Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 28 March 2018


Sometime last month, an invitation from the Philippine American Economic Foundation’s 70th anniversary of the Fulbright program in the Philippines set me to think about my youth and the connection of economic development with foreign education.

As a UP faculty member in 1958, I became the recipient of a full fellowship grant to study for my PhD in Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the truly genuine MIT!). My UP boss, Dr. Amado Castro, suggested I compete for the travel grant to save on fellowship resources.

A Fulbright travel grant. In August 1959, on my Fulbright travel grant, I flew across the Pacific for the first time in my young life.

I rode the last generation of propeller-driven Pan Am Strato-Cruisers of those days. It took a total of almost one day and a half to reach the US mainland from Manila, with many restless hours of airport stops.

In those days, air travel was not as cheap, convenient, and fast. Airport refueling stops marked the long trip. The flight from Manila stopped in Tokyo. The Hawaii leg required refueling in Guam that involved almost three hours of a wink-less wait. The Hawaii stop additionally involved immigration clearance formalities, after which we flew to San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Boeing 707 brand new jets took us to later long destinations. Year 1959 marked the technological leap in air travel. A month after my flight across the Pacific, all Pan Am flights travelling the route were converted to jet aircraft at 550 mph average air speed.

My Fulbright travel required direct flights which should have led to Boston. But my fellowship formalities with the Rockefeller Foundation enabled me to spend three days of rest and familiarity with New York City.

By the first week of March 1963 – three and a half years later – I was back home in the Philippines. With my PhD earned, I rejoined my home institution, the University of the Philippines, to fulfill my duties.

It was a great help that I was initiated into my travels through my Fulbright experience. In Manila, and prior to our flights, pre-departure seminars and programs organized by the Fulbright program gave us many useful tips about student and social life in the US.

We were put in touch with the US International Institute of Education (IIE), our intermediary and contact especially concerning our immigration status with the immigration authorities.

It was thoroughly useful information prior to immersion in the rigor of foreign study, the eventual most important mission for a young person hopeful about the future.

Capsule history of Phl-US educational relations. I was but a minor dot in the long history of educational relations between the United States and the Philippines, a story worth recounting on this occasion.

One of the first acts of the United States to institute colonial consolidation was to broaden the access to education of many Filipinos and to institute public health improvements. Thus, the new colonial administration set up elementary and secondary public schools. They imported many public school teachers from America initially.

A great many young people were educated in public schools in addition to those who were schooled in the private, elite schools. Thus, more Filipinos especially from the ranks of the poor – were able to have access to publicly supported education.

The colonial government also instituted a systematic pensionado study program for Filipinos – especially for those harnessed in to public service, especially the educational sector. The pensionado scholars were sent to the United States for short-term studies and for some, specialized degree programs.

Over time, this meant thousands of highly educated Filipinos were sent to varied educational programs in universities across the US, including to some of the best schools. They helped to multiply the educated at home.

At the same time, American educational institutions undertook programs of assistance to upgrade new Philippine institutions. The University of the Philippines was founded in 1908, and major programs of development of schools and colleges of this new university benefited from this colonial support.

The faculty of the university was initially heavily composed of American instructors. Gradually and significantly, the university began hiring Filipino scholars in the faculty, a phenomenon that was nearly complete by the time political independence came into our national future horizon.

When independence came in 1946, educational relations changed. During the early post-World War II days of the Marshall Plan (aid to reconstruct the war-torn world) and of US-Special Relations, a large amount of educational aid flows from the US went to the Philippines.

In those early days of our independence, US programs of study for Filipinos were substantial in content. The US aid program helped the government send Filipino administrators and scholars to study abroad.

The competitive Schmidt-Mundt program of US-funded fellowships were relatively plentiful for Filipinos when I was a student. This was complemented by the Fulbright Travel grants. And then there were the Fulbright and other US fellowships studies for outstanding scholars and leaders to visit the US, and US scholars to study and teach also in the Philippines.

Today the volume of scholarships and grants are much fewer than before. But some fellowships and bilateral exchange programs continue to enliven US-Philippine educational relations to keep it going.

Actually, US and Philippine educational relations are really much broader than the US Fulbright program, then as now. But the program is testimony to continuing bilateral ties that are meaningful and close.

The bigger element in the educational relations have been highly supplemented by the large US economic aid program that was made to the Philippines over the years. Even the US aid program is much smaller today. Of course, we ourselves are more independent now.

A bit of personal history. I became familiar with part of the modern history of this relationship through my work in the government service.

I headed from 1970 to mid-1981, both the National Economic Council (NEC) and, later, the newly-created National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) that succeeded NEC. These agencies were the principal funnels for all economic development assistance to the country, which included grants for foreign study.

Coincidentally, but separately, I was a Philippine member of the Philippine-American Educational Foundation, appointed in 1970 as replacement to former UP president Vicente Sinco, and served in the board slightly beyond the same duration of my direct government involvement.