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August 15, 2010; Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer | Is volunteerism a supplement or a substitute for government? Or both? In the mélange of puffy rhetoric that obscures dialogue and analysis in the U.S., here is an op-ed penned by an executive of Hands-On Manila, the first Hands-On Network/Points of Light Institute affiliate in the Asia Pacific region. The author, HOM trustee John L. Silva, compares the election of Benigno Aquino, III as President of the Philippines to the election of Barack Obama.

As seen from Manila, “Obama has made volunteerism the centerpiece of his administration.” Silva is nothing but admiring: “A year and a half after Obama’s inauguration, with his foreign policy in Afghanistan increasingly unpopular, an economy still in the doldrums with even more layoffs in sight, a catastrophic oil spill, and other unmet expectations, his administration continues to shine in the area of volunteer service,” citing “adding substitute teachers to the U.S.’ flagging educational system.” (Silva presumably referring here to Teach for America and its stipended volunteerism clones.)

He thinks President Aquino could emulate his American counterpart by pumping life into the “moribund” Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), giving it a “decent starting budget,” and charging it to develop a national volunteer strategy like our Corporation for National and Community Service. Silva sees a political golden lining to volunteerism: “Obama has adroitly transformed his young voting constituents to become active citizens and help his country’s recovery. It may also ensure his reelection in 2012.”

However, Silva notes Aquino’s “near-empty coffers,” but fails to acknowledge that Obama’s volunteer programs required appropriations for volunteers’ training and stipends, among other costs. It is interesting, nonetheless, that in the view of Hands-On Manila, the notion of government-supported volunteerism has a distinctly political flavor for the ruling party.—Rick Cohen