Undermining Peace and Order

October 27, 2007

October 26, 2007

Last night, Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado called me up to report that the car of one of the vice mayors attending their regional conference was broken into. Some important belongings were taken. This happened near Regent Hotel where they were holding the meeting. A year ago, probably this would have been big news. But with the way things are now and the spate of crimes lately, this seems to be an ordinary occurence.

What gives?  The Naga City Police Department, which for a long time was considered one of the best police stations in the country, is demoralized. It is headed by an Officer-in-Charge (OIC), Col. Amor Macoy, who has been illegally designated. The PNP Legal Services, itself, opined that the OIC Regional Director Col. Bal Tira does not have the authority to designate OIC-Chiefs of Police, as he himself is merely an OIC. But it seems clear now that in our police organization, what prevails is the “rule of the influential” rather than the rule of law. (When I had an audience with with Former Chief PNP Oscar Calderon, he told me that Col Tira would be replaced. In fact, a turn-over was already scheduled. But, without any explanation, it was aborted after somebody close to Malacanan intervened.) Fourteen (14) local policemen were charged for alleged involvement in drugs and were reassigned to the PNP Regional Command. We knew that these were trumped up charges. The drug tests were negative. An informant from the District Jail informed us that some elements of the Provincial PNP Command under  then Provincial Director Romeo Mapalo attempted to secure and antedate an affidavit from an inmate at the District Jail to pin some of these policemen on drug-related cases. Fortunately, the Regional Trial Court ruled that the reassignment was irregular and effectively restrained it.

Now, they have succeeded in securing an order transferring the fourteen (14) policemen to Camp Crame. While the fourteen (14) policemen did recognize the validity of the order, the city government did not, since this violated DILG’s and Napolcom’s regulations on transfer and reassignment of police elements. The rules require consultation with the local government units. No such consultation was conducted. But sadly, Napolcom has no fangs nor teeth to enforce its rulings. The policemen have gone back and forth to Camp Crame for three times already. They say that PNP-DIDM has recommended dismissal of the charges. Unfortunately, for the families of these police elements, the organization which their kin belong can not even protect its own men from the harassments of influential politicians. (No wonder jueteng can not be stopped. Politicians hold sway inside the PNP.)

The policemen in the city are demoralized. Their OIC Chief of Police was reported to have molested a lady guest while drunk inside Villa Caceres Hotel. While he denied molesting the guest, he admitted that he was drunk. No action was taken by his superiors on their designated OIC. When asked how  a person could be robbed and shot after withdrawing money from ChinaBank at around noon time, he replied that the suspects simply timed the hit when no policeman was around. We need solutions instead of explanations. Like the other crimes that were committed (including a robbery that took place in a drugstore located inside the compound of the police headquarters), the police merely offered an explanation and not a solution. If this goes on, we surely can expect the worst. (Despite the apprehensions by the Naga City Public Safety Office of “jueteng cabos”, Col. Macoy still denies that there is jueteng in the city and the province as well.) The OIC Chief can not protect his men because he has to protect his superiors. Unfortunately, his superiors are indifferent to what is happening in his jurisdiction.

Two other police officers were ordered to undergo retraining. What surprises the residents of the city is that the two officers, Inspector Nick Garcia and Inspector Jojo Perez,  are two of the best police officers of the local police. Apparently, their crime is that they have fully supported the initiatives of the local government unit to improve the peace and order situation in the city. Another policeman, SPO4 Diego Magpantay is about to be transferred out of the city. Apparently, his crime was his involvement in the anti-gambling campaign of the city government.  He might have stepped on the toes of the “padrinos” of his superiors. Those who have been faithful to their jobs have been  prosecuted and persecuted. Those who have been remiss have been promoted and protected.

This is what is happening given the kind of leadership that we now have at PNP – Bicol Region.  This should be a test for the new PNP Chief Avelino Razon, Jr.  Can he insulate the police organization from the unnecessary interference of politicians? I recall asking some senior police officers why the the police leadership  do not stand their ground and protect their fellow officers in uniform. The timid answer was they can not count on their superiors when the going gets tough. The previous unsuccesful attempt to relieve and the recent relief of the fourteen (14) police officers from Naga City demonstrated that the PNP leadership is incapable of putting the interest of its men and the people they are serving, when pressured by influential politicians.

Who is then undermining the efforts to maintain peace and order in Naga City? The buck stops at the door of the PNP leadership in Camp Crame.  In time, the community will realize that the police organization has failed them and rightfully put the blame on where it should be. I hope it will not take a serious incident to happen before the PNP comes to its senses.


The Missing Element in Education Reform

October 25, 2007

October 21, 2007

Most of the discussions on improving our public education system dwell on the lack of resources to fund both the hard and soft infrastructure requirements of our public schools. While this may seem valid, I believe there is a more important and telling element that can improve academic achievement levels and participation and completion rates with the available resources that we currently have at our disposal.

In one of the Synergeia consultations I attended, I recall asking a Division Superintendent whether the results of the division achievement tests form part of the basis for the promotion of principals and superintendents. The answer was qualified, with the superintendent saying that in his case, he did consider it. But as a rule, he added, this was not taken into consideration. I can only surmise that completion rates and cohort survival rates of our public schools are incidental outcomes instead of a result of a deliberate effort at the school level to make public education fully accessible to our pupils.

The absence of a clear accountability system makes our public school measurement system unresponsive. While measurement is done both at the national level and the division level with the annual achievement test administered to the students, no one is made to answer for the results in a meaningful way. The achievement test conducted for a selected grade level each year provides a snapshot of how the schools, divisions and regions are faring. However, it could have better served its purpose if the performances of principals, superintendents and regional directors are tracked based on the improvements on achievement levels over time of the jurisdictions under their watch. This will compel them to localize programs that will address the inadequacies in subject areas of their respective assignments. This will compel the superintendents to make the subject area supervisors, principals and consequently the teachers to answer for the improvements in academic proficiencies of their pupils. (Let me clarify that what should be measured would be the improvement in achievement levels rather than the absolute scores.) This will refocus the resources and energies of our education officials to what it important — improving the academic proficiencies of our pupils.

Our experience in Naga City demonstrates that this can be done, especially with a cooperative division superintendent. Diagnostic tests were conducted at the beginning of the year and post tests were conducted at the end of the year for all grade levels and subject areas. By comparing the results of the diagnostic test with that of the post test, we were not only able to assess students’ achievement levels but also the proficiencies of the teachers for the different subject areas per grade. In fact, a portion of the incentive allowance provided by the city government to the teachers was determined by the improvements in achievement levels of the school — meaning to say, that those who did better received more. While this system needs refinement, especially in the area of ensuring the integrity of the testing process, it provides the mechanism that introduces accountability in the current scheme of things. At the moment, it seems that no one is made to answer for the poor achievement levels of our school children.

While at it, participation rates and completion rates should also form part of measuring the effectiveness of principals and teachers. The closest link to the pupils and the parents are the principals and the teachers. While these access indicators may seem to be mere statistics at the national level, at the school level, these are warm bodies whose future will be determined by the level of education they will receive. We often hear the “education for all” campaign in almost all administrations. But to emphasize, at the school level, the numbers are mere incidentals of what happened without the benefit of a deliberate and focus program to put children in school. For all the sloganeering of a free public school system, basic public education in most parts of the country is not really free. Any parent from schools of poor divisions will tell you so.

Corollary to this accountability system, the superintendents should be made accountable for their principals, the regional director for their superintendents and so on and so forth, until the buck stops at the Department of Education Central Office — the Secretary. Clearly, by focusing on what our education officials should be made to answer for, we can compel them to be more responsive.

Going back to where I started, while it is true that we need resources for the basic requisites to deliver free and quality public education to our school children, the mechanisms to measure their impact must be in place. Let us make our education officials accountable for the outcomes! This does not cost a lot of money, by the way.

Inter-Local Health Zones

October 20, 2007

October 15, 2007    

This morning, an Inter Local Health Zone organizational meeting was convened for LGUs in the 2nd Congressional District of Camarines Sur and the neighboring Burias island  by the Metro Naga Development Council and the DOH Regional Office. In attendance were DOH Usec del Mundo, DOH R-V Director Santiago, elected local officials and municipal health officers. The meeting, although long overdue, again brought back to fore the tensions as a result of the devolution of health services to LGUs. The perennial issue of funds and mandates seem to preoccupy the minds of elected local officials. On the other hand, while not bluntly said, DOH felt that health performance, as borne out by health indicators, have deteriorated after the devolution. Unless DOH and the LGUs come to terms with the realities of the current problems, LGUs will continue to relegate health at the bottom of its priorities (with district hospitals lacking in doctors, supplies and medicines), offering devolution as an excuse for the inadequacy. DOH will continue to harp that the health delivery system was better when it was unified under the national government. Both of these are farthest from the truth. Many localities have done better under the devolved system. It is often argued that devolution only worked well in cities. But outstanding initiatives have been undertaken by small municipalities and provinces demonstrating that devolution works. On the other hand, the same problems encountered by patients in hospitals administered by provinces are felt in hospitals under the DOH. LGUs can continue to blame the national government for its shortcomings (like for instance, the unreasonable impositions of the Magna Carta for Health Workers that distort salary scales in LGUs). But clearly, if  only they will channel some of the funds from their “imeldific undertakings” to basic health concerns, our health numbers would have been better.

The establishment of inter-local health zones attempts to achieve a seamless interface between the delivery programs of LGUs and DOH. While the concept is very sound, the participation of LGUs will depend on: a) how the local leadership view health as a priority of the locality, b) how much resources can be leveraged from the national government, donor partners and the local community through its participation and c) how it can improved desired health outcomes (as they perceive it).

Firstly, the priorities of most localities are determined by the elected officials, specially the local chief executive. They are influenced therefore by the political benefits that can be gained from these priorities. When health care is identified as a priority, the curative aspect of health care takes precedence over the preventive aspect — simply because this is the most direct and visible way to reach the constituency (medicines dispensed, patients taken cared of and referrals to government hospitals).

Secondly, from the point of view of local officials, they would only be willing to pool resources if this will pave the way for counterpart funding from the national government or other local governments (as in the case of the Metro Naga Development Program, where Naga City in effect subsidizes the other members by virtue of the formula by which contributions are assessed). Interest will wane if the LGUs feel that, in effect, another entity holds sway as to how its funds are to be disbursed. The most significant incentive in joining an inter-LGU health board is the capacity of the unit to multiply the resources or access to resources by the member-LGU.

Thirdly, will an inter-LGU health board provide the member LGU access to more curative care services. Simply put, will this allow the LGU better access to nationally administered hospitals (given the difficulty of dealing with them right now)?

Organizing and institutionalizing an inter-LGU local health board requires that this seemingly less important “political needs” of the elected officials be satisfied. In fact, the other way of looking at it is these can serve as the carrot to push the agenda of better coordination between the national and local health delivery systems.

Relatedly, most LGUs have organized their own local health boards. While the institution is mandated by the code, resources come from regular budgetary allocations. If health is considered a national priority, it might be good to consider creating a health fund similar to the Special Education Fund (SEF) from property tax levies on property owners. SEF is a revenue source as a result of a national legislative measure. A similar measure incorporated in the proposed amendments to the local government code will be acceptable to LGUs. This will open opportunities for better functioning inter-LGU health zones and local health boards.

To make these institutions responsive and accountable, a health score card could be established that will allow comparison between LGUs based on agreed indicators on desired health outcomes (a good model is the system of regularly measuring nutritional status conducted by the regional and national nutrition councils). When LGUs are compared with each other, it will allow their constituents to measure how good their local officials are as compared to their other counterparts. Health will now be part of the political discourse. There is now more incentive for the elected officials to put health as a priority in their development agenda.