16 Sep, Monday
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Arroyo’s Unfortunate Manipulation of Statistics

(Photo courtesy of Inq7.net)

THE UNSEEMLY hissy fit that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had on Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting when acting Secretary of Education Fe Hidalgo informed her that there would be a shortage of 6,832 classrooms when the new school year begins next Monday, was both surprising and unbecoming.

The president challenged Hidalgo’s figures, even though she is a veteran teacher who has risen through the ranks at the Department of Education, and sent her back to her office to come back with new numbers.

Hidalgo had calculated the deficit of 6,832 classrooms by using an average ratio of 45 students to one classroom. The problem was that the president was assuming a ratio of 100 students per classroom. Since that figure seems much too large to accommodate in a single classroom, unless it is an auditorium, then one must assume that Arroyo meant 100 students divided into two shifts sharing the same classroom. That’s still 50 students in the morning and 50 in the afternoon, a far too high figure for any serious learning to take place in such a crowded atmosphere.

The televised Cabinet meeting was supposed to be an opportunity for Arroyo to show off her achievements. Instead it backfired badly, showcasing her legendary impatience and tendency to be “taray” with her subordinates. Poor Hidalgo later told reporters that she had never been so publicly humiliated before in her life and that she felt sorry for herself.

Hidalgo later returned to Malacanang Palace on Tuesday and told reporters that 2,600 new classrooms would be ready by June, with another 1,000 ready by September. According to my calculations that still leaves a gaping deficit of 3,232 classrooms, which the government now says will be solved by schools having two daily shifts.

From my own experience of having taught English to Saudi students, trying to keep control over a classroom of 20 students is challenging enough. I can only imagine the near-impossibility of controlling a classroom of 45 to 50 students at one time. Even if a teacher can control such a large classroom, how can one person give quality attention to such a large number of students? It is a fact that a teacher usually ends up focusing most of his/her attention on those who show the most interest, leaving those unruly students to their own devices.

This classic tendency of President Arroyo wanting to always see the glass half full instead of half empty, otherwise known as “massaging the figures”, is going to have dire consequences for the Philippines. Just read the eye-opening Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s April 26 report on this, called “Unmasking the Truths of ‘Arrovonomics’”, to see what I mean.

The truth is that Arroyo’s constant flow of upbeat economic news is built on massive amounts of borrowing, even borrowing money just to pay off existing loans, creating a vicious circle of no actual wealth being created that is bound to come crashing down someday soon.

I don’t mind a president trying to be positive about the country’s future, but when that means tricking a population into believing that everything is hunky-dory, when in fact it’s not, is downright criminal.

THE ARMED Forces are still refusing to name the undercover operatives who kidnapped and tortured the five supporters of former President Joseph Estrada last week without a warrant to do so.

“Of course, we have to protect our men from retaliation from the enemy, from the Left, because they are connected with the left,” said Col. Tristan Kison, Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Information Office chief.

Although the officers accused of torture are facing a preliminary investigation for a court-martial, the military is still, unsurprisingly, defending their actions.

The Senate committee on finance is not satisfied with the military’s secret report on the incident, with its chairman Sen. Manuel Villar saying that they are looking at ways of cutting the AFP’s budget as punishment, without endangering any of its crucial missions of defending the country.

Eight Military Intelligence Group 15 operatives are allegedly under investigation, two officers among them, by the Judge Advocate General’s Office.

The military is justifying the kidnapping and torture of the five Estrada supporters by alleging that the group was planning to assassinate President Arroyo and much of her Cabinet in a supposed Estrada-Left conspiracy to overthrow the government.
While I do believe that plots to overthrow governments should be closely monitored, I don’t think the military had enough solid evidence to justify their torture of the Estrada-5.

The authorities cannot go around arresting and beating people that they suspect may commit crimes. They can only arrest people once they have actually begun committing a crime. The last I heard, supporting former President Estrada was not a crime.