SOLITA C. MONSOD: STICKING MY NECK OUT (MRT's BOSS ISSUE)

The operation of the MRT is on the hot seat, and so is its boss, Al S. Vitangcol. He guested on my TV show, which was taped two days ago (I don’t know when it will be aired). I had never seen him before, or at least don’t remember having met him before. But one thing is sure: I was very impressed with him, with his answers, and with the way he runs the MRT. I may be sticking my neck out, but if this man is corrupt, I am blind, deaf and dumb. This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in the Department of Transportation and Communications. Right now, for example, the awarding of the Cebu airport project to the lowest bidder has been delayed by almost two months, while the second lowest bidder is trying to destroy the reputation of the lowest bidder, whom it had asked to be its bidding partner in the first place. When the DOTC has second thoughts about a straightforward, no-nonsense procedure, one starts to wonder. Why is the Czech ambassador so much involved? Simple. The MRT coaches we have been using from the beginning are Czech. (And I must say they certainly have done a good job, so why change horses in midstream? Another point to ponder.) READ MORE.....

ALSO: Misalignment in education?

Let a thousand flowers bloom! With the end of the academic year, it is harvest time again for colleges and universities. Over 550,000 graduates are hoping they will not be left withering on the vine.
The odds are not exactly in their favor. The January 2014 Labor Force Survey reported an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. This means that the current crop of graduates will be joining some 3 million unemployed people already looking for jobs. But the graduates are sailing out of their academic ports on a strong tide and with a brisk wind at their back. The economy has never been as healthy in a long time. Three institutions just raised their growth projections for the year: World Bank to 6.5 percent, Standard and Poor’s to 6.6 percent, and Asian Development Bank to 6.4 percent.
The Philippines is on track to come only second to China as the region’s best performer. It is also moving up in the competitiveness rankings, moving from 138th of 189 countries in 2012 to 108th. The 30-step improvement was the biggest jump recorded by any country last year. A growing, more competitive economy should boost business confidence and merit a second look from investors. A more robust business climate will, hopefully, translate to more employment opportunities. In the hunt for jobs, the college degree does provide an edge. About two-thirds of the unemployed lack this credential. But 20 percent, or nearly 600,000, of the job-seekers had completed their college education, compared to 18 percent in 2013. If we have to put a positive spin on the numbers, we can proclaim that we are raising the quality of our unemployed. How much blame do the victims really deserve? Misalignment in education can result from various forces. Common complaints about skill levels have not normally focused on BCG’s high-level manufacturing skills. In 2011-12, nearly half of about 150,000 “hard-to-fill” vacancies were clerical and call center positions. Are the students failing to select the right courses, or are the schools failing to teach the right skills in the right way in these courses? And what is the role of government? Education misalignment, as an explanation for unemployed graduates, deserves the same rigorous scrutiny that the skills gap has undergone in the United States. READ FULL ARTICLE....ALSO:

ALSO: Deciphering the Filipino psyche

An unexpected invitation during my continuing personal visit to the East Bay in San Francisco came from Chevron’s Filipino Employees Network (FEN), which wanted me to speak yet again on my pop culture books—“You Know You’re Filipino If…,” “Don’t Take a Bath on a Friday,” and “Ngalang Pinoy,” all published by Tahanan Books. The FEN had warmly received me a number of times before, and this time was no exception.I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm and interest of the audience of Filipino-Americans and expatriates on the topic. The Filipino employees cajoled their bosses into attending the lunch-hour session “to understand them better.” Among the reasons I mentioned that make me proudly Pinoy today, which resonated with them (and yes, you can debate with me, but these are reasons I feel strongly about): the overseas Filipino workers who venture out into the unknown; a president of the land honest and determined to fight corruption; a growing band of honest, hardworking public officials determined to make life better for all Filipinos; our present status in the international financial community; the Department of Education’s bold K-to-12 initiative and its relentless efforts toward addressing shortfalls in infrastructure and resources; palpable new optimism among the citizenry; growing recognition of our islands and beaches among the world’s best; the international acclaim earned by Filipinos in various fields of endeavor, and their virtues of honesty and industry; strong family ties; and the quality of life in the country. READ MORE...


READ FULL REPORTS HERE:

Sticking my neck out


 By Solita Collas-Monsod

MANILA, APRIL 7, 2014 (INQUIRER)  By Solita Collas-Monsod - The operation of the MRT is on the hot seat, and so is its boss, Al S. Vitangcol. He guested on my TV show, which was taped two days ago (I don’t know when it will be aired).

I had never seen him before, or at least don’t remember having met him before. But one thing is sure: I was very impressed with him, with his answers, and with the way he runs the MRT. I may be sticking my neck out, but if this man is corrupt, I am blind, deaf and dumb.

This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in the Department of Transportation and Communications.

Right now, for example, the awarding of the Cebu airport project to the lowest bidder has been delayed by almost two months, while the second lowest bidder is trying to destroy the reputation of the lowest bidder, whom it had asked to be its bidding partner in the first place. When the DOTC has second thoughts about a straightforward, no-nonsense procedure, one starts to wonder.

Why is the Czech ambassador so much involved? Simple. The MRT coaches we have been using from the beginning are Czech. (And I must say they certainly have done a good job, so why change horses in midstream? Another point to ponder.)

But Ambassador Josef Rychtar’s perception that the MRT manager is the big boss (makes the procurement decisions) may be sadly misinformed. It is the DOTC that has the Bids and Awards Committee, not the MRT. Additionally, as far as I can make out, Vitangcol’s connection with that $30-million extortion try (which went down to $2.5 million the same night) is based on Rychtar’s conjecture that Wilson de Vera, who apparently made the extortion try, called up Vitangcol to get his approval for the reduction. Rychtar’s conjecture, as I said, was based on a misperception. And for this, Vitangcol is being hung out to dry in the public’s mind.

Vitangcol’s side: He never had dinner with Rychtar; he first met De Vera when the Czech company Inekon brought De Vera to his office.

The ambassador also made a comment that Vitangcol “is covered… protected” because “he has a very firm position.

Nothing can move his chair….” Well, after talking to Vitangcol, I am glad that he has a firm position, and that he cannot be moved. In fact, I think Vitangcol’s appointment may be one of P-Noy’s best decisions yet.

What are Vitangcol’s qualifications? A civil engineer (University of the Philippines) with a master’s degree in computer science (De La Salle University), and a lawyer to boot, he joined the government as director for policy formulation at the PPP Center before he was appointed MRT head in 2012. Who is his padron? He claims not to have any (and the way he is being made out to be the scapegoat, I tend to believe him), having been recommended for the MRT position by a UP engineering professor. With those qualifications, he should have been appointed to the Commission on Elections, which is another reason why I tend to believe he has no padron, or backer. He was a Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections) volunteer, a member of the Philippine Computer Society, a pretty good lecturer, and an author of three books.

Vitangcol has done wonders for the MRT since he joined it, bringing in only one person (his executive assistant) with him. He has since computerized everything that could be computerized (including payroll, which was manually done until he came along), tightened procedures and processes, and put in a passenger information system and a station monitoring system. He knows at any point the efficiency level his trains perform (the aim is to make 272 loops, one loop being North Avenue to Taft and back) in a day, and the lowest they have done is 93 percent. Monitoring the stations allow for decisions to be made so that a train can skip other stations to go to the station most in need.

He knows exactly how many passengers ride a day (560,000), or when 350,000 passengers are the “crush load”—which of course means that riding can be hell for the passengers.

And he goes on the trains every week and inspects the stations, which is I think why the stations are squeaky clean and the cars practically spotless. There are station identifications, which he also introduced. And he has a “model station” of the month, with a P10,000 prize for the employees, which provides them with an incentive, just as the recognition does.

When he came in, ridership was in the 300,000s. At a 5-percent-a-year increase, it doesn’t explain why ridership is in the 500,000s. Why the spike? Tight controls over ticketing. So the reports now are more accurate. Which means somebody was making a lot of money before Vitangcol came in.

The MRT is currently geared for 20 three-car trains an hour. The most it can tackle, due to physical and safety constraints, is 24 four-car trains an hour. Which is what the MRT is gearing up for.

Is Vitangcol responsible for the problems that the riding public now has to go through, packed like sardines as they are? Of course not. As he said, the ones who put up the MRT did not plan for the future.

And I agree with him. When the MRT was first planned, the alternatives were to put it on Edsa or C-5. C-5 would have been able to take additional passengers better, but Edsa won out—for reasons we will not go into here, but are, I think, obvious.

Question: Why are there such long passenger ticket lines? Answer: Because the train platforms are already packed, so passengers cannot be allowed on the platforms.

Question: Why weren’t those additional cars purchased earlier? That’s not Vitangcol’s fault either; he wasn’t on board until 2012, so give him a break.

We’re not going to get any better man than Vitangcol.

Misalignment in education? By Edilberto C. de Jesus Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:19 am | Saturday, April 5th, 2014


Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
de Jesus, Edilberto C., PhD Professor Emeritus Expertise: Strategy-source: AIM WEBSITE

Let a thousand flowers bloom! With the end of the academic year, it is harvest time again for colleges and universities. Over 550,000 graduates are hoping they will not be left withering on the vine.

The odds are not exactly in their favor. The January 2014 Labor Force Survey reported an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. This means that the current crop of graduates will be joining some 3 million unemployed people already looking for jobs.

But the graduates are sailing out of their academic ports on a strong tide and with a brisk wind at their back. The economy has never been as healthy in a long time. Three institutions just raised their growth projections for the year: World Bank to 6.5 percent, Standard and Poor’s to 6.6 percent, and Asian Development Bank to 6.4 percent.

The Philippines is on track to come only second to China as the region’s best performer. It is also moving up in the competitiveness rankings, moving from 138th of 189 countries in 2012 to 108th. The 30-step improvement was the biggest jump recorded by any country last year.

A growing, more competitive economy should boost business confidence and merit a second look from investors. A more robust business climate will, hopefully, translate to more employment opportunities.

In the hunt for jobs, the college degree does provide an edge. About two-thirds of the unemployed lack this credential.

But 20 percent, or nearly 600,000, of the job-seekers had completed their college education, compared to 18 percent in 2013. If we have to put a positive spin on the numbers, we can proclaim that we are raising the quality of our unemployed.

But, obviously, a diploma does not guarantee employment, let alone a job appropriate to the training it presumably represents. A four-year degree is not necessary to open and close doors at a hotel or to produce a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

While the unemployment rate is gradually inching down, the plight of jobless graduates, given the rising cost of investing in a college degree, becomes particularly disturbing. The investment has not been paying off in terms of jobs, but, at the same time, we hear employers complaining that they cannot find the people they need for the positions they must fill.

This situation has also emerged in the United States, where it has raised concerns about the “skills gap.” In a jointly-authored article published in Politico, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, CEO of Jobs for the Future, noted that 11 million Americans are unemployed, while 4 million jobs sit unfilled. The piece called for closing “the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need.”

The article and its argument provoked a dismissive rejoinder from Paul Krugman. The lingering effects of the financial crisis, in his view, explained the high unemployment rate, not alleged inadequacy of worker skills. An MIT survey supported Krugman. It estimated that unemployment across all education levels had risen between 1.3 and 1.9 times higher than 2007, but this was due to a lack of demand rather than the workers’ lack of education or skills.

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study concluded that the so-called gap affected less than 1 percent of 11.5 million manufacturing workers and less than 8 percent of 1.4 million highly-skilled manufacturing workers. The problem was significant only in seven states. Research thus sustains Krugman’s view that the skills gap in the United States is exaggerated—in his words, a zombie that will not die (NYT, 30/3/14).

Looking at jobless graduates, we tend to speak of “misalignment in education.” Misalignment, arising from the students’ choice of studies to pursue in college, offers one possible explanation for a skills gap. If students end up jobless, it really is their own fault. They keep enrolling in education and business courses. Had they majored in econometrics or bio-engineering, they could probably have landed high-paying jobs.

How much blame do the victims really deserve? Misalignment in education can result from various forces. Common complaints about skill levels have not normally focused on BCG’s high-level manufacturing skills. In 2011-12, nearly half of about 150,000 “hard-to-fill” vacancies were clerical and call center positions.

The BPO recruitment success rate of less than 10 percent and the dismal record of Teacher Education Institutions to getting their graduates through the Licensure Examination for Teachers speak to a different kind of misalignment: that between what the institutions are supposed to teach, what the students actually learn, and what the market needs.

Are the students failing to select the right courses, or are the schools failing to teach the right skills in the right way in these courses? And what is the role of government?

Education misalignment, as an explanation for unemployed graduates, deserves the same rigorous scrutiny that the skills gap has undergone in the United States.

Deciphering the Filipino psyche By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:22 am | Saturday, April 5th, 2014


By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz- (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

An unexpected invitation during my continuing personal visit to the East Bay in San Francisco came from Chevron’s Filipino Employees Network (FEN), which wanted me to speak yet again on my pop culture books—“You Know You’re Filipino If…,” “Don’t Take a Bath on a Friday,” and “Ngalang Pinoy,” all published by Tahanan Books. The FEN had warmly received me a number of times before, and this time was no exception.

My very first introduction to the FEN, in 2010, was through Marian Catedral King, a longtime friend from Manila and fellow street parliamentarian, who was then its president. I welcomed Chevron’s interest in celebrating diversity and honoring the Filipino identity, as manifested in the fairly large corps of Filipino-Americans in its northern California offices.

Of course, I more than welcomed the chance to talk about Philippine published titles (yes, not just my own). Ramon Santana, current FEN president, would not accept my excuse of not having any new book of late, and wanted the discussion to be on understanding Philippine culture. I was ready to just point him to Michael Tan’s “Pinoy Kasi” columns in the Inquirer.

But since I had tweaked my presentation to include all the reasons Filipinos can be proudly Pinoy today, I was eager to meet the Chevron employees. It also helped that FEN officers Derick Posadas Reyrao and Jenny Abregana had efficiently worked out all the bureaucratic details of such an engagement with the Philippine American Writers and Artists through Edwin Lozada and Gemma Nemenzo.

I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm and interest of the audience of Filipino-Americans and expatriates on the topic. The Filipino employees cajoled their bosses into attending the lunch-hour session “to understand them better.”

Among the reasons I mentioned that make me proudly Pinoy today, which resonated with them (and yes, you can debate with me, but these are reasons I feel strongly about): the overseas Filipino workers who venture out into the unknown; a president of the land honest and determined to fight corruption; a growing band of honest, hardworking public officials determined to make life better for all Filipinos; our present status in the international financial community; the Department of Education’s bold K-to-12 initiative and its relentless efforts toward addressing shortfalls in infrastructure and resources; palpable new optimism among the citizenry; growing recognition of our islands and beaches among the world’s best; the international acclaim earned by Filipinos in various fields of endeavor, and their virtues of honesty and industry; strong family ties; and the quality of life in the country.

I could not go on without recognizing two organizations I am associated with in their pursuit of literacy. One is the National Book Development Board, a government agency under the supervision of the DepEd and dedicated to encouraging the various sectors of the publishing industry and promoting general readership. The other, Teach for the Philippines (TFP), is impassioned about its mission to provide quality education for all students, no matter their socioeconomic background. TFP is on its second batch of cohorts to teach in Philippine public schools for two years, beginning in June. They join last year’s batch of 52 teachers assigned to teach Grade 4 classes in Quezon City public schools. Other Metro Manila cities will be part of the program this time.

The toughest question during the lively open forum that I could not answer right there and then was from Chevron executive Trond Unneland, who wondered what other words of Philippine origin aside from “boondocks” have found their way in the English dictionary and in English usage. On Google I found a whole array of them: yoyo, tamaraw and carabao, kundiman, cooties from the Austronesian and Tagalog word kuto or head lice, capiz, cogon, anahaw, etc.

Someone asked why a running motif in one of my books was a woman with hands clasped as if in prayer and bending low. I answered that it is our wish not to disturb, to show respect, to be inconspicuous, to be deferential, and to be able to move in our usual cramped space.

One was curious about the shift from Pilipino to Filipino, which came about with the adoption of the modern Filipino alphabet that accommodated the letter “F.” Filipino has 28 letters—all the letters of the English alphabet plus the Spanish “ñ” and the “ng.”

There was much amusement about our manner of giving directions—no place is every admittedly too far, and pointing with our mouth is often as accurate as we can get. Related to the topic is our Metro Manila rush hour that is all-day (not funny for us commuting Manilans), a color coding system that is not based on color, traffic rules that seem more recommendatory than anything else, and the observation that Filipinos visiting the United States, like my daughter Aina, refuse to drive here because “everyone follows the rules.”

One explained our struggle with enunciating long and short vowels, because our own alphabet makes no such distinctions. Thus, sometimes “beach” sounds like a bad word we do not mean.

And the Filipino psyche continues to befuddle.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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