Author Topic: The need for accurate measures to assess the state of the nation  (Read 7405 times)


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The need for accurate measures to assess the state of the nation
By Dr. Flor Lacanilao

Is President Aquino succeeding where his predecessors failed?   

This can be seen in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA)*—whether his programs and claimed achievements are sustainable, whether the programs are guided by the accepted basic prerequisites of growth, and whether the progress is measured by indicators of equitable well-being.

The two internationally proven prerequisites of sustainable prosperity are higher education and science. Measuring progress with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has proven to be faulty in some developed countries. It has not benefited our poor communities. How then would you rate the SONA along these lines?

In previous papers (samples cited below), I discussed the reasons why we have been left behind by most of our neighbors during the past five decades. Every new administration, starting with that of President Ferdinand Marcos, had its development programs of reform and a new set of officials-in-charge. Yet every succeeding administration inherited more problems from the previous one. In addition, it faced increasing global threats from terrorism, infectious diseases, and disasters from changing climate.

Persistent problems include poverty, fast population growth, poor basic education, resource overexploitation, environment degradation, graft and corruption, and common crimes.

I have explained that those problems are interrelated, forming vicious circles of cause-and-effect. For example, poverty is partly due to corruption; corruption, partly due to poverty. The same relation exists between poverty and overpopulation; and between overpopulation and poor basic education. The interrelated vicious circles constitute a complex national problem, which every past administration had tried to solve but failed. (See “Only science can solve poverty,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6/21/2007.)

In 2010, at the start of President Aquino’s term, I posted at online science forums a reminder, calling the attention of the President Aquino, that corruption is not the main cause of poverty. And that stopping corruption will not end poverty. It was then time to educate the public—for the President to address the true causes of national problems. He should at least be able in six years to put in place the established essentials of sustainable growth.

In that commentary, I also said: “Studies abroad and our experience tell us that corruption and poverty form a vicious circle. Whereas honest leadership had reduced corruption and at least, perceived reduced poverty—as was reminiscent of the time of President Magsaysay and President Cory—we saw corruption and poverty mushroom again.”

Our basic education problems are being similarly addressed.  It has become worse because their solution lies also elsewhere. Many studies, including those of Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in physics, have shown that it is doubtful to make progress at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at higher education.  This and other reasons show why DepEd’s K to 12 program is headed for failure (More in “K+12 most likely to fail,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2/17/2012).

In these two examples of addressing problems—poverty and basic education—failure is easily predictable. But it takes properly trained and experienced natural and social scientists to make such assessment. Many international studies have shown this. Hence, putting such right people in charge, or directly involved, in reform initiatives is another basic prerequisite to successful programs. It is critical in improving higher education and science (“Democratic governance impedes academic reform,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3/14/2011).

The right people are those who have made major contributions to their respective fields of endeavor, as indicated by properly published works and citations. Important are papers in journals and citations covered in Science Citation Index or Social Sciences Citation Index. Such properly published authors have the necessary expertise to evaluate information correctly.

The lack of such expertise among the wrong people in charge explains why, even with the advice of respected natural and social scientists, the decisions of those in charge—based largely on personal opinion and common sense—often prevailed.

With the mounting problems facing the country—e.g., energy and disasters from changing climate—President Aquino must seriously consider putting more right people in charge. How to choose the right people is described in “Energy crisis and climate change.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4/26/2012).

Finally, in reporting achievements, avoid using purely economic indicators. Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz explains, that a developing country can speed up its GDP growth by over-logging its forests (Nature, 18 Feb 2010). He adds: “What we measure affects what we do. If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things.” During the financial crisis in some developed countries, much of the GDP measured growth turned out to be a mirage.
President Aquino has appointed the first academic scientist in his cabinet—Arsenio Balisacan of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). He is one of the country’s top social scientists/economists. More of his caliber should be in PNoy’s staff, starting with the Commission of Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). This will insure that their evidence-based views will prevail in the decision-making process. 

The President still has four years to make a difference—to start the real reform that had eluded all past Philippine presidents. With the trust put in him by the Filipino electorate in 2010, he is now the last hope of the Filipino masses and he must not fail.

Dr. Flor Lacanilao obtained both his BS and MS in Zoology from the University of the Philippines in Diliman and his PhD, with specialization in comparative endocrinology, from the University of California at Berkeley. He served as professor and chairman of the Zoology Department at UP Diliman and chancellor of UP Visayas. He made pioneering discoveries in neuroendocrinology and led the research group that achieved the first spontaneous breeding of milkfish in captivity.
*This posting predates by one day President Benigno Aquino III’s scheduled State of the Nation Address on July 23, 2012.