Scapegoats

by Juan L. Mercado

“A good scapegoat is nearly as welcome as a solution to a problem.” That axiom tailor-fits the excuse that National Economic and Development Authority’s Ralph Recto peddled.  

“As a result of the global financial crisis”, the NEDA director general said, “it is possible … Philippine’ compliance with Millennium Development Goals would be delayed.’  ”

No — sir. It’s not only possible. It is dead certain we’ll flunk crucial MDG targets such as maternal death rates, schooling or eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Converting world recession into a scapegoat won’t wash. 
The Philippines and 188 other nations pledged to meet eight MDGs by 2015. That’s only six years away.

These are “benchmarks for assessing progress …in creating decent jobs, improve access to schools and rooting out corruption,” UN Human Development Report notes.” They enable poor people to hold political leaders accountable.”

Take Goal No. 5. That committed us to slash maternal death rates by three-fourths. In every 100,000 births here, 162 Filipina mothers die. (Compare that to 62 for Malaysians) We vowed to whittle maternal deaths to 55.  

We’re welshing on that pledge. Eleven women die daily today. Nine are pregnancy related deaths. Health budgets remain miniscule. Abortion is a bloody substitute for hard-to-come-by family planning services. Underground abortionists account for nearly 12 percent of maternal deaths.

UP Population Institute estimates 560,000 abortions are induced yearly. Some 90,000 mothers, lucky to reach few hospitals, seek post- abortion care, UPPI and Guttmacher Institute estimates. About half of the 3.4 million pregnancies, in 2008, were unintended.

“Reduced maternal deaths are the MDG least likely to be achieved by 2015”, Unicef foresees. “Women should view pregnancy and childbirth as something to celebrate, not to fear,

Not to worry, Recto murmurs. Government would still meet missed MDG targets. He refused to say when..”It’d be “hard to put a number on how much would be lost in terms of not meeting the target.

That’s for sure Recto can’t “put a number” on thousands of mothers” who’ll be in premature graves when his chickens come home to roost, if ever. But doesn’t Recto & Co. see the obscene injustice?

This government bankrolls P728 fertilizer scams and pads $329 million broadband projects. But it skimps on health budgets, sanitation, nutrition and other unmet human needs…“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery? St. Augustine asked.

Too much in taxes are dissipated. Congress’ pork barrel is notorious. Internal Revenue Allotments make up 64 centavos of every peso in local government budgets — up from 39 centavos a decade back. But no performance criteria are required. Bulk is burned for honoraria, lakbay-aral junkets, protégé hires, cars, etc.

“We’re allocating resources, particularly for the important need to invest more in hard and human infrastructure,” Recto mumbled. The administration would tap all types of financing, whether from China, Japan, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or Asian Development Bank, to finance public investment program.

Scrub the jargon. Is that making international bodies scapegoats for domestic failure?

“Expenditures for social and economic services, as a percentage of the total budget, had been declining for the past seven years”, notes the unusually frank “2007 MDG Midterm Progress Report. “The funding gap to achieve the Goals by 2015 is estimated at around $15 billion.”

Can this funding gap be narrowed? Yes. But we must abolish Palace and Congress pork barrels, untangle the skewed IRA system, etc.  We don’t realize the economic distortions and human pain  that   stem   from corrupt and  bad government, Harvard professor John Kenneth Gailbraith once said.

Look at MDG Goal No. 2: “To ensure by 2015, children everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.”  

We have been set back here too. Net enrolment to primary education was close to 100 percent in 2000. By school year   2005/06, this slumped  to 84 percent. It hasn’t bounced back.

MDG Goal 1 would cut proportion of people who scrounge by on  less than P48 a day. Social Weather Stations notes that, over the last five years, the number of poor people, stagnated. A population that will crest at 102 million, by 2015, makes this MDG  goal elusive..

None of Asian and Pacific countries, certainly not the Philippines, is on track to meet all the goals by 2015. Social Watch concludes we’re slipping further behind, along  with Indonesia, Bangladesh and Laos.

“The development process and outcomes  here are vulnerable to elite capture,” this alternative study notes. A  government that  budgets more for paying IOUs than for poverty reduction, education, health, and  ecology  protection  can’t  deliver on  its  MDG commitments.

Government must change the way it governs…”People have a very deep mistrust of government”.  They  want to see  meaningful changes  where services really work for the poor.” And they want to have a real say in how that’s going to be done.”.

“That future is within reach”, Social Watch says. But it will require “profound renewal” ”There are many scapegoats for our blunders,”  Mark Twain once said.  “But the most popular one is to blame God” Recto hasn’t gotten around to yet.  

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

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