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Crossing the threshold.

As we cross over the threshold of 2014 to 2015, our thoughts turn Januslike to the year coming to an end and to the year about to come.

It hasn't been, as the Facebook album posts insist, a "wonderful year" for many of us, facing personal, communal, national and even international challenges. We live in a world still buffeted by war, disaster, environmental catastrophe and viral threats that conjure apocalyptic horrors. In our own country, communities face the terrible consequences of global warming: powerful typhoons and floods of biblical proportions on one hand, and drought, drying water tables and deforestation on the other.

Couple these with humanmade disasters: traffic congestion, chaos in our airports and ports, corruption in places high and low, criminality that seems to be tolerated by officialdom, and the usual menu of murder, mayhem and miscreance.

But in a narrower, more personal sphere, each of us has had to deal, too, with loss and grief, disappointment, disillusionment. Although, in equal measure, we have also had our share of adventure, joy, celebration, accomplishment and optimism.

At a time when most everybody is doing a summing upthe year's best and worst, winners and losers, triumphs and tragedieswe, too, are called to tote up the sums and losses, the victories and defeats and the meaning of a year just past. It is a summing up calculated in personal, familial and communal terms, in a national reckoning of what we are as a nation, and what we can do to make 2015 a better year, or one less harsh in its judgments.

We also have a little over a year before we are to, once more, decide the fate of our nation. I reckon that in the coming months, more so than it has been in the recent past, men and women of various political persuasions will project themselves on the national stage, create an image that will burn itself into our consciousness.

The theme of the coming year, then, is one of discernment, of the use of all our faculties to judge the personal and individual worth of those who will seek our votes, asking for the favor of our approval so that they end up in high office.

On this last day of 2014, the call is for us to open our eyes, ears and hearts, to begin the process of deciding where our country will go, under whose auspices, and for what purpose.

There's a brighter future, one filled with greater possibilities, for our "new heroes," the army of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) toiling around the globe in search of a better life for them and their families.

With the signing of the Open Distance Learning (ODL) Law (Republic Act No. 10650), migrant workers, among others, can now obtain a bachelor's degree from any Philippine university, regardless of where they are based. Or, as Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo puts it, "while you are employed as a service crew of McDonald's in Kuwait, a domestic helper in Riyadh, or a hotel bellhop in Abu Dhabi."

Romulo, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, said the ODL was crafted "to help every Filipino, especially OFWs, working students and persons with disabilities, realize their hopes and dreams of acquiring higher education." This is regardless of whether the degree sought is a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, or a doctorate.

Records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that more than 5,000 Filipinos leave the country every day for contract jobs abroad. Many of them are high school graduates, holders of postsecondary certificate courses, or college undergraduates.

Romulo says no less than the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has been batting for the ODL to help developing countries achieve their education systemwide goals.

"As a force contributing to social and economic development, ODL has become an indispensable part of the mainstream of global educational systems," Unesco has said.

Under the new law, every learner enrolled in an ODL program shall enjoy the same privileges and benefits as a student in the usual classroom, including access to scholarships, grantsinaid and loans from governmentadministered funding sources.

The new law mandates the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) to prescribe and enforce the necessary policies, standards and regulations for the effective implementation of the ODL in the country.

The law also tasks the University of the Philippines Open University to assist and provide expertise to the CHEd and the Tesda in developing ODL programs.

According to Chinese traditional belief, 2015 is the "Year of the Goat." Although the Year of the Goat doesn't officially start until the Chinese New Year, the Philippine Postal Corp., also known as PhilPost, has already issued special stamps in honor of this zodiac celebration.

There are two designs available: a colorful rendition of a goat's head sold at P10 each, and the image of the whole animal worth P30 each. The stamps have been available in post offices across the country since November.

The P10 New Year stamps come with a greeting, "Manigong Bagong Taon," while the P30 stamps bear the English translation "Happy New Year." At the bottom of the stamps are Chinese characters bearing the words "2015 Year of the Goat."

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2015 is the year of the green wooden goat. The goat or sheep is the eighth animal to heed Buddha's call and it is believed that those born in a goat year are creative, intelligent, dependable and calm. Have a happy goat year!
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Dec 31, 2014
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