and education projects.

There’s also an urgent need to hire more teachers and pay them well—and properly train them. Also, implementing a merit-based pay scheme should be considered.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the Catholic Church should allow its churches to be used as classrooms during weekdays. It would be the most Christian thing to do. I am saddened by the Church’s seeming indifference to educating the children they insist on being born in unlimited numbers. They even charge (high) fees to attend the schools they do run. This is not the Christianity I learned in school.

Also needed is  to strengthen the counterpart-funding program with local government units. This means that 50 percent of the cost of building classrooms will come from participating local governments, the balance will come from DepEd. Let’s hope that this results in the construction of more classrooms.

Finally, it’s essential that the implementation of the conditional cash transfer Program is strictly monitored to ensure proper implementation of the program. The CCT has an education component—a mother of a  household-beneficiary  must make sure that her children meet the required school attendance rate of at least 85 percent.

None of the above is hard to do, all of the above makes great sense. So when will it be done? Will it be done? Sadly I expect,  I know the answer.


Shifting to renewable energy is a very good idea. Oil and coal are a limited, and pollutive resource. Gas too, to a lesser extent. So the shift makes sense on a worldwide basis.

For the Philippines, however, it does not. At least for some of it. Hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass, where the Philippines is already fairly well established, makes great sense. For solar, wind, waves etc, it makes no sense. These are early technologies still yet to be fully developed to be efficient and cheap.

The Philippines is a poor country with minimal effect on the world’s environment (less than 1 percent) so it makes no sense to move to more expensive power when Philippine electricity is already the highest cost in Asia, and its GDP/capita of $2,000, one of the lowest.  As the Foundation for Economic Freedom so well says: “We believe that it is more prudent to wait, given advances in technology, until the cost of solar and wind power drops to parity with conventional sources, instead of subsidizing these rich solar and energy producers at the expense of Philippine industry and the Filipino consumer. It is the obligation of rich, developed countries which are major contributors to carbon emission to subsidize these renewable sources of energy, not of the Filipino consumers”

Consumers are already subsidizing the poor who get free electricity if they consume less than 100KWH/month, to ask them to also subsidize solar power at a cost of P17.95/kwh when they can get non-renewable power at P5/kwh is cruel.

Senator OsmeƱa is quite right when solar power falls to half the cost it is today, which it will, then is the time for the Philippine to consider shifting to it.


Don’t the Arroyos realize that everyone they object to immediately becomes a preferred choice. Are they so out of touch with reality that they don’t recognize they must be investigated for at least 16 (that I counted) scandals and unanswered incidents during Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s term? An Ombudsman who will bring these to the forefront so they can prove their innocence, and put to rest all the suspicions, and accusations once and for all is just what’s needed.

The reason Mike Arroyo gives is that Ernesto Francisco has shown prejudice and bias against the Arroyos. But that’s exactly what you want from  an Ombudsman: Suspicion and bias in favor of investigating—anybody. And there’s the key word: Investigating. An Ombudsman is not an impartial, uninvolved judge. That’s who the Ombudsman brings his suspicions and accusations to. It is a fair, impartial judge Mike should be insisting on. And should be granted.

The Ombudsman should be into witch hunts.

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