Reynaldo O. Arcilla

LIKE many others, I was distressed to learn that our 15-year-old students came out last in reading comprehension, 79th out of 79 countries surveyed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Program for International Student Assessment. They also came out second to the last in science and math.

On the assumption that the survey was conducted in English, it is not surprising at all that our students fared so badly.

In my view, our standard of education started to decline when during the term of the late president Corazon Aquino, it was decreed that the medium of instruction from the first to the fourth grades should be the Mother tongue. (This was recently changed to first to third grades. Not good enough. Children should be taught in English again from the first grade.)

I believe this is the precise period when a child’s mind is most absorptive in learning a foreign language.

After the fourth grade, Filipino pupils are then taught in English for the simple reason that most textbooks are written in English. Naturally, unfamiliar and poorly trained as they are in English, their problem with comprehension of the language and its complexities begin — up to the tertiary level.

In general, except for those who could afford to go to “elite” schools where great emphasis is placed on the mastery of the English language, the average Filipino student today is sadly lacking in his/her English reading, writing and comprehension ability.

In the Philippines, no one can argue against the great importance of being good in both spoken and written English.

The reason?

In this country, the language of business is English. The language of government is English. When a fresh graduate applies for a job either in government or the private sector, the interview is almost always done in English. If he or she is asked to write something, he or she has to do it in English. Naturally, only those with a good command of the language manage to get the job.

When I began teaching at the Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) in 2004, I was aghast at the quality of the students’ English not only in orally communicating with others, but more so in their written exams. It was atrocious, except for a handful.

Most of the students who enroll at LPU come from the lower middle class, who have gone to high schools that are not up to standard.

Still, I felt there was no excuse for being unable to help them improve their English in four years in college.

So, when I was invited in 2006 to be the dean of the College of International Relations (formerly Foreign Service), the first question I asked LPU President Roberto Laurel was what his expectations were.

He said increase enrolment. I said no way. Lyceum had the reputation of being synonymous with the foreign service. Many of its earlier graduates were able to join the Department of Foreign Affairs as foreign service officers or staff officers or employees. (That was before its graduates had to be taught from the first to the fourth grades in the national language.)

But for 15, or was it 17, years at the time (2006), the school had not produced a foreign service officer. There may have been some graduates who managed to join the DFA as staff officers or employees, but I wasn’t aware of any.

I told the president that was the selling point of the college that had been lost. That had to be regained first before we could even think about increasing enrolment.

Towards that end, I told the resident of my initial plan:

I will raise the standard of admission for the college, particularly in English. (I was informed later that an average of 75 percent of applicants to the college failed the admission test. I was asked what I would do about it. I agreed to lower the standard a little bit, confident we could improve the students’ English during their four years in the college.)

I will require my students to speak only in English in campus with violators being imposed a P1-penalty for every violation. (They complained later that other students from the other colleges derided them for doing so. I then recommended to the president that the English-speaking campaign should be made campus-wide. He agreed with me that students from whatever college will also benefit from it — again because English is the language in government and the private sector, aside from its being now the virtual lingua franca of the world. However, the experiment failed. I was told later that some teachers and administrative officials were not so supportive of the measure. I was also informed that some of them needed to have their English skills honed. Maybe they were the ones who started their schooling in the national language and became teachers.).

I will recruit the most qualified teachers for the course, namely, ex-practitioners, e.g., former ambassadors.

I recommended that the pay rate of the teachers be increased to a reasonable level.

I will revise the course curriculum. (For instance, why in heaven’s name does a foreign service curriculum have such subjects as genetics and advanced computer science, but none in world history and in Philippine political, economic and sociocultural conditions?)

Fortunately, the president agreed to all the five items.

After about six months, the president asked me what I had done to my students. When I asked him what he meant, he said: “They now walk with pride.”

That was music to my ears.

“Nothing much,” I said. “I just told them to start acting and behaving like officers of the foreign service.”

They soon became the crème de la crème of the university, both in academics and extracurricular activities.

By 2012, we had our first foreign service officer who passed the Foreign Service Officer Examination that is reputedly the toughest government exam.

It was also at about this time when the enrolment in the college started increasing significantly.

When I left LPU in early 2017, we had eight foreign service officers, namely, LV de Guzman, Jonelle John Domingo, Paulo Zurita, Monica Remsy Calangian, Jorge Phillipe Arjona, Rie Sheena Cordero, Jeremiah Attento and Karlo Ray Tanodra.

Around 80 of our graduates had also joined the DFA as casuals or “endo” by 2017. Some, however, have since left for bigger pay in other government agencies, e.g., the Office of the President, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Presidential Management Staff, the Bureau of Immigration.

Many joined the private sector and foreign embassies soon after graduation.

Incidentally, the college produced the first ever summa cum laude of the university since its founding in 1952 during my tenure as dean. We also had quite a number of magna cum laudes, cum laudes and honorable mentions.

Manuel R. Guillermo

I must mention here that a very effective program that we introduced to hone the English skills of our students was the annual oratorical contest among the junior and senior students.

A very dear friend and compadre, Mr. Manuel Guillermo, who was then the president of the headhunting firm KSearch Asia Inc., brought up the idea of putting up such a program for the college.

He said his company recruited middle to top level executives for clients. A problem that they often encountered especially with prospective mid-level executives was that although their technical skills were excellent, their English skill was quite deficient, both oral and written.

The program, however, could not have been the success it was were it not for the generosity of Mr. Guillermo and his firm to extend full financial support to it. Several students who fared well in the program were in fact recruited by his company as “searchers” for future executives.

Thanks again, compadre!

‘Tweeterboy’ Locsin

I have been waiting, in vain it would now seem, for Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Tweeterboy” Locsin to tweet something about the outrageous contracts that water concessionaires Manila Water Co. Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. have with the government… like maybe swearing at the concessionaires, as well as castigating the mainstream media and the Yellow Horde in colorful language for their sphinx-like silence on the issue.

It looks like I am sadly mistaken for thinking that he has begun to shed his color yellow and started fully embracing the policies and principles of his boss, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte aka Digong.

Then again, maybe he has really decided to change color. Why else would Digong appoint him as head of the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission? Surely, Digong is pretty aware of Tweeterboy’s pro-United States bias.

Let’s watch what happens.

Ambassador Romualdez

Incidentally, Digong said he wants to see in jail Manila Water’s Zobel de Ayala and Maynilad’s Pangilinan, as well as the lawyers responsible for the onerous water contracts.

In this regard, it may interest him to know that his ambassador to the US, Jose Manuel Romualdez, has written a column that appeared in the Dec. 15, 2019 issue of the Philippine Star, which was all praises and very supportive of Pangilinan ( Pangilinan and his Indonesian patron are reportedly the majority owners of the Philippine Star.

Senator dela Rosa’s US visa

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa was reportedly canceled for his alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings when he was Philippine National Police chief.

Methinks that in retaliation, dela Rosa should waste no time filing a resolution in the Senate that would ban the members of the US Senate foreign relations committee from entering the Philippines, as well as officers of the US State Department and other government agencies, groups or organizations that openly criticize the Philippines for alleged human rights violations. Who do they think they are? They do not even know what they are talking about! Do they have first-hand information about their allegations? [email protected]#$%!

From an internet friend:

A guy walks into a bank, pulls out a gun, points it at the teller and yells: “Give me all your money, or you are geography.”

The teller replies: “Don’t you mean history?”

The robber screams: “Don’t change the subject!”