Reversing Course

by Juan L. Mercado

“Even  the gods love jokes,”  Plato wrote.  But then, he never met Imelda Marcos. Nor did this Greek thinker read the  farce that is Imelda Marcos’  “Millennium  Development Goals” proposal.

House  Bill  3252 would tap Overseas Filipino Workers  — plus sweepstakes and other usual vaca lecheras  —   to chip in $10  billion (P437 billion ) for an MDG Fund.  But wish is not cash.  The glint in Mrs. Marcos eyes won’t close the P85 billion MDG  funding gap, estimated by Philippine Institute of Development Studies.

MDGs are eight pledges to free people from hunger, disease and enlarge freedoms. Those goals were spelt out into  measurable indicators. Meeting these minimum targets would do away only with extreme forms of deprivation.

In 2000,  the Philippines and 190 countries signed on. People Power II that year, by happenstance, shoved Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into Malacanang.

“We should have achieved MDGs under the (Arroyo) regime”, says the study: Winning the Numbers, Losing the War. There were  plus factors. Remittances topped $16 to $18 billion yearly. And skills abounded. Despite reckless drawdowns, ecosystems held, albeit tenuously.

We flunked.  Today, “the Philippines is in a worse poverty situation in 2010 than when it started on the MDGs.”

Prevalence of underweight children under five,  “is comparable to Sub-Sharan Africa,” the last nutrition survey reports. Only three out of ten drink potable water in the Autonomous Regions of Muslim Mindanao.

Like the grandiose plans that  the Ilocos Norte congresswoman lofted  earlier, her bill will fall by the wayside. One reason is corruption cases bug the lady.

The Anti-Graft Court, this September, ordered her to return P10 million to the National Food Authority. The dictator ordered NFA to unload the cash into the Marcos personal account in Security Bank (Makati).

“Imelda  should  bankroll  the MDG  Fund from  her shell foundations, not us”, OFW  Rodolfo Lugay in Qatar suggests. “Among those listed by the Supreme Court were Vibur, Xandy-Wintrop, Palmy and Maler Foundations.”

The new administration has only a “small window of opportunity” to make up for the previous regime’s flagging performance. In 2015 — the fifth year of PNoy’s administration — UN will receive MDG reports from member states. Can  PNoy stitch close tears in  MDGs 1,2 and 5 goals.

Goal 1 would halve poverty.  The penury threshold is an unrealistic  P41 per person per day.  The pace of  poverty reduction  did not decelerate. It actually increased. The next official reports will reveal  more indigents  and underweight children. Number of families, whose intake of food slip below adequate dietary needs, will bolt.

Goal 2  pledged “universal primary education.” But 17 out of every 100 kids are not enrolled. Dropouts persist. “Government spends less on education than Asian neighbors. Such failure means another generation of poorly-educated Filipinos…”

Goal 5 would tamp down deaths of women at childbirth to 52,  from today’s 162  (Compare that to Malaysia’ mortality rate of 17). Proportion of  births,  attended by health personnel, should have increased from 63% to 80%. That didn’t happen.

“We know who and where they are,” the report says. Medical technology is available. “So why is there no dramatic decline in mortality rates?. Why don’t we hear women’s outrage?. Children have the right to live beyond age 5. But large numbers in  (poor homes) start dying after they are born….”

“Can the Philippines keep it’s MDG promises?” asks the study. “We have a new regime whose legitimacy is beyond question and enjoys a high level of trust… It’s predecessor was born in turbulence, governed in turbulence. (and) left many issues demanding urgent closure.”

The causes interlock. Rapid population growth strained  “carrying capacity” of land and fishing groups. “Wealth and power (are) skewed in favor of Manila”. Half of the 20 poorest provinces cluster in Mindanao  Total allocation for indigenous people “equals the pork barrel of only three senators.”

Foreign debt repayments sap social services Crooks pocket 25 centavos out of every tax peso, some guesstimates claim.  Over P66 million in Tesda funds, for example, were spent for Macapagal-Arroyo T-shirts.

Fund transfers reached “grotesque  proportions”, former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones  writes. In  2004, President Arroyo juggled  P140 billion  from various agencies to other offices. Malacanang last year spent quadruple the P224.6 million authorized for travel. “Nothing came of Commission on Audit complaints.”

President Aquino should be ‘given full marks for’ for having focused, in his first budget,  on “education, health and poverty reduction,” notes the no-nonsense Solita Monsod in “Reality Check”.  “(He used) using the funds saved through more efficient use, The proposed “budget does reflect base priorities…”

Ang simula ay siyang unang hati ng katapusan. That’s the Taglog version of the English axiom: “Well begun is half done.”  Now for the other half.

By granting tax breaks to cronies, Congress cut income by P90 billion — far more than the P75 billion earned through VAT taxes. “What is taken by the left hand by increased VAT rates is given away by the right though incentives.”

“Quit making highways that lead to nowhere, basketball courts or building waiting sheds that wait for no one”, Social Watch convenor Leonor Briones nudged legislatiors. Align instead  your pork barrel slabs to achieve MDG goals in your districts.”

The budget debates will see if PNoy is able to maintain the needed  reversal of course he ordered.

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