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Red-tagging and learning poverty: A closer look at the hydra

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Aug 11, 2022 7:41 pm Updated Dec 06, 2022 10:19 am

“We will be a failed state of angry, hungry, jobless people.”  

Philippine STAR columnist Boo Chanco was right on the money. In his piece on “Learning Poverty,” he wrote: 

“Our disastrous 90.9 percent rating compares (within ASEAN) to top ranked Singapore at 2.8 percent; Vietnam at 18.1 percent; Thailand at 23.4 percent; Malaysia at 42 percent; Indonesia at 52.8 percent. What happened?  

“We were once the center for education in the region. Now it is clear that our educational system has collapsed. We cannot sugarcoat this national disaster that has dire consequences for the next generations.  

“My worst fear, something I have written here a number of times, the Philippines will not be able to benefit from a demographic sweet spot that a young, fast-growing workforce can bring in terms of market buying power. Because our young population is basically illiterate in an increasingly sophisticated IT world, they will be locked out of the best jobs and have little buying power. We will be a failed state of angry, hungry, jobless people.” 

This is complicated furthermore by the insistence of Vice President Sara Duterte, who likewise heads the Department of Education, to reacclimate young Filipino students to the rigors of military training—the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC).  

To follow their rather warped logic, it’s as if looking good in fatigues and having a strong sense of nationalism – which Albert Einstein once described as an “infantile disease… the measles of mankind”—will triple the entry salary for an inexperienced startup trying to make ends meet in a Covid-19 and monkeypox dystopia.  

No company rewards the employee for patriotic duty to country outside of heroic duty to the ROI (return on investment). It just doesn’t happen in the real world. The encyclopedia of corporate appetites tells us that you can kiss your patriotism goodbye if you do not have the skills for the pounce. And in a dog-eat-dog economy, pounce you must if you want to get ahead of the pack.  

Been scouring Netflix for several weeks now for a true-to-form hair-raising horror flick, without realizing I’d find it in Boo Chanco’s August 10 column.  

I mean, let’s face it: trolling and spewing obscenities and lies online are not exactly gross domestic product material regardless of the obscene amount of money exchanging hands. This makes illiteracy as serious a problem as blocked arteries. It’s just a matter of time before a vein pops and leaves us all with a brain injury. 

The Philippines has long dealt a winning blow against illiteracy, even landing as the center of education in the region in past decades. One had hoped to go further by using the millions of gigabytes of information stored online.   

It is, however, unfortunate, no, calamitous in the long run, that the internet, with the tons of information at its disposal, has contributed more to ignorance than learning.  

I fear, however, that ignorance—once a social ill imposed on us by outside forces like systematic poverty and malnutrition, for example—has now become a willful and deliberate choice for many of our countrymen.  

The red-tagging of authors and books anesthetizes consciousness. It cloaks reality and disguises lies as the real thing.

Argue all you want, but no excuse to be ignorant is big enough in the day and age when information is at our fingertips. Where ignorance is a choice, losing the fight to survive has also become a choice. And this is a less than patriotic choice, if you ask me, regardless if you can dismantle an M1 Garand in less than five seconds or not. 

More complications muddle the picture when government red-taggers begin red-tagging books, authors, and cultural workers.  

Recent charges leveled by Lorraine Badoy against the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) chairman and its authors signal red-tagging as the new censorship. (Editor’s note: The KWF has issued a memorandum on Aug. 9 calling on schools and libraries to pull out several "subversive" books for being "anti-government.") 

Red-tagging in this context is denial of knowledge, plain and simple, using threats and fear as means to ignorance.  

To confound matters even more, red-tagging consigns certain ideas and thoughts into the dustbin of what is perceived by the State as “illegal”. This goes smack against citizens’ right to free thought as a prelude to our right to discuss these ideas and express them freely.   

Worse, not only does this fear give parents an excuse to refuse their children the needed homegrown guidance, they impose the same fear into their children.  

All learning begins at home. Where children fail in learning by instruction, they nonetheless succeed by imitation. If parents fail in creating an atmosphere conducive to learning, if parents themselves refuse to learn, no matter the financial condition, then the household’s deprivation is sealed.   

The red-tagging of authors and books anesthetizes consciousness. It cloaks reality and disguises lies as the real thing. It reduces human relationships to “a game of competition and consumption,” as Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano once said, grudging us of collective solidarity.   

Apparently, ignorance and illiteracy have no power to bond. Without knowledge or wisdom, people are left only with violence as a means of survival. 

If failure in learning as a household spreads like wildfire, and it will if we fail to address it as we should, failing as a State would be inevitable. Our economy and our sociopolitical continuum are intertwined with the Filipino household at the center. If the center crumbles, the whole structure will follow suit. 

A “failed state of angry, hungry, jobless people” is not a vision of the present and the future this administration should be contented with.   

As a priority policy, the Department of Education must pull all the stops to turn the tide of illiteracy around, just as the Department of Health must assure our children a fighting chance against the virus. The two policies must go hand in hand.  

If we fail, you can sing “Bring back that lovin' feelin'” all you want. “Dust in the wind” would be far more appropriate.