Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for September, 2010

Reusable Bags on Wednesdays

Posted by butalidnl on 26 September 2010

Starting with this coming Wednesday, supermarkets all over the Philippines will be charging customers a small fee for using plastic bags. This is to encourage the use of reusable bags. [See Malls to Charge Fee for Plastic Bags Once a Week ]

I think this is a great initiative by the supermarkets and the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR).  While it is only limited to one day a week,  it would stimulate the use of reusable bags beyond that single day. After all, if you already have bought a reusable bag, what is to keep you from using this on other days?

I believe that supermarkets could also do a bit more than just charging customers for plastic bags one day a week. Here are some ideas:

Sell Reusable Plastic Bags
Reusable plastic bags, which would be bigger and much sturdier than the usual plastic bags, could be sold everyday at the supermarkets. Preferably, these would be placed in the racks just in front of the cashier, so that customers could buy this and use them immediately. These plastic bags would of course bear the name of the supermarket, and thus double as advertisement for the supermarket. And the customer would pay for it!

Although this is still plastic, the main advantage will be that it could (and would) be used multiple times. People tend to maximize the use of things that they paid for, and since these plastic bags were bought, they will use it many times.

Also Ban the Free Use of Free Single-Use Paper Bags
Single-use paper bags are also bad for the environment. It uses up trees, and the chemicals used to process them to paper are harmful to the environment. If the ban on free plastic bags will result in the use of single-use paper bags, the environmental advantage of the campaign will largely be negated.

Have Reusable Bag “Express Lanes”
Another idea would be to have “express lanes” for those with reusable bags. And this will be for those who use reusable bags on other days than Wednesdays. This way, there is an additional benefit for those who use reusable bags; and this will be at no additional cost to the supermarket. If someone without a reusable bag uses this lane, then she/he would have to buy a reusable bag.

These are some suggestions to further promote the use of reusable bags. I hope that this initiative takes off, and that supermarkets could eventually even expand it to include, say, Thursdays?

Ban the Use of Plastic Bags

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Give Less Homework

Posted by butalidnl on 19 September 2010

The Department of Education has recently sent out a memo telling teachers not to give homework to students on weekends. [see DepEd Orders No Homework During Weekends ] This is in order to give children quality time with their parents, and time to play with their friends. I think this is a good idea. In fact, I think that too much homework is given to grade school students during the week days also.

Here in the Netherlands, grade school students don’t get homework at all. As a rule, all school work is done at school. So, children have their time at home all to themselves. Some children have extra-curricular activities e.g. swimming or gymnastics lessons. And children here sleep rather early (compared to children in the Philippines). Well, the children come out rather well, even without homework – the Dutch are among the best educated people in the world. So, I don’t think that having homework in elementary school is that important.  (When the children get to high school, though, they get loads of homework.)

Some teachers object to the Department of Education memo.  They even said that homework is a good occasion for parent-child bonding – that is, the parents bond with the child while helping with the homework. Well, I object to this point for a number of reasons. First, is that homework gets assigned expecting the parents to help the child. Well, this is simply wrong. The child should do the homework by themselves, otherwise they won’t really learn the lesson. And second, if parent-child bonding is done mainly through doing homework together; well, I think this indicates the very poor level of that parent-child relation. There are enough  (and better) ways to bond, other than doing homework. And third, the parent also needs to rest, after presumably a full day at work.  Being expected to help with homework is an additional, and unnecessary, strain to the already very busy lives of parents.

I would suggest that the Department of Education go even one step further. They should instruct teachers to assign homework only on the logic that the child does it by themselves. Preferably, it should mainly involve reading the lesson for the next day. If lessons are read first, and then taught by the teacher, the students are more likely to retain the knowledge, particularly if the teacher does a good job and makes the lesson interesting.  Homework could also be assigned with the parents in mind, but this should be done explicitly: the child could be assigned to ask her parents about something, e.g. their memories of a particular historic event.

If homework is assigned sparingly, then elementary school children would not need to carry all their books to school and then back home everyday. They could leave the books for subjects that they don’t need to study the next day at school, in lockers. This will really be a load off elementary school students’ backs – literally.

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Pantawid Pamilya

Posted by butalidnl on 12 September 2010

The Philippine government is expanding the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, the cash support program for the poorest families, from the present 900,000 to 2.3 million by the end of 2011. This program is aimed at the poorest families (from the poorest provinces) in the country, in an effort of helping them out of poverty. [ see 1M Poor Families to get Govt Cash Aid ]

Families in this program receive Php 500 each month, plus Php 300 for each child (for up to 3 children). They  should comply with the following requirements to stay in the program:

  • Children 6 to 14 years old must be enrolled in school and attend at least 85 percent of the classes.
  • Pregnant women must receive prenatal and postnatal care.
  • Parents must attend Family Development Sessions.
  • Children under 5 years of age must receive regular preventive health checkups and vaccinations.
  • Children in elementary schools must receive deworming treatment at least twice a year.

This program has proven effective in ensuring that children do go to school and the families avail of health facilities. In the long run, this program will help these families to overcome poverty.

Possible Pitfalls
At the same time, however, we should be aware of possible pitfalls of this program. The first of these would be corruption. Corruption is a danger, especially since this program has a subjective element to it. After all, not everyone can join it. There is an amount of discretion by the DSWD personnel as to whom to include, and whom not to include. There is room for possible corruption; people could be asked to pay to get included in the list. Or, to pay to avoid getting taken off the list.

The government should take steps to avoid too much discretion at the hands of DSWD personnel. Strict rules about including people, or taking them out of the program, should be set; including a rule that requires at least two people to approve such a change of status. Personnel assigned to certain groups of clients should be changed regularly(perhaps once a year). And, a system of feedback by the recipients should be implemented.

The beneficiaries are given an ATM card, so that they could withdraw their allotments monthly, without intervention of other people. This is one less chance for corruption. However, what about families who live where there are no ATMs in the vicinity? Should they go to the nearest city, in order to find an ATM?

The cash transfer itself is not the only expense of the program. The government should also ensure that other facilities are available. Obviously, there needs to be enough places in the schools where the beneficiaries are. There is also a need to ensure that there are enough nurses or doctors to help with pre-natal examinations, vaccinations and deworming. And there need to be enough DSWD personnel to manage the whole system. These are expenses outside the formal program of Pantawid Pamilya, but they are essential for its success.

The payments are given to the wife/mother, and not the husband/father, and this is a good thing. The wife/mother tends to put the family’s needs first; while many husbands/fathers get tempted to drink or gamble away their money.  Perhaps a good side effect of the program will be that it upgrades the status of the wife/mother within the family.

Better than Subsidies
The Pantawid Pamilya program is much more effective than subsidies on “basic necessities” aimed at helping poor people.  Take the subsidy on rice: it is full of possibilities for corruption, and is inefficient.  At numerous points, there is an opportunity for corruption: wholesale and retail buying of rice, storage of rice, transport of rice, identifying beneficiaries, actual distribution of rice,  etc.

The rice subsidy is inefficient in that it requires a lot of people to implement it, and it in effect duplicates what private traders do – buy, store and distribute rice. It also distorts the market: sellers have “unfair competition from cheaper rice”, which may be sold below their cost price.  It also forces down the farm-gate price for palay, reducing farmers’ incomes.

A conditional cash transfer program (the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, in our case), on the other hand, does not have these problems. The poor have the freedom to spend the money as they need to, and there is no distortion of markets.  And they are required to keep their children in school and avail of health facilities. Education and health for the children will help a lot towards them overcoming poverty when they grow up. And since the family has a regular source of income, no matter that it is not fully sufficient for the family’s monthly expenses, helps a lot in making the family have good patterns of expenditures. A regular income will help keep them from having to rely on loan sharks, for instance.

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program is a good program of the government that should indeed be expanded. I hope that the government even goes beyond the target of 2.6 million beneficiaries.

[see also Just Give Money to the Poor ]

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