“Bamboo Reed” Vision

by Juan L. Mercado

“Do not look at the heavens  through a bamboo reed.” That’s a proverb from Meiji-era  Japanese  farmers.

Japan’s global  reach today,  and it’s  disciplined reaction to the  tsumami-cum-nuclear- reactor disaster  underscore how it’s people heeded this counsel.

What  about us?

Our geography is insular too.  Do we look beyond our shores?  Or  do we  assume  the world pivots around the Philippines, as  critics note.

Today’s  Internet era can help strip away “bamboo reed” vision.  Filipinos were the first to wage “People Power”, in 2000, with cellphones.  Facebook and Twitter stoked the “Arab Spring” revolts. So, leaf through the latest United Nations Human Development Report (HDR).

The number of Filipino homes wired, thru personal computers to Internet, rose to 35% in 2009 —- up from 27% two years  before. Average time spent, per week, on the Net, doubled to 10.4 hours.

Many Filipinos think their cellphone is worth dying for. There has been eight-fold increase in the number of mobile and fixed line telephone connections since 2000.

Impressive, no? Until you note Vietnam racked up a 24-fold increase. The most dramatic surge, with ASEAN, probably is in Laos. Vientianne reports a 54 fold surge in cell and landphones. These will tear down censorship walls of this once rigidly communist country.

Six out of every 100 Filipinos had personal computers. Compare that to Malaysia’s 23 or Cambodia’s 10. What about the international setting.  In Netherlands, 90 out of every 100 have computers.

This disparity reflects the “digital divide” that fractures today’s “information highway.” You also need cash to buy  cellphones or personal computers. Thus, gaps in economic performance are illustrative.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence,” Mohandas Ghandi once wrote. Today, 27. out of every 100 Filipinos scrounge below  national poverty lines. You see families huddled  in city slums. Scawny kids cadge  for a handout at street corners.  Under the  junta dictatorship in Burma, 32 are indigents — a far cry from Indonesia’s 16.

Indicators, meanwhile, have  became more precise. In earlier “HDRs,  “Inequality Measures” simply split the “haves” from the “have-nots” by pegging their skewed share in the income peso.

The top 10  percent. consumed 37 centavos out of every peso. These were the well-to-do Filipinos, often residing in “gated enclaves”  On the other end, the poorest 10 percent huddle in marginal farms or city slums. They make do with three centavos.

But HDRs now estimate “population with at least one severe  deprivation in three categories”.  The three are: (a) health; (b) education; and (c) living standards. The result is a gauge that determines “population at risk of multi-dimensional poverty.

This new yardstick enables HDR to factor in on-the-ground realities here. Poverty rates in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, for example, exceed 69 percent. This penury level quadruples that of the National Capital Region.

In Lanao del Sur, 69 out of every 100 lack potable water. Compare that with one in Bulacan. In Zamboanga del Norte, 32 out of every 100 are functionally illiterate. In five years, school dropouts here  bolted from 1.8 million to 2.2 million, Only 23 percent of kids in Sulu make it thru high school.

Almost  13 percent of Filipinos are hobbled by shortfalls in health, schooling or living standards, HDR concludes.  We’re in  the same bracket with  Vietnamese. In contrast, deprived Thais are almost 2 percent.

“Life is the threshold at which all other hopes begin”.  Deprivation in health; schooling and living standards factors interlock and cut life spans.

A child born in Tawi-Tawi today has a life expectancy of 54 years. Those born in La Union live almost a generation longer: 74 years.

Worldwide, “the gap in child mortality is widening, in some nations, by as much as 10 percent, the UN says.”As in the Philippines, “children from the poorest households run twice the risk of dying before age five”.

“Those who suffer multiple deprivations…are often hidden and hard to reach, says “UNICEF representative to the Philippines Vanessa Tobin…(But) 44 percent of children living in poverty is too high. We can, and must, take steps” to reduce that.

Curbing disease and death rates makes human development possible,. Unmet human needs usher more pre-school Filipino children into premature graves than in Egypt, Kenya or Tanzania, Asian Development Bank notes.

A plus factor is today’s curb on corruption. Even the most rabid critics concede that President Benigno Aquino III, like his mother Corazon, has not been tarred by the corruption brush.

The Aquino administration’s Conditional Cash Transfer program rose from P1-billion in 2009 to P21 billion this year. The  3 million  recipient  families  must ensure children attend school. Basic education budget had risen to P278 billion.

And P12 billion will expand the national health insurance program. The majority in Congress is likely to defend these initiatives, while providing P22.1 billion counterpart funds for private-public partnership projects.  

These are to serve  “people of the broken plough who bear the face of hunger, for whom it is almost too late.” But we often didn’t  see them through our bamboo reeds.


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