Paradoxes’ paradox

by Juan L. Mercado

“(Government) goes on in strange paradox: decided only to be undecided; resolved to be irresolute; adamant for drift;  solid  for fluidity; powerful for impotence,”  That’s how Winston Churchill, in November of 1936, skewered the  party then in power.

Isn’t this the theme that also underpins Paradox and Promise in the Philippines?  European Union, Asian Development Bank and five other agencies published this 143-page study.

The analysis uses the prism of “gender equality.”  Don’t go away.  The book is not fixated about empowerment of women”.   It weaves an insightful matrix of national problems, plus specific action plans.

Filipinos are no slouch in crafting a favorable policy environment, the study says. But implementation is patchy. Policy hasn’t “delivered  intended benefits as extensively and effectively as hoped for. This is one of the many  paradoxes amid promise in the country.”

A paradox, the dictionary says, is a seemingly contradictory statement that is true. Gilbert Keith Chesterton often  paraphrased  paradoxes by the  Master from Galilee “The paradox of courage,” GKC wrote, “is that a man must be a little careless of his life in order to keep it.”.

Filipinos highly value schooling. Paradoxically, education indicators are skidding.  Fewer children enroll in the world’s 12th most populous country.  More  also drop out.  In Autonomous Region of Muslin  Mindanao, only 35 out of 100  make it to grade 6. The “quality deficit” is worse. Only 6 out of 1,000 grade 1 entrants will graduate from grade 6 grounded solidly in math, science or English.

We train the largest number of health personnel in ASEAN. Paradoxically, the proportion of Filipinos dying without medical attention has risen to 70 percent. That’s a figure not seen, in this neck of the woods, since the mif-1970s.

Out of every 100 Filipino doctors, 68 practice abroad.  Over 164,000 nurses migrated in four decades. “”A perverse consequence is de-skilling”. That’s where doctors train to become nurses” to wangle a visa.”

“Visible issueslend themselves to action” where officials scrunch up grit, the study says. But “some persistent   problems are invisible” – from  appalling conditions for domestic workers to human trafficking.  ”Responding to them is particularly difficult.”  Failing to respond beckons disaster.

Unnoticed, an average of eight women die daily from pregnancy and child-birth related causes. They’re just as dead  as PR man Salvador Dacer and his driver whose unsolved  murder hug the headlines. So  are 700,000 babies aborted yearly. Abortion substitutes for hard-to-come-by  family planning services.

Chronic hunger doesn’t make prime-time newscasts as Erap’s bigote does. But it shrivels a quarter of  pre-schoolers. Out of 100 pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, 42 are  anemic. Wizened mothers give birth to midget kids. Given our priority for politics over  reform, “it’ll  take 50 years before we solve this problem,’ says the Food Research & Nutrition Institute.

Having a woman President can be convenient.  The lady jacks up indicators of “gender empowerment”. So do women justices and executives. Of 81 governors, 18 are women; of 1,631 mayors, 286 are women. Majority of government employees are women.

Pardoxically,  the plight  of 2.5 million domestic migrants – mostly female —  don’t cause a blip on radar screens. Often between 15 to 24 years old, most work in private homes. The least protected of workers, many are exploited. There’s been little help for women employees, who’ve been sexually harassed in economic zone factories.

Despite laws like Anti-Trafficking (RA 9208) or Anti-Rape Law (RA 8353) the furtive trafficking of women, as sex slaves, paradoxically persists.

Prostitution  thrives in Manila, Cebu and Davao. But the blight taints out-of-the-way places like Bongao in Sulu.  Well-structured flesh syndicates in Zamboanga traffick girls into Malaysia.

An increasing number of underaged  Muslim girls are funneled to Middle East countries, the report says.  Of 287    studied by the Human Rights Documentation System, 40 were minors when trafficked. “The youngest was a 10-year old–  a year younger than now released former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos’ victim.

Women trafficked to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Taipei and the United Arab Emirates are generally destined for sexual exploitation and slavery-like conditions of domestic work”. Those shipped “to Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Singapore are generally destined for prostitution.

“Migration comes at a cost”. More so for a country where almost 3,000 leave daily to beat grinding poverty. Much attention has focused on OFW remittances. But the real bill has not been fully tallied. What is the real cost for whole generations long separated from spouses children and families?. Not by bread alone do countries survive.

There’ve been useful initiatives to address these interlocking  problems. Many come from the private sector. Bantay Bata, for example,  helped more than 13,000 victims.  The Catholic Church has a full time commission on migrants. The Visayan Forum .aids human trafficking victims. Philippine Port Authority set up half-way houses.  Lihok Pilpina in Cebu has mustered resources for this sector.

But much remains to be done.  “It is not enough that we do our best,” Winston Churchill often stressed. “Sometimes, we have to do what is required.”

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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