THE Napoles scam, in case you have forgotten about it, cost the taxpayers at least P10 billion. That money lined the pockets of Janet Lim Napoles and family, and about 50 lawmakers at most (the 120-count claimed by the Napoles camp is fiction). The younger Napoles daughter lived in luxury at a Ritz-Carlton apartment off a slice of the stolen congressional allotments. Her bathtub stuffed with cash, not the Hublots and the Porsches, was the exclamation point.
We can also say that P10 billion is a rounding-off figure in a national budget of over P1 trillion. So, P10 billion can shift from big to small depending on its context and placing.
But what if the Mindanao State University and its campuses across Mindanao (including Marawi) were to get a sudden infusion of P10 billion for research, and responsible scientists with a sense of love for Mindanao are tasked to administer that R&D money?
Many things will change, of course, and the impact would be long-lasting.
For one, we can help plug the deep, deep sinkhole where ARMM’s literacy level has been stuck for almost half a generation. A literacy rate of 50 percent or over—compounded with a poverty level of about the same—has made this Southern Slough of Despond into the nation’s most vulnerable spot for false messiahs. In such an environment, the merchants of terror can easily find rapt audiences for their spiels—that dying and killing in the name of false gods will take you direct to heaven—for an afterlife better than a utopia. The IS affiliates in Mindanao precisely thrived on such sub-human poverty and illiteracy rates.
It is easier to convert the innocent into an instant death machine if that innocent is either illiterate or starving. Worse, if he were both.
There is no glory in killing and dying, more so if you detonate a bomb at a public square and the result would be mass murder. There is no sense in killing the innocent: children, women, pregnant women, physically incapacitated men who can be Christians, Muslims or Gentiles. Rational minds will never fall prey to spiels of false martyrdom. But it is different with the young who are stuck in a life of hopelessness? And the only way out of that rut is false martyrdom?
Funding massive literacy programs, the true and effective ones and fit for the context of ARMM, can only be undertaken with the right approaches, literature, strategies and materials. The scientists to be funded by the P10 billion under the auspice and direction of the MSU system can start with crafting the literature and the strategies for that task.
The P10 billion can also be used by MSU to build technology hubs. A Muslim country and neighbor, Malaysia can help MSU draw the architecture of the technology campus. Malaysia is light years ahead of the Philippines in building tech hubs and MSU, on an official basis, can seek the support of Malaysian tech hub builders.
Once the tech hubs across the MSU campuses shall have been built, the process of leading scores of young men and women of Mindanao into the wondrous fields of programming, networking and the like can start.
What is a society that thrives on codes, robotics and apps? What is a society thriving on technology? Silicon Valley and its various iterations and copycats across the glove have the answer.
That kind of society is predisposed to building and creating, is anchored on algorithm and science and the search for facts backed by empirical evidence. All forms of disruptions are assumed to be for the broader good, or making life easier. It is the tech societies that promote diversity and multiculturalism, not the worship of false gods.
The successful building of such fact-based societies in Mindanao will eviscerate its vulnerability to false causes and false messiahs.
Who knows? Mindanao ringed by technology hubs may be able to build the apps that promote civic culture, the rejection of warlords and strongmen in politics, and the rejection of poverty and illiteracy as a way of life.
The best development programs are the most radical ones, disruptors backed by funds and dedicated program managers. And no such university-anchored programs aimed at providing a 21stcentury look and feel have been adopted for Mindanao.
Looking at the development programs drawn up for Mindanao, the programs up for actual implementation are mostly focused on infrastructure. Roads, bridges, seaports, power grids and rail networks.
Nothing wrong with these. These are, however, structures that terrorists and madmen can blow up with ease.
Training young men and women with the impossible tech and science skills will equip Mindanao with a talent pool that no bomb or gun can destroy. A Fortress Knowledge will be the most formidable shield against the false messiahs that currently thrive in Muslim Mindanao.