Bill For Betrayal

by Juan L. Mercado

Contrast  is a compelling tutor. Compare two headlines in Thursday’s issue of  the Inquirer. “Young  lieutenant leaves liitle Sophie”, read the streamer. The banner  below blared:  “Jinggoy rats on colleagues.”

Army’s 1st Lieutenant  Francis Damian was killed in Zamboanga’s  fighting against  Moro National Liberation Front remnants. A 2007 Philippine Military Academy graduate, Damian volunteered for operations to flush out rebels who used civilians as human shields.  “Her nine-month old daughter Sophie tapped the coffin of her father playfully”.

In a privilege speech, Senator Jinggoy Estrada  ducked the rap that he repeatedly creamed the pork barrel fund. Instead, he blamed everybody else: bribed senators, assorted congressmen,  Department of Budget and Management, Commission on Audit.

He ignored  Rappler reports that he is building a P120 million-peso house, on a 3,000-square meter lot, in Wack-Wack subdivision in Mandaluyong. Construction stopped last week. The lot is estimated to cost between P210 million to P240 million. The house does not appear in his latest Statement of  Assets and Liabilities.

And the senator  hang up when Rappler inquired.

Isn’t Jinggoy taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye,”  ignoring “the log in your own”?  Here, we  see  a society of embedded “contrasts ”. Compare the differences in life spans.

Philippine Human Development Report 2013 picks 10 provinces where people live longer (73 to 76 years): La Union, Cavite, Misamis Occidental, Benguet, Bulacan, Camarines Sur, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, Isabela and Sorsogon.  The losers (46  to 59 years ): Ifugao, Surigao del Sur,  Western Samar, Mt. Province, Kalinga, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

In an international matrix , average life span for a Filipino is similar to an Indonesian’s. Japanese life spans are over a decade longer. Earnings of the richest 10 percent of  households here are 19 times that of the poorest 10 percent. This year, population exceeded 97.7 million — and counting.

Do  these disparities turn us  into a “democracy of the dead”?   All are supposed to be equal in the  cemetery.  But where one is born matters.  Death rates among infants of the  poor families, can be two  or three times higher than the rich, an earlier Asian Development Bank study notes. “Equal opportunity is good; but special privilege is better,” a political heiress snaps.

Education is the escape hatch. “Who can use a writing brush will never” beg. But that exit is welded shut for many. Poorer households are almost three times more likely to be out of school than those richer.

Dropouts are estimated at 6 percent in elementary grades to 11 percent in secondary. Lack of schooling “turns the wheels of inter-generational transmission of poverty against them. (It) consigns them to a  one to  a future of low-income…”

Tiny coffins and wizened infants are visible indicators of disparities in health. “Illness comes on horseback but departs on foot”.   Yet, improving access to safe-drinking water by 10 percent could reduce child mortality by 3 percent, WHO estimates. 

No indicator captures the divergence in human development more powerfully than child mortality. Out of every thousand kids born, 18 will die before their first birthday. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, infant deaths crest at 42. Compare that to Malaysia’s 5.

Filipino mothers dying at childbirth are more than quadruple that of Thailand. Last year, 15 mothers died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth—up from 11 three years back, the National Statistics Office reported.

Yet, there is no outcry. Why? Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight.  “Discontent arises from the knowledge of what is possible”. What is different today is many people see the connection between scam and death of young mothers and children — and realize that this is not inevitable.

Blurred in the fury over the pork and  efforts to blunt  reform is this week’s  ongoing meeting at the United Nations  to recast  “Sustainable Development Goals. The current targets lapse in 2015. In his  report to the UN  that  year, President Benigno Aquino shouldn’t dally with why we didn’t achieve MDGs 1, 2 and 5. You can’t eat excuses.

P-Noy set higher standards of integrity. That should  anchor the future task of securing closing deficits, at all levels,  for whoever Filipinos will elect president after P-Noy. He (or more likely she?) can build on his reforms to tackle the post-2015 agenda vigorously.

Decent jobs, liveable cities, zero hunger and malnutrition  should become part of a new global blueprint to end poverty by 2030, says an ADB report. Despite an impressive reduction in income poverty in recent decades, the region is one where six out of 10 go hungry. The region must address new emerging challenges like rising inequalities, unplanned urbanization, climate change, pollution, and water scarcity.

World Bank finds that four-fifths of improved income of the poorest 118 countries came  from general economic growth, not redistribution.That still leaves a fifth that might be perked up by policies tailored specifically for the poor.  These would be required to get extreme poverty to zero.

“Inequality is extremely hard to change,” the Economist notes.  “The rich and powerful have an incentive not to change it too much”.  Doesn’t that betray  Army’s 1st Lieutenant Francis Damian, killed in Zamboanga’s  fighting and her nine-month old daughter.  Sophie who “tapped  the coffin of her father  playfully”.

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