Around 2 years ago, there was a video getting social network coverage about Solita Monsod’s last lecture in an economics class at the University of the Philippines. There is no doubt about the sincerity and patriotism of the speaker. If I were a student or if I were the person I was a decade ago, I might be enchanted by the message. Simplicity of the message was key to the lecture. Just about the “duties” of a Filipino educated at a public university. She was also quite humorous all throughout the talk which is always a plus when sending a serious message. The main message is that personal honor aside from personal excellence is essential for being a good citizen who received an education from a public university.

Here are some of my comments 2 years ago with some modifications. When I wrote a post commenting on this lecture 2 years ago, I focused on the statements about cheating. Now, I removed my remarks on cheating and focused on the going abroad aspects of the lecture. There is certainly a lot of positive messages in the video but is completely overcome by the continuous guilt-tripping by Monsod.

Monsod argues that if a Filipino is going to help the country, then that Filipino should be in the country. The logical equivalent of this is “If the Filipino is not in the country, then the Filipino is not going to help the country”. I found her statement rather offensive.

First, there is a whole world out there full of ideas–not just academic ideas but ideas about life, ideas about what life is like in another country–which could be helpful in reassessing how we live our lives. We should always ask the question–“Why is it that the way things are is the way things are?” Second, by being outside the Philippines, we can inform people who do not know about Filipinos and show that we can be just as good or even better than they are. Many of the Filipinos abroad on scholarship are precisely doing that! It is an insult to make a statement that Filipinos can only do good work when they situated are in the Philippines. There is ample evidence to the contrary. Third, if the human capital model with externalities is correct, then our efforts to get schooled abroad or get training abroad or work abroad may contribute to the stock of knowledge that the Philippines (and other countries!) can use. The question now is whether the Philippines can exploit this knowledge! If there are barriers to technology adoption–such as interest groups, monopolies, etc.–then there would be inefficient use of the stock knowledge.

So what if the people go abroad? If their marginal product is valued more abroad, then isn’t it imperative that they go abroad? In fact, this is the reason why I hate the so-called exit tax suggestion to be imposed on people going abroad. (Incidentally, I think some of my colleagues in the Economics Department of DLSU subscribe to this.) This only creates more distortions. If you want Filipinos to stay here, the conditions in the Philippines must change. This is where every Filipino, not only those educated in UP, can do small things right (paying your taxes, crossing the street only when the green light is on, falling in line properly, etc.). It is not always about just making a big difference. Small acts where virtues are exercised may be helpful to change the living landscape. It doesn’t take being a leader or being creme de la creme or being highly educated to do just that.

Monsod argues that UP-educated students, if they should go abroad, should pay the full cost of their entire education back to UP. Well, this is the problem with below-cost pricing! The question is why not let everyone pay the full cost at the beginning? Just give scholarships to those really, really deserving and not by political patronage. It is not surprising that beneficiaries of cheap public schooling are richer kids not poorer kids. Subsidizing higher education creates the same discomforts as being taxed to pay for government services. When you take someone else’s money to spend on others, that someone is going to be angry and would be expecting some form of return (even if we know that money is fungible). Haven’t you heard the statement — “Hey, shouldn’t I expect good service from government agencies? I pay their salaries, damn it!”

You may argue that higher education is a right. Nay, it is a privilege. Only basic, primary education can be considered as a right. In fact, people usually overestimate the social benefits of higher education. How large are these social benefits anyway? I think there are decreasing social benefits to education. Some people would even argue that the drudgery of a 4 year education is meant to prepare you for the drudgery of work. The most important step is primary education. Once impressionable minds of children are led (not taught!!) to appreciate and to open the wide frontiers of knowledge, then they could do more with minimal supervision.

Higher education is really just about signaling to someone that you are smart. It is credentialism or even certification! Students should be able to decide whether going to the university is worth it. So what if you just finished high school? When it comes to certain tasks, a high school graduate may do things much better than a university graduate. I saw a job search ad before looking for customer service representatives who are college graduates! Why? If primary education has good training in English and math, then why do customer service representatives have to have college degrees?

So what if the entire class of the UP College of Medicine went abroad? Now Monsod is unhappy about this? Tell me what is the income profile of those students. Are their parents doctors too? Where are these parents working? If majority are from the upper echelons, we have a problem. Let them pay the full cost now! Look at our public hospitals. How many doctors are there? Where were they educated? How much did they pay? In fact at San Lazaro Hospital, I had the opportunity to observe the state of affairs there and there is only one doctor on duty treating almost 100+ patients! Clearly, some of the wages may be set incorrectly! Although I am not a fan of government subsidies, why not redirect funds used to educate the upper echelons’ progeny to this hospital instead?

Finally, though her incredible threat about haunting UP students who go abroad from the grave and the incredible threat of losing sexual urges are humorous, I had hoped that she could come up with a better reason for staying, rather than appeals to “utang na loob” (in English, a concept deeper than just gratitude) or to the patriotic spirit of the students (if there were). I think that Filipinos will want to come back to the country once in a while because their family, friends and significant others might be there. To stay, there must be something else.

In the end, Monsod is no different from UP students going abroad. They want to have a rich life or a life of convenience. Monsod participates in TV advertisements and has her own TV show probably because of the rewards. These UP students going abroad are also doing something similar. Not a betrayal! In the end, we want to supplement our incomes for some objective, be it patriotic or non-patriotic. We just want to be rich because we want to enjoy a life not just of toil but of spirituality and profound discovery.