By Juan L. Mercado

CROOKS HUG the headlines here. Police generals were nailed by Russian customs for hefting briefcases crammed with unexplained euros. They’re only the Johnnies-come-lately in what seems an endless sorry parade.

They drown out the voice of the decent. Take Washington Sycip. This Chinoy from Santa Mesa became a wartime US Army code-breaker. He built the prestigious SGV auditing firm. In 1992, he won the Magsaysay Award for International Understanding.

His University of the Philippines Centennial address asked tough questions. But “Garci,”Abalos to General de la Paz’ drowned them out.

Sycip’s address spans 20,239 characters-with-space. But a newspaper column is limited to only a fourth of that. So, here are excerpts instead: “UP graduates occupied the presidential chair for 46 years (since independence 62 years ago) Then, may I ask: ‘Why are we in such a mess?

“Being a Christian nation and a democracy, we’ll be next to Japan we were told 50 years back. Today, we lurch “in a steadily declining position:  (from) poverty index to rural health… (We’re) the only major Southeast Asian nation that didn’t win any (Olympic Games) medal…

We have talented people. “Why haven’t we produced a Lee Kwan Yew? In one generation, (Lee) brought the Singaporean’s income levels to that of Germany. Cambridge physics graduate A.K.T. Li introduced the computer to every age group in Taiwan. This country now is the world’s largest exporter of computers China’s Deng Hsiao Ping “released the energy of his people to achieve, in 25 years, the greatest reduction of poverty in  history”…

Ramon Magsaysay’s early death “prevented him from carrying out a program to improve the lives of the (poorest) Graduating from U in 1969, Rafael Salas…” transformed chronic rice shortages into an astounding rice sufficiency breakthrough,

As a UN official, Salas forged a (world) consensus on “importance of population in development… But he left the Philippines. “His integrity and competence could not survive in a climate of government corruption…

Will (we) produce other leaders like Salas? “Can they succeed in the Philippine political soil?

What can scholars do…to solve problems of the Philippines when it will be a country of 70 million people? Salas asked in 1983. Last July, his widow, Ambassador Carmelita Salas, noted: “The Philippines is now a country of 89 million, and in 2030, will be close to 140 million. Salas would: have asked the same question today.

“People Power’ “freedom cannot be fully exercised unless there is order, Salas told Manila Rotary in “Managing the Aftermath” after Edsa One. Resumption of NPA hostilities with the NPA, rebellion in Mindanao and crime (underscore) lack of order a free society cannot be mobilized for development unless there is confidence in the future….”

“The same speech would have been relevant in post Edsa II,” Sycip said. “How prophetic, and unfortunate that things did not change in the past 20 years.”

Do UP bar topnotchers become leaders in judicial reform?. “Is the politics of fraternities at the root of the excessive time spent on national politics? Or is the lack of unity just a basic disadvantage of an island nation?”
Some doctors “brag how little taxes they were paying inspite of their luxurious homes, cars and trips abroad.” Singapore and Thailand developed “medical tourism”.  We send our doctors and nurses to developed countries.

Are remittances of poor overseas workers, with divided families, offsetting outward remittances of the rich “who set up households abroad?

But ‘why?” Begin with education. Can’t we see that the steady decline of educational standards…is national suicide.  Excellent Catholic universities educate children of upper income groups. “But as a nation, we accept the scandalously high national dropout  rates of students in basic  education.,

“What measures should be taken to narrow the education gap between Christians and Muslims. Require richer students “to pay full costs of education” This would enable funds to be diverted from UP and allocated to primary education…

Agriculture remains the economy’s linchpin. Food security should top the agenda. The Dole agri-business success story stems from cooperation of  UP  business school in Diliman and agriculture in Los Banos.  A Malaysian palm oil company, diversifying into bamboo, said:”The bamboo experts are  in UP Los Banos. Yet, we import bamboo shoots from China.”

The Catholic Church here has an “extremely conservative leadership, seen only in Poland and Malta. It’s campaign against a “sound government population policy (will hamper ) the country’s capacity for addressing it’s population growth rate.’

“And the ultimate question remains: Can we expect from the university the heroism the country begs for?” (E-mail: juan_mercado@prime.net.ph )