Sun. Jul 25th, 2021
President Duterte allows his official family to debate issues before he strikes a policy. This way he gets to vet ideas arriving at the most practical solutions to the problems nagging the nation. This free exchange, an extension of his whole-of-a -nation approach, happens at cabinet and even at sub-cabinet levels, notably at the various task forces he has organized. Cartoon by Steven Pabalinas

By Ado Paglinawan

Part 1: When politicians mess with meritocracy in governance, it’s past time to boot them out

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go debunked the proposal to abolish licensure exams, particularly for nursing and law, saying that it would be detrimental to the quality of education and standards set by professions in the country.

“Nag-aral tayo, pagkaaral natin kailangan po mag-exam sila at malalaman kung pwede na nilang gampanan ‘yung kanilang propesyon na natapos,” said Go in an ambush interview after the groundbreaking ceremony of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Housing Project in Pulangbato, Cebu City on Friday, July 9.

Earlier, Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III floated the idea of dropping the mandatory board exams for nurses and other professions, saying in the vernacular “It’s very expensive to take the nursing program. They’ll take it for four years, after graduating, they’ll have to take the board exam. Why do they need that when they’ve taken so many exams in the nursing program?

The senator’s disagreement virtually pricks a pin into DOLE Secretary Bello’s “float” and shits it to the dustbin.

Go said that majority of students who have taken their board exams will not agree with the suggestion.

“Eh mahirap po na porke’t naka-graduate ka hindi ka na papasok ng board o bar exam. Hindi po mahirap, hindi po ako sang-ayon dun,” said Go.

First-hand proof-positive

What is not being reported in media is that the senator is compliant with government regulations on licensure exams. His son, Christian Lawrence Go ranked third of the 2,075 who passed the October 2019 Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Licensure Examination out of 14,492 who took the licensure examination.

The fact that only 14.32% passed that exam proves the urgent need to sift the weeds from the wheat, so to speak, in order to distinguish those who has made the grade from those who are just products of diploma mills.

Mahiya ka naman Bello sa anak ni Bong Go! Sumasahod ka sa gobierno, kaya ang pagsilbihan mo ay ang ikabubuti ng bayan at hindi yang mga wild senior ideas mo.

The Philippines’ stringent standards for its professionals is the reason why our healthcare workers, especially medical doctors and nurses are the apple of the eye of foreign employers, notably in highly industrialized countries where they get top compensations.

But Bello earlier said, “”In my meeting with the Philippine Nurses Association and the [Philippine] Board of Nursing, I told them to review it and then we can recommend to Congress to remove those examinations. That’s only additional expenses for our aspiring nurses,” he said going to add that the same can be applied to other professions, such as law.

Seemingly hinting about his post-2021 plans, Bello said the proposal would probably be his “pet bill” should he become part of Congress.

The proposal of the DOLE secretary has raised many eyebrows especially in the academe because instead of proposing measures that would increase the competency of professionals, his wild proposition adopts a populist air intended to attract votes to serve as key to his becoming a legislator.

The senator’s response serves more the public interest, however, than the kneejerk accommodation of the cabinet secretary who was obviously soliciting public affirmation at the expense of a wise public policy.

Bello has been known for his “oido” style, shooting from the hips, instead of coming up with ideas that are a subject of complete staff work. This is not his first rejection.

Reviving the peace talks with communist terrorists has been his insistent position since being first named to the negotiating panel with the communist terrorists twenty years ago, oblivious of the fact that more than 50,000 have been killed while peace talks been going on and off many past administrations.

 President Duterte overruled Bello after the military suggested an alternative course of action devolving peace negotiations with insurgents on a local government level, a successful course that has yielded almost 20,000 surrenders in just a little over two years from the time the Executive Order 70 was signed creating the National Task Force for the Elimination of Communist Armed Conflict.

Secretary Bello’s instincts are unreliable. He is also known not to be circumspective in his work as chief regulator of local and overseas employment.

He is the chairman of the board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority (POEA) that banned healthcare workers from leaving the country, less than month after the President ordered a general lockdown later known as an Enhanced Community Quarantine.

In its Resolution No. 09 Series of 2020 signed on April 2, the POEA said the following workers cannot be deployed “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until Covid-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination country”.

This included the following: Medical doctor, Nurse, Microbiologist, Molecular biologist, Clinical analyst, Respiratory therapist, Pharmacist, Laboratory technician, radiologic technician, Nursing assistant, Operator of medical equipment, Supervisor of health services and personal care and Repairman of medical-hospital equipment.

Negotiations of bilateral labor agreements for government-to-government deployment of healthcare workers were also suspended by the resolution until the duration of the national state of emergency.

But the ban was not disclosed to the public until April 10, albeit by surprise, when immigration officials prevented Filipino nurses working for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service from catching their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The cancellation of their flight to fulfill their signed contracts abroad was met with overwhelming protests from formal as well as informal sectors. Social media bled for days.

Nurses minced no words against the POEA resolution, striking it as “involuntary servitude” obstructing “life-changing opportunities.” Leah Paquiz, chairperson of Ang Nars: “If the government wants to keep our health workers within our country, then we must offer competitive salaries and benefits so they will choose to stay, instead of being forced to.” Nurses have also started an online petition, emphasizing that most of them already have existing contracts and the deployment ban may affect their visa validity.

“Despite the government offering us an allowance of P500 daily as compensation for volunteering, we are still looking forward for the deployment abroad due to the compensation that they are capable of giving,” the petition read.

“Nurses who applied abroad have spent most of their time, effort and money to comply with the needed requirements so they can immediately work abroad.”

A coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups vehemently objected to the resolution saying “other than being a violation of the right to travel, this ban might be considered an order imposing involuntary servitude prohibited under Article III, Section 18 (2) of the Constitution which states: ‘No involuntary servitude in any form shall exist except as a punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted’.”

In contrast, Senator Go’s wisdom puts Bello licentiousness to shame.  

Senator Go also filed in July 2019 Senate Bill No. 395, also known as the “Advanced Nursing Education Act of 2019”. The measure seeks to protect and improve the nursing profession by instituting measures that will result in relevant nursing education, humane working conditions, better career prospects and a dignified existence for our nurses.

Go’s proposed measure will require the establishment of standard basic and graduate programs for nursing education, to be implemented in Commission on Higher Education-accredited institutions of higher learning.

Recently, Go appealed to the government to include frontliners of the Professional Regulation Commission, such as proctors and watchers, for upcoming professional board exams, and board examiners in the A4 priority group for COVID-19 vaccination. This is to ensure that they are able to perform their duties safely as they are protected from Covid-19.

“Binakunahan na po ‘yung PRC examiners para po makapag-conduct na sila ng examinations sa mga nurses. Eh, ganun din po gawin natin, kung kailangan bakunahan ‘yung mga examiners and even the examinees ay bakunahan para po protektado sila. Bigyan po natin ng prayoridad,” he added.

In his previous appeal, Go emphasized the significant role of the PRC in processing and evaluating professionals, particularly nursing graduates, which, in turn, could address the need of the country for more medical frontliners amid the pandemic.

When politicians mess with meritocracy in governance, it’s past time to boot them out.

Sometimes a smile does not imply an agreement. Bong Go, Bebot Bello and the President in a consultative moment.

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