Recovering A Lost Generation

by Juan L. Mercado

“You have  the  face of hunger” is  not  the title of a new  study of  12.8 million kids trapped by “multiple dimensions of poverty.” That line is cribbed from a 1955 Spanish film classic. 

In  this  Cannes  Film Festival entry, the orphan Marcelino  snitches  bread and wine from the monastery’s  pantry. Tiene  cara de hambre, he explains on offering  them to the Crucified. That  film span off into the ABS-CBN drama: “Philippines– May Bukas Pa (“There is still tomorrow.”)

More visages, shriveled by need, is guaranteed tomorrow, unless decisive reforms are adopted warn the Philippine Institute for Development Studies and United Nations Children’s Fund.

Chronically-famished youngsters increased by over a million in three years: These kids grapple daily with lack of water, medicine, a roof or a school.

About 9.2  million — the population of 14 Sorsogons — cluster in rural barangays.  The others meld into slums of Manila, Cebu, Davao and other cities. One out of 10 kids in the National Capital Region is an “informal  settler”.

In this country, “the powerful buy the lowly for pair of sandals.” These children drew the short straw. Barely had their lives started, their futures were  shredded.  Is it “almost too late” for them?

Traditional yardsticks, like per capita income, “do not truly reflect what is happening in the regions,” PIDS president Josef T. Yap cautions. PIDS and Unicef gauges “other deprivations”: shelter, health, education, water, simple toilets, an extra light bulb — and information.

Poverty rates in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao exceed  69 percent. This penury level quadruples that of the National Capital Region.

“Metro Manila, Soccksargen and Central Luzon have the largest share of children who suffer from multiple deprivations,” estimate Celia M. Reyes and Aubrey Tabuga of PIDS.  Main poverty issues in the National Capital Region swirl around shelter and squatting. The  number of children, in informal settlements, doubled in 21 years.

In five years, school dropouts bolted from 1.8 million to 2.2 million. The National Statistical Coordination board’s  Child Development Index tracks that downward spiral.

Wasting from chronic hunger is often overlooked.  But the last National Nutrition Survey stumbled across “the largest rise in prevalence of underweight kids” in three years. The proportion of stunting and thin children likewise bolted.”  Tiene  cara de hambre.

Progress has been spotty. “The proportion of children deprived of electricity has rapidly gone down. Those without access to radio, TV, telephone or computer also decreased.  Access to water and sanitary facilities improved”.

But seven out of ten in Lanao del Sur still drink from unsafe wells, notes Human Development Report. Compare that with one in Bulacan.   Daily, 3,700  migrate in search of  jobs abroad,  so their kids can break free from a “lost decade”.

By happenstance, the network Social Watch Philippines (SWP) also released it’s report:  “Winning the Numbers, Losing the War.”

Government will flub  Millennium Development Goals on halving poverty, tamping down maternal and infant death rates, plus ensuring universal primary education, the “shadow report” asserts.  Presented to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Sonny Belmonte,  the study sketches a catch up plan.

“Many would still be left behind”, when curtains fall on MDGs in 2015, warns SWP convenor Isagani Serrano. “The  Philippines is in a worse poverty situation in 2010 than in 2000 when 180 countries adopted the MDGs.

Don’t look now. But are those not the Arroyo years? In that decade,  Le Cirque dinners,  serial government corporation bonuses or diluted  fertilizers commanded priority over destitute kids and wizened mothers.

In 2000 estimates already revealed serious budgetary shortfalls, former national treasurer  Leonor Magtolis Briones  stressed.  But government didn’t bridge the gap.   Applying the 2010 pork barrel for human needs, instead of waiting sheds, would be a good start to recover a “lost decade.”

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

President Benigno Aquino whittled his delegation for the UN  General  Assembly – which will assess MDG  goals. No congressman will sneak aboard.  Having a profligate  Rep.  Imelda Marcos, strut at the UN, as House chair of MDG committee, would have been gross.

PNoy should  refuse to paper over failures in achieving MDGs. His UN audience is savvy. They know Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dumped this mess on him.

The President must  resist the temptation to seek refuge in similar failure by other countries.  Indeed, “the gap in child mortality is widening, in some nations, by as much as 10 percent…” As in the Philippines, “children from the poorest households run twice the risk of dying  before age  five”.

The only acceptable currency is reform. The President must focus on the poorest and the most deprived. Supported by World Bank and Unicef, ongoing conditional cash transfers aim to reach four million families by 2012. Aquino must harness local governments and civic society in similar initiatives.

“Do you hear the children crying, o my brothers / Ere sorrows come with the years?,” Browning asked. Few hear in a country of leaders deafened by sleaze.  Aquino’s reforms must be sustained if they’re to recover a lost decade. Only then, will they echo the Master’s directive: Ephphetha. “Be thou opened”.

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

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