Offering academic scholarship to political constituents are a common feature of local governance, and has always been an inherent feature of Palawan provincial government administration past programs. Scholarship support measures have been noteworthy initiatives in human capital investments. They allow for the empowerment of deserving students, or at least those vetted by the program’s selection system such that they would eventually provide service back to the community.
In Palawan, practically every administration have had their respective scholarship programs. Previous administrations even branded theirs around the persona of the political leader in power, such that the scholars were commonly referred to either as JTR scholars, or Baham scholars. This approach may be disagreeable to some, as it promoted political patronage and dulled an otherwise ideal objective of promoting inclusiveness and social equity. But nevertheless, they are par for the course and a good enough use of public funds.
The Palawan provincial government’s current scholarship program deserves a closer look and is an interesting case study in governance and public health, if only because it is evoling into an institutionalized program that ensures its continuity through future political administrations, with a mandatory annual budget, currently at around P500 million a year.
It may be far from perfect in the manner of its implementation and its coverage, but it is evolving to become a no-nonsense attempt at promoting equity and social justice built around a strong public health system.
Initiated in 2014 by the previous administration of Jose Ch. Alvarez, the program initially focused on awarding medical scholarships to a small group of eight deserving students. Gov. Alvarez had wanted the initiative to support his administration’s push to build new medical facilities all over the province, a program that saw around 16 hospitals rising in strategic towns from north to south.
To its credit, the program has grown to produce 62 medical professionals now serving in various local government hospitals in the province as part of their return service obligation. According to the capitol’s information office, at least nine of these scholars recently decided to pursue their medical career beyond their mandatory return service as regular employees of the provincial government. The program currently supports a total of 987 medical scholars distributed in schools in Palawan and outside the province.
The administration of Governor Dennis Socrates has faithfully hewed to the scholarship program’s strategic vision of strengthening Palawan’s public health care system. This is well and good as it affords the program itself to optimally develop before it is passed on to the next generation of political leaders.
There is an interesting observation to be made here about the provincial government’s decision to significantly invest in preventive health care by erecting hospital buildings and encouraging students to take up medical courses. Previous administrations did not bother with the complex challenge of strengthening its preventive health care, but made sure it had a working support program for the poor who faced medical emergencies.
The poor were able to ask the capitol a coffin for their dead, a transport to bring them back to their towns and even pay for their hospitalization bills to allow them to retrieve their dead. The latter fostered a deep sense of gratitude among the family of the dead, or among patients who successfully availed of emergency medical assistance no matter the smallness of the amount.
On the other hand, the political rewards of having a strong public health program is not readily convertable into votes. To begin with, creating a robust public health system requires a longer period extending beyond the 3-year term limit of officials. Management of public hospitals can also be tricky, and the poor who go there for medical attention may even end up cursing the government for bad service.
It is perhaps this important challenge that public officials may want to wrap their heads around, with a view of finding creative ways to sustain a promising program such as Palawan provincial government’s medical scholarship and health care initiatives into a more robust program that will be more of a legacy as opposed to a cheap albeit practical political strategy.