Sound Chamber

by Juan L. Mercado

As the May 13 elections campaign careens into home stretch, many candidates get strident. There are 18,053 posts up for grabs — almost quadruple the number of office seekers.

Candidates of outstanding – or dubious —  credentials seek 12 Senate seats and 233 slots in the Lower House. Elective posts in 80 provinces, 143 cities plus 1,491 towns, are to be filled. 

Add 58 “Party List” representatives. Wait. The Supreme Court just granted 54 petitions for inclusion, filed by party-list groups blackballed earlier by the Commission on Elections.  And Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elects a governor, vice governor and 24 “regional assemblymen.”  

Overseas foreign workers, started casting ballots April 13. Comelec says 975,263 Pinoys abroad are eligible to vote.  This time around, 60 percent of OFW electors — around 585,000 — may vote. Is there basis for that optimism?.

In the 2004 overseas voting, 65 out of every 100 qualified voters turned up, Rappler recalls. That slumped to 16 percent in 2007, then to 25 percent in 2010. 

Candidates meanwhile zigzag from one rally to another. Their pitch for votes  range from the thoughtful to the silly. ”One more chance” pleads Joseph Estrada convicted for corruption.   Ernesto Maceda shasays on stage to disprove he is not decrepit.  “Keep the focus on issues that matter”, be they the Sabah controversy or a strained school system, Dick Gordon urges.

These voices clash and poll zarzuelas are part of the cost in rebooting the Marcos’ dictatorship’s “unanimity of the graveyard” elections.                                   

Journalists are padlocked, by their craft, into this sound chamber. Louis Lyons would drill into editors at Harvard University’s Nieman sabbaticals.  A babel of voices batters them.  They range from weak whimpers to imperious tones, shrill screams to fading tones.             

Swirling beneath the obvious, fester survive-or-perish issues.  Often, these lethal threats are overlooked.  “Learn to listen,” Lyons would say. “Extract what is true and relevant  from this chaos. At the same time, think for yourself. That’s the only way you can serve those you write for or broadcast to.”                                     

There is no substitute for water. A Filipino has 4,476 liters of this “internal renewable resources.”  A Malaysian has 21,259 liters. “The wealthy have better access than the poor to water” asserts “Asian Water Development Outlook 2013”. “Most striking is inequality in access to sanitation”, this Asian Development Bank study adds. “The disparity is widening, especially in burgeoning smaller cities.”

Here, only 43 percent of households have piped water. That’s better than Indonesia’s 20 percent,  But dry taps jack up incidence of illness and number of deaths. Thus, “sanitation  access” is 74 percent for us. It is 96 percent for Thais. 

Lack of water crimps handling of “DALY” — shorthand for “age-standardized  disability-adjusted life years”.  This gauge tracks diarrhea toll per 100,000 people. DALY counted  528  Filipino victims and  483 Indonesians.  In contrast, Sri Lanka pared that toll down to  153.

How did Colombo do that? You won’t know from candidates seeking to be elected senator. Only former Palawan governor Edward Hagedorn discusses water policies.  

Abortion is called the “silent scream.” Number of Filipino mothers, who die at childbirth, are quadruple that of Thailand. About 11 mothers died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth —  up from three years back, National Statistics Office reported. Only 90,000 mothers get post-abortion care. About half of 3.4 million pregnancies are unintended  

There’s no hard data to show that the number of bootleg abortions — estimated earlier at 560,000 yearly — ebbed.  The bitter quarrel over the Reproductive Health bill merely  delayed   access to family planning services, even to non-Catholics. Surely, that’s as  important as that Bacolod diocese billboard on “Team Patay” and “Team Buhay”? 

In  2013, the old scourge of malnutrition put on a new mask: the  faces of 67,000 ill-fed kids in Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur, ravaged earlier by Typhoon Bopha. 

In the Philippines, malnutrition accounts for more than a third of deaths of children younger than five years  Only  six out of ten kids, in the vulnerable age bracket of 6-23 months old” get a good diet, Unicef notes. After two years, the damage sets in for good.

Two of the biggest culprits are lack of vitamin A and zinc during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s first two years of life”   Chronic hunger reduces one out of three into a puny underweight. They don’t starve to death. But debilitating – and preventable — diseases like TB, anemia, diarrhea take their toll.

A Nutrition National Survey found that progress inched forward by only five percent. “At this rate, it will take maybe half a century before we can eradicate the problem of malnutrition”.  But kids can’t wait. “Their name is today”.

These are preventable deaths. Yet, there is no outcry, Why? 

Because death stalks kids in city hovels or farm shacks. Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight.  As a result, their coffins blend into the woodwork. So the massacre persists.

“Striking a child in anger may be pardoned,” George Bernard Shaw once said. “But a blow, against a child in cold blood,” as in continued tolerance of malnutrition, “is an obscenity”. That’s an apt handle for our candidates’ myopia. 


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