LAST MILE. Vice President and Education Sec. Sara Duterte making her way out after her recent visit to Ukaw Elementary School in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya. (OVP)

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler, long I stood/And looked down one as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth.” ROBERT FROST, The Road Not Taken.

The road to Ukaw Elementary School in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya is one example of what American poet Robert Frost described a generation earlier as “the road not taken”.
It is one that falls under the category of the “Last Miles” schools of the Department of Education (DepEd).

A “Last Mile” school is geographically isolated or in a disadvantaged or conflict area. It has no more than four classrooms with no electricity or internet connection. It has multi-grade classes with less than five teachers.

Going by this definition, it does not take much to conjure images of difficulty, poverty, conflict and isolation. A “Last Mile” school, therefore, is hardly anyone’s entry on a bucket list for “must see” locations.

And yet, “Last Mile” schools is exactly where Vice-President Sara Duterte prefers to visit as part of her duties as Education Secretary.

“The road to (Ukaw) is very difficult, we had to pass by a big river and the path was steep because it is located in an elevated part of the town,” she said in Tagalog. The degree of difficulty on the way there is obviously lost in translation.

Vice President Inday, however, made it clear that she was glad she went there because she saw with her own eyes the dedication of the teachers and the persistence of the children to go to school even if it is far from their homes.

“This proves that Filipinos are stout-hearted,” she pointed out. This is in contrast to common descriptions of a nation embroiled in scandals, incompetence and opportunism.

Vice-President Duterte met with pupils in grades 2, 4 and 6, reminding them to study well and to finish because education to improve their lives and those of their families. It is probably not the first time they heard these words but have since taken on new life.

She also chatted with the teachers and their superior and listened to their gripes and needs in the school. In turn, she thanked them for the sacrifice they are giving in the service of the children and the nation.

Last Mile schools and obscure destinations will not be on many politicians’ itineraries, but Vice President Inday took the road to Ukaw in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya like it mattered more than any of the foreign trips that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. insisted would benefit the country more. He can be right, but only the future will prove that.

In contrast, there is no doubt that Vice-President Sara’s visit to Aritao was not in vain.
“Ako po ay lubos na nasiyahan nang makita ang kanilang mga ngiti habang kinakamusta natin. Nakakataba din po ng puso na maging ang mga may edad na ay masayang-masaya na makita ako sapagkat ayon sa kanila ay minsan lang sila nabibista, marahil sa kadahilanang malayo at mahirap mapuntahan ang kanilang lugar,” the Vice-President posted on her social media account.

In so many words, Vice President Duterte showed what her priorities are: being with her people, reaching out to them, listening to their stories, knowing their needs, and letting them know that they are not forgotten and they matter to her.Like President Marcos, she could have taken the road to concert stadiums and race tracks, but realizing that she could not travel both the road to privilege and duty, she took the road not taken. As Frost puts it, she must have looked down as far as she could – in this instance, to Aritao, “(T)o where it bent in the undergrowth”. She did not regret it.

There will always be roads not taken. For VP Inday, however, she will take as many of them as she can. Choices reflect the state of a person’s heart, and she is showing that it beats for those like the road to Aritao.
(CHITO FUENTES, Contributor)