by Juan L. Mercado

Charter   change  is  not  “the  threshold  at  which  all  other hopes begin.”  Life is.  Nor is an overhauled constitution  the most  telling  indicator of  advance —  or   setback.  Life  expectancy  is.

Filipinos  with the  longest life  spans are in La Union, says Philippine  Human  Development  Report  2008/ 2009. “On  average those  born  in  2006  in  La  Union  are expected to live  74.6 years”,  like Ecuadorians.

In  contrast,  Tawi-Tawi  life expectancy   is  like  that of  Djibouti in  Africa :  53.4 years. That’s  two decades  shorter  than  Bulacan’s  73.4.   “Those expected to live the shortest”  are in  Autonomous Region of  Muslim Mindanao’s  conflict-savaged  provinces  or   Cordillera  Administrative Region’s backwaters.  Is this  a twilight  zone of  shriveled  hopes?

Filipino  scientists  cobble  PHDRs  within  the Human Development  Network.  The  first  of these  biennial studies  came  in 1990. UN  Development Programme  and  New Zealand  co-sponsored  this latest  edition.

PHDR  and  the  global  “Human Development  Report”  go beyond usual  measuring tools, e.g. gross domestic product. They apply “human development indices”.  HDIs  factor  in schooling,  poverty, health  –and life spans.

“Long  lifers”  also cluster  in  Ilocos  Norte,  Camarines  Sur,   Cebu,  Batangas,  Pampanga,  Cagayan and  Albay,  Life expectancy, in these  provinces,  is  in  the  70’s – and  climbing.   This still  lags  behind  an Icelander’s  81 years.

Truncated  lives are  in   Ifugao,  Kalinga,   Apayao  and Mt.  Province,  and   Agusan del Norte. Their  life expectancies   hover in  the  60s, often   below. They  are  where Pakistan and Eritea are  wedged today. ““Tawi-Tawi,   Sulu,  Maguindanao  and Lanao del Sur  are worst off “

“Differences  in  homes, clothing or  even menus are galling enough”,   the late  National Scientist Dioscoro Umali  wrote  .”But denial of life itself and premature graves  are an obscene injustice. These  are death sentences.  And  they  cut  into the very depths of our common humanity. “

Nationwide, “Filipinos born in 2006 will live, on average, about eight years longer compared to those born in  1980,”   PHDR  notes. “Between  1980 and  2006,  life expectancy  improved by roughly three years for  every decade.”

Fine   Take a bow.  But  what  underpinned  the  heartening advances. And what   triggered  those  tragic  setbacks?

Improved  scientific analysis, for one.  PHDR  did   further sophisticated work  on  mortality  tables. These were  first  stitched together  by  San Carlos University’s  Fr Wilhelm Fleiger,  SVD  and  UP  Population  Institute’s  Josefina  Cabigon. The result   provides clearer  insights.

Cash  for another.  For every dollar  our  legislators  pony up for health,  Malaysians  allocate  two and Koreans  five. This results in   skewed  survival rates.  

For every 1,000 births here, 25 infants die. Thais  have cut that to 18.  In every 100,000 births,  230 Filipina mothers die. That toll  resembles   Cape Verde.

Camarines Sur,   Leyte and Zamboanga  del  Norte “registered the biggest improvements.,” PHDR found.    “More than 14 years were added to life expectancy.”  Other gainers:  Sorsogon,  Surigao del Norte and, Zambales,.  Palawan, even Pangasinan.

Some   updated  life  expectancies : ( figures rounded ):  Bohol  and  Iloilo, 71;   Negros  Occidental and  Bukidnon, 70;  Nueva Ecija and Tarlac, 69;  North  Cotabato  and  Ilocos Sur, 68;  Negros Oriental,  67,  Davao del Norte,  Southern  Leyte, Western  Samar  and Masbate, 66;  Romblon, 65.

“He who knows who to use a writing brush,” the Chinese proverb says, “will never have to beg”.  .So,  look at the  “no-read-no-write” data.

In Batanes, two  percent  are functionally illiterate..That  bolts  to 35 percent in Basilan – where teachers are often kidnapped. ..Roughly,  the  same  level  of  deprivation  prevails in  Sarangani,   Siquijor — and  Uganda.

“For the country, as a whole, the proportion of high school graduates among adults, in 2006, was 55 percent, PHDR found. “(This is )  up nine percentage  points from 1997, level.”

Four out of every five adults finish high school in Metro Manila.. “Benguet follows closely with seven in every nine adults.

Provinces cheek-by-jowl with the metropolis –, Rizal, Cavite  and Laguna —  have relatively high ratios,” the report adds. “ So do  northern Luzon corridor provincdes, like: Bataan.

“Abra registered the greatest improvement ( 15 percent).in secondary  schooling.  Guimaras and Biliran followed closely by 13 percent surges.  Maguindanao, Benguet, Apayao and  Surigao del Norte chalked up nine percent increases.

“Water is life”. In  Capiz,  48 out  of every 100  drink from open, often contaminated, wells. The comparative figures  are  37 in  Palawan, down to  7 in Cavite.

PDHR computers  crunch out  overall  rankings for human development. Benguet  is  topnotcher.  The study  also  sets  province ranking into  an international context.

Metro  Manilans  are wedged  between  Lebanese  and Peruvians, the comparison shows.  Cebu  matches  the Palestinian territories. Topnotcher   Benguet  clones  Armenia . “Davao del Sur,  Abra  and  Bohol   lie between Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.”  Manguindanao  compares  to Ghana.

“The value of  inter-country comparisons is redeemed  only when people – seeing the gap between what is and what could be – begin to demand more of themselves and of those who purport to represent their interests.”

Yes, yes. But what  if  our so-called leaders  set their thresholds at   “cha-cha”?

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

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