GMA  ORDERS  REHAB  OF  FARM-TO-MARKET  ROADS

MANILA, MARCH 21, 2007 (STAR) By Marianne V. Go - President Arroyo ordered yesterday the rehabilitation of the Apoc-Kapangan-Kibungan-Bakun farm-to-market roads in the province of Benguet.

The President issued the order after distributing land titles and farm inputs to farmers in Barangay Lomon, in Kapangan.

The Department of Agriculture, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Public Works and Highways pledged P20 million each, while the Benguet provincial government promised P10 million for the said rehabilitation project.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said the rehabilitation of the farm-to-market roads of Benguet is critical for the livelihood of the majority of Benguet farmers and a matter of food security for the National Capital Region.

"When the Halsema Highway is shut down, this sub-national road is the main arterial road connection that moves the majority of Benguet vegetables down to the urban demand center like Metro Manila," Yap said.

Once the road is repaired and reconstructed, travel time for the delivery of agri produce to the La Trinidad trading post and other nearby provinces will be shortened dramatically, resulting on a decline in post-harvest losses.

Yap said infra reconstruction is part of the governmentís efforts to ensure food sufficiency and sustainability as well as increase the income of farmers in the countryside.

President Arroyo and Yap led the opening of the very first modern processing and packaging facility in Benguet which will aid farmers and vegetable producers in trimming down post-harvest wastage by 30 to 40 percent.

The facility, which is equipped to process and package 10 to 15 tons of vegetables and fruits in a day, will ensure the supply of good quality agricultural produce to consumers at more affordable prices.

BUSINESS COLUMN: Integrate CHED back with DepEd
DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco The Philippine Star 03/21/2007

I was covering the Senate when Sen. Ed Angara sponsored the bill that eventually took the responsibility for higher education away from DepEd and lodged it in a new body called the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The reason behind the move appears to make sense then. DepEd is saddled with too much responsibility and making it concentrate on basic education would perhaps enable it to do its job better.

A decade after, and it seems that the break-up may have been a mistake. The CHED turned out to be a sub-cabinet level bureaucracy that didnít have the gravitas to stand up to politicians who constantly exert pressure to protect sub-standard nursing and other schools. The best that one CHED chairman could do was resign, when forced by MalacaŮang to allow a nursing school to operate against his agencyís better judgment.

By CHEDís own reckoning, in the five-year period between 2000-2004, only 27 out of 175 nursing schools managed to have 75 percent of their graduates pass the PRC licensing examination. If we lower the standards to 50 percent of graduates passing, there would be 73 out of 175 schools. At the tail end of CHEDís list are nursing schools with less than 10 percent of graduates passing the licensing test.

For newer nursing schools with less than five years exposure to the licensure examination, 27 out of 94 schools had 75 percent of their graduates passing the test. There are 73 out of 94 schools with 50 percent of their graduates passing. The rest are pathetic, with 42 of them failing to pass even a single student.

What is happening in the nursing school scene is prima facie evidence of CHEDís failure to do its job. If I remember the debate on the bill that created it, CHED is supposed to set the standards for higher education, and thereafter, protect those standards. The large failure rate in the PRC licensure examination is proof that CHED is sleeping on the job. Those non-performing schools should have been closed down by CHED so as to protect the students and their parents from being ripped off.

Nursing is just one profession where government failure in education is evident and could endanger our ability to export nurses. I was just told that the same problem now exists in so-called maritime schools. As in nursing, there is also a proliferation of maritime schools for the same reason that there is a demand for training that would help our people get jobs abroad. Again, as in nursing, there is supposedly also a high failure rate among graduates of our so-called maritime schools.

Government must exercise its regulatory function in higher education and close down these diploma mills and thereby protect our poor people from being swindled of their hard-earned money. The heartbreaking thing about this current state of affairs is seeing these so-called schools victimize the poor who are enrolling there in the hope of getting an education that would be their ticket out of poverty. But they only get even more mired in poverty as they pay off their usurious loans for education they didnít get.

What do all these have to do with re-uniting CHED with DepEd? I think it would be better for the country to have one person with enough stature and authority to be given total responsibility for education. Surely, MalacaŮang would respect Secretary Jesli Lapus if he wants to crack down on diploma mills compared with whoever it is heading CHED now, whose name I canít even recall. Whoever he is, he clearly doesnít have the guts nor the standing to close down those non-performing schools or he would have done it by now.

Then again, changing a law would take time. For now, there must be a way by which the President can delegate her powers to supervise CHED to the Secretary of Education, who is after all, her alter ego. The problem now is that CHED is nominally directly under the Office of the President, like dozens of other agencies, which means it gets little or no supervision. And if the CHED Chairman does not have the stature nor the political clout to matter in Palace politics, the countryís higher education sector simply deteriorates further.

We are now in the midst of graduation season and in a few weeks, this yearís crop of graduates will be disappointed to learn that their diploma isnít worth the paper. Because they learned little of value that would get them a good job, they will just add to the unemployment statistics. Thatís clearly CHEDís failure.

Microfinance

Agriculture Usec Berna Romulo-Puyat has been assigned to handle the microfinance aspect of Secretary Arthur Yapís thrust to make agriculture viable for farmers. According to Usec Romulo-Puyat, she has the agreement of DBP to set aside funds, about P3 billion, for relending to farmers through qualified conduits.

As I related last Monday, vegetable farmers I talked to in Sariaya, Quezon are one in saying that financing is one big problem they face all the time. This is why they are at the mercy of traders who force them to accept very low prices at farm gate, to the point that farmers are unable to break out of their vicious cycle of indebtedness, no matter how good a harvest they get.

Other than the traders, the farmers have to deal with dealers of vegetable seeds and inputs like fertilizer, just to get started. Most likely, the dealers will give them what they need on credit and effectively charge an above market interest rate at harvest time.

One problem the traditional microfinance conduits will have to resolve is the matter of having to lend to men rather than women. Most microfinance lenders prefer to lend to women because they have better repayment experience with them.

Indian drug firms

I received this e-mail from a Pinoy expat in New York.

Iíve been covering pharmaceutical companies, including Indian pharmaceutical companies, as part of my consulting work at Terra Nova Advisors. India has an advantage in that sector that few countries can replicate in that it excels in chemistry Ė even more so than in IT.

This expertise took off from its former state-run economy where Indian chemists for generations would meticulously take apart and copy formulations from the first world before making knock off versions of their own. If you notice, this is the same attitude pursued by other successful industrialized economies to build their technology base. The Japanese and Koreans did it with machinery, the Taiwanese with electronics and the Chinese with garments design. All of them started out by tearing apart foreign technology and using what they learned to package something of their own until they got it right.

India is destined to become a pharmaceutical powerhouse. One of the trends that will drive this is the scale needed to develop new drugs. The diseases they are meant to cure and the issues associated with their safety are becoming more complex, thereby leading to more steps in the development process. More pre-clinical and clinical trials have to be conducted involving a greater number of people, which also results in a larger amount of data that requires sophisticated analysis.

In order to afford the scale needed to develop new drugs, companies are pressured to outsource big chunks of the process to India, which has a well-developed drug development industry.

Eggs

This came from Dr. Ernie E.

Two eggs are boiling in a saucepan.

One egg turns to the other and says "Look, Iíve got a crack!"

The other turns and says "No point telling me, Iím not even hard yet!"


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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