Those Off-Key Carols

by Juan L. Mercado

The first signs are there.  Vendors heft multi-colored parols or star lanterns.  To cadge a few coins, scrawny kids warble carols, banging flattened bottle caps. Kasadya Ning Takna-a leads in street corner songbooks.

Vicente Rubi composed the music for the carol  entry in  1933 Cebu Carnival festival. Mariano Vestil wrote the lyrics. A Manila record company hijacked the carol into the Tagalog Ang Pasko Ay  Sumapit. Rubi and Vestil went to their graves without even lip service credit.

More of these grimy troubadours will surface in the run up to the Nativity. Many are school drop outs. Between 28 to 34 percent fail to complete Grade 6 at public schools here.

They also suffer from chronic hunger. Malnourished kids abound in Mambaling, Buot Tau, Inayawan, Duljo-Fatima, Sapangdaku, Pamutan, Agsungot, Pahina San Nicolas and Punta Princesa and Sawang Calero, the National Nutrition Council (NNC) 7 notes.

“This shall be a sign for you,” the angels sang, “You shall find an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in manger.”  Do the tinsel keep us from reading “signs of the times”? 

These street carolers were born when a full quarter of City Hall’s budget was hocked to repay Japanese yen debts for the 297-hectare South Properties. The same IOU burdened City Hall when these kids dropped out from school. The same debt will hound them into  2025 — when the last yen installment falls due.  Lack of schooling  shackles them into penury as adults.  

That is the unseen cost of SRP.  No one talked  of  this obscenity in Christmases past.  Few mention it when Christmas 2011 comes round — or in Christmases yet to come.

If we “open our shut-up hearts freely, we’ll discover they’re ‘hard as flint’, Jonathan Powers wrote in “Scrooge Is Here”. “No steel ever struck (from them generous fire. They remain secret, self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

The richest 20 percent consume 47 centavos out of every peso, Philippine Human Development Report reveals. The poorest 20 percent scrounge with seven centavos.

No one dies from starvation in Cebu.  But “protein energy malnutrition ushers a bigger proportion of pre-school kids to early graves than in poorer Bangladesh or Kenya, World and Asian Development Bank found.  

Poorly-fed anemic mothers give birth to shriveled children —  who in turn will mother the next generation of dwarfed infants.

“Children should live past the age of five,” says “Winning the Numbers, Losing the War”  study.  Decline in infant mortality rates is too  slow, adds this analysis of lag in achieving Millennium Development Goals. Under 5 deaths for every 1,000 births is double  that of Thailand.

“All children have the right to live,”  adds this study.  “But in the Philippines, large numbers, specially from indigent households and communities, start dying after they are born”. Some hang on as shabby carolers.

If anything, Christmas is about children.  Mayor Mike Rama and  city council (as proxy for Rep. Tomas Osmena) brawl over the P10.7 billion, proposed budget. The debate over actual funding sources is prim and proper.

But there’s little to show in social conscience.   The City Council backed spend P320,000 for gym membership of 20 councilors.  A thin crust of Scrooge argues for keeping the loot.

Indeed, our city fathers must set the example  of  reaching out to  the needy, symbolized by those  scrubby  carolers. As  Charles Dickens wrote in 1843. :“Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely.” 

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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