Friday, 6 July 2012

COMMENTARY: Mayor Padilla and the out-of-school children

These kids may not be aware of Mayor Dong’s effort to train out-of-school youth so they would acquire employable skills, but one day they would know about it when their time to look for jobs finally came. – MWBuzzpic by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ

Editor, MWBuzz

IF THERE’S a guy who is most appalled by the presence of many out-of-school children in his community, it is Dong Padilla.

And as the mayor of Jose Panganiban, a second-class coastal municipality that thrives on subsistence fishing and gold mining, he is incensed that this group – from age 0 to 14 – has never seen a classroom in their lives – blame this to the poverty of their family.

They have missed their formative years, he said, which could take place mostly in classrooms – from Kindergarten to Second Year in high school. 

And at home, there’s not even an assurance that they are getting the right breeding from parents who could be too burdened by the day-to-day struggle earning a living to bring food to the table to even realize that their kids needed some home education. They believed, maybe, that they could get that from the streets of Mambulao.

“They have already missed the golden years of learning and any efforts to educate them would just be a big waste should they happen by in the classroom.

“The chance of transforming them to become better and productive citizens of the community would be nil,” Padilla once told this writer during one of their casual chats at his office.

“How could you mold a child to become a productive member of the community when he or she has already missed the golden years in his life, where his intellect was most receptive?”

He recalled one day in 2007 at the height of the mayoral election campaign telling the people that the biggest problem in Mambulao is not only the out-of-school youth but also the so-called out-of-school children. He told them how the problem could be dealt with. He failed to get their votes.

And as mayor now, in numerous mayors’ meetings he had attended, he never heard a town chief executive complaining of the so-called out-of-school children in his area because they had none. They got out-of-school youth but not out-of-school children.

Mayor Dong ponders the future of his efforts to bring progress to his people. - MWBuzzpic by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ
“We have them … in Mambulao,” he told one of the mayors.

Despite education’s almost being free in elementary/primary with almost no expense to worry about, still many of our parents, especially those in remote baranggays, could not afford to meet the daily upkeep of their children, such as “baon, uniporme and pamasahe”.

If they could not support a child in elementary, how much more sending him/her to high school, where there’s not much to pay being a national high school and therefore supported by the government.

But still, many of the parents could not keep up with the daily needs of their children who are in high school, such as “baon, uniforme, pamasahe at pambili ng mga kailangan sa eskwela …”

Padilla said: Along the way, they drop out (of school) and those who managed to graduate would eventually hit a wall – their quest for education finally ends there as their parents have no means to send them to the university or even to a cheap vocational school.

“Now, I saw all this as early as 2007 when I told the people about our growing number of out-of-school children … and when I got the chance to sit in this office in 2010, my first focus has been to remove as much ‘istambays’ in Mambulao as I could and give them the chance to become productive members of the community.”

The solution came in the form of the Gov. Roy Padilla Memorial Technical School, which was established last year in Baranggay Larap, a depressed community which is also crawling with out-of-school youth and unproductive citizens – all coming from families of subsistence farmers, subsistence fishermen and subsistence “magkakabod” (gold panners).

“Doon ko ito itinayo sa Larap, kasi mas maraming mahihirap doon – mga anak-anak ng mga fisher folks and subsistence farmers… magkakabod ang ilan…”

“Alam mo, sa totoo lang, nang binuksan ko ang training school na ito …. when you think about it .. lakas po ng loob lang … nang binuksan ko po ang eskwelahan, talagang walang kapondo-pondo.

“Ang katuwiran ko kasi … God will provide … tuloy yan … at natuloy nga po …”

And the result of the school’s initial efforts after a six-month grind? It graduated 106 students with appropriate skills in welding jobs, baking, electrical and sewing.

And right now, the second batch of more than 100 is on board for a six-month course.

But it had been an uphill battle for those who joined the training course. The first batch was originally composed of 280 students. However, along the way dropping out had been the order of the day for the simple reason that the students did not have money to pay for the transport fare – tricycle and mini-bus rides. By the end of the six-month course, 174 students had quit.

To save as much as many students from quitting, the good mayor decided to do one funny thing: sunduin sila araw araw from school after classes. Pamper them, so to speak. But what the heck!

So, every night he sent the municipal vehicle (translation: dump trucks) to shuttle those who did not have money to ride back home.

He recalled that in 2007 while campaigning for the mayoral election, he offered to the people: I will give unlimited scholarship to the unemployed, unskilled members of your family at Tesda in Labo  … I will pay the tuition fee (P6,000 each student for a three-month course).

But the parents will have to shoulder the daily pocket money, bus fare and other incidentals such as board and lodging, snacks.

“Alam mo po ang nangyari? Walang kumagat … walang tumanggap ng aking alok … dahil na rin po seguro sa kahirapan ng ating mga kababayan … malaking pagkakataon na po para sa mga anak nila na makapag-train at magkaroon ng skill na panghanap-buhay kahit saan … sa Maynila…. sa Saudi… pero tinanggihan pa ho nila…”

So, Dong had no choice but to bring a Tesda-cloned program to Mambulao if only to realize his dream of ferreting out the classic “istambays sa kanto” from the municipality’s streets.

The truth is that this Tesda three-month skills training is quite unaffordable at P6,000 for a tuition fee as far as the poor families are concerned. Not to mention the accompanying expenses from bus fares to daily food/snacks and lodging.

But then it is understandable because one course module, such as the one on baking, electrical or Information Technology, usually costs P1.5 million to P2 million. With such a cost, the JP-LGU won’t be able to afford to have it in its technical school in Larap.

“Pero ang ikinaganda po ng ating set-up sa Mambulao is that being a community-based institute, we have been accommodated by Tesda with leniency.”

“Hindi po nila tayo hinigpitan sa mga training equipment basta proficient lang ang pag-conduct ng training … which we all managed to meet as we hired good training instructors.”

Under the scheme, the institute will conduct the training on courses such as welding, baking, sewing and electrical and other trade skill that would come later. Then, the graduates are sent to Tesda-Labo for skill proficiency validation. 

“Dito ho makikita kung ang natutunan nila sa institute ay papasa under the proficiency standards set by Tesda … which means dadaan ho sila sa lahat ng pagsubok – technical and academics – and then the practical side of the course – actual job execution …” 

At the first graduation rites sometime last October for the first batch of 106, the Tesda official who was the guest speaker praised the JP-LGU’s program as a rare setup, which is yet to be duplicated elsewhere. (But of late, the Capalonga-LGU had sent feelers it would like to clone the Roy Padilla Memorial Technical Institute scheme as solution to its own unemployment problem back home.)

The Tesda officer, who is actually the agency’s district supervisor for Bicol Region, has committed to validate all graduates from JP through proficiency examination, which later will earn them the much-coveted Tesda certificate of proficiency, a sure passport to jobs along the line of their trade skills.

Despite all this, his detractors, who felt like being a journalist getting scooped by his rival reporter on the biggest news story of his life, were eating a very sour “malig-ang” for failing to come up with a hit-maker like the skills training program: That I am spoon-feeding the people, ginagawa ko silang parasite …particularly the marginalized, less-privileged members of the community – for a vote.

“Oo na … andoon na ako…pero saka na ninyo ako husgahan … kasi, under the situation … ano ang puwede nating gawin ngayon?”

“Kasi ganito ang situation … if in case my investment promotion program for Mambulao kicks, thus it brings in investors to the municipality, there would be jobs … because, as the mayor, one condition that I would require investors for putting up business here is for them to hire locally.

“Pero, kahit umulan ng trabaho sa Mambulao, at kahit marami tayong manpower as we have more younger people now than the senior citizens available in the labor sector, do they have the skills?”

“Sadly, that’s the missing link which our own Tesda program in Mambulao is trying to create.”

Padilla has one musings: Just like Tesda validating his skills training graduates with success, he believes his decisions these days would validate him in future with flying colors for delivering top results

Going poetic, he said: “Time will come that what I am doing now will bear fruits.

“I know that what I am doing now will somehow liberate my people from bondage of poverty … I know it will come.”

Maybe, in another six years with Dong remaining as mayor -- Mambulao would see the number of its out-of-school children greatly reduced and enjoy more cemented roads across the municipality.

That would be The Day.

A portion of the Larap road at the Malapayungan section … the good news is that the cement road would reach the Larap bridge at Sparline before election time next year. – Photo courtesy of JP-LGU

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