Backyard Face

by Juan L. Mercado

”In Search of a Human Face” is the apt title of the new Philippine Human Development Report. This is the seventh PHDR, since the first came off the press in 1994.

That launched a now 15-year effort, by Filipino academicians to civil society leaders, to break out of conventional one-dimensional yardsticks. “Gross Domestic Product”, for example, divides national wealth by population. Results bracket the beggar in rubber flip-flops with an Imelda Marcos, strutting diamond tiaras.

Banco Sentral tracks Overseas Filipino Workers remittances, over $18 billion at last count. But balance sheets can’t tally psychological savaging of eight millions kids, where a salary check substitutes for an OFW parent, says a two-year study by Scalabrini Migration Center and Commission on Filipinos Overseas. It covers 30 provinces and two migrant communities in Italy and Spain.

To capture reality, PHDR tacked on gauges for knowledge, health and standard of living. A human development index (HDI) resulted , former NEDA chair Solita Collas Monsod recalls. Their initial use showed up “disparities in the country’s human development by region”. Trailing Metro Manila, Western Mindanao was slightly better off than Zimbabwe. She foresaw need for crafting of future HDIs on various questions, from governance to empowerment of people.”

Traditional economic measures answer “what sets the price of toothpaste”, the late Mahbub ul Haq of UN and later World Bank would muse. But posing the “right questions” is more critical.

These questions swirl around hunger, education, security, human aspirations even, agreed 1998 Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. ”We need a measure that is not as blind to social aspects as ‘GNP’ is.”

Sen and Haq, at UNDP, led scientists in stitching HDI gauges in the maiden issue of the global Human Development Report in 1990. “People are the real wealth of a nation”, their lead sentence read. Today’s 20th anniversary issue of HDR reiterates that theme.

This measurement innovation continues. Three new gauges – extreme deprivation, gender disparities and inequalities – are tacked into this year’s edition.

PHDRs mounted parallel efforts “in search of a human face.” They added a “Human Poverty Index” This measures deprivation beyond income. Life expectancy is buttressed with tables on “probability at birth of not surviving to age 40.

Knowledge is gauged not merely by enrolment. They’re supplemented by adult illiteracy and graduation rates. PHDRs report percentages of people who drink from open easily-contaminated wells to underweight kids below five.

Masbate slumps to number 72 out of 77 provinces in “Human Poverty”. Pangasinan ranks as No. 9. Analytical breakdown by provinces, show up other smudged disparities .

La Union, for example, now has the longest life expectancy at 74.6 years. Life is “nasty, brutish and short” in Tawi-Tawi at 53.4 years

Earlier reports also compare HDIs between countries and provinces. Azerbijan on one end and Paraguay on the other, for instance, sandwich Batanes, Laguna, Bataan, Batangas, La Union and Pampanga.”

‘In Search of a Human Face” updates issues that earlier PHDRs covered. The 1997 report on gender documented gains, by women, in education, jobs and elections – and constraints. The 2000 report focused on erosion in quality of education and outlined reforms.

The 2002 report dealt with “Work and Well Being”. As insurgency surged, the 2005 report dealt with “Human Security and Armed Conflict” . The 2009 theme dealt with how institutions and politics impact on human development.

The new tools are “a major step in what has been characterized as a ‘noisy democracy’,” National Scientist Gelia Castillo wrote. “If an indie film were to be made on Philippine human development, what would be the story line and images?”

For an answer, Castillo whips out a table: that compares placid Benguet with Manguidanao, bloodied by masascres, sapped by Internal Revenue Allotment wastage and studded with 24 luxurious Ampatuan mansions.

Functional illiteracy in Maguindanao is four times that of Benguet. Primary and high school enrolment in Benguet, at 94 percent, towers over Maguindanao’s 75 percent. Only four out of 10 Maguindanaoans get high school diplomas, Benguet’s is double that.

Almost half (46 percent) of Maguindanao homes draw water from murky wells. Stack that against 14 percent for Benguet. Thus, a Maguindanaoan’s life expectancy is 57.6 years, similar to Lanao del Sur. Life In contrast, life spans in Benguet approximate that of Cebu.

As a result, overall HDI tables for 77 provinces reveal Benguet in Slot No.8. Maguindanao limps in as second to the last.

“Elites in our country live, on average, almost a generation longer than the poor,” the late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali wrote 20 years back. “Many ask the bitter – but justified – question: Have the affluent acquired a franchise to life?”.

PHDR has not addressed (so far) “the hidden accouterment of absolute control by those in power over local populace, with support of the highest central authority” Dr Castillo points out. Human development must grow in our “own backyards’. The daily lives of citizens is “where it’s human face must shine most.…Can we find fitting indicators?”

Will policy makers use these new indices? For now, the tools make us repeat what the orphan boy, in the 1958 flim classic tells the Crucified: Tiene cara de hambre. “You have the face of hunger.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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