Unvarying Finale

by Juan L. Mercado

Star lanterns, Nativity belens and  Christmas trees are now  lit up. Our grandkids  Kristin, 8, and  Kathie 5, plan  to go “caroling”in  their subdivision.

“When?” we  ask.  “After cousins Alexia, 9, and Tai Noelle, 6, fly in from San Francisco”, they reply.   That will  be later this month.”  The  “tambourine brigade”, beat them  to the draw.  

Scrawny school dropouts bang flattened bottle caps, tacked to sticks, to accompany off-key carols.  A few are  Badjaos  from Mindanao, who  scrape for a living  from  city streets.  They  sing –  well, sort of —  at doorways. Some do on  rickety jeepneys they scamper into.

Their  repertoire is  limited.  Some  belt a few bars from  “Silent Night” or Ang  Pasko Ay Sumpapit.  That’s the  hijacked Tagalog version of  the 1933 Visayan  daygon: Kasadya Ning Takna-a – whose Cebuano  composer and lyricist were cheated blind.

Their unvarying  finale is: “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. They then stretch open  palms for handouts. If you drop an extra coin,  they’ll chime: “Thank you / Thank You  / Ang  baba-it  ninyo.

These grimy “street troubadours” never heard of  a  former president who’ll listen to carols  in a Veterans Memorial Hospital  suite-as-prison-cell.  Tell them about a  midnight Chief Justice whose 19-0  decisions  are “untarnished by a negative vote”  against the jailed  president. All you get is  a blank stare.

These mean nothing to often food-short kids who should be in school. Here, 22 percent of people are undernourished.  (Compare that to Malaysia ‘s two percent.)  Poor nutrition stunts almost a half (47 percent) of kids in Negros Occidental and Northern Samar.

They’re dwarfed by better fed kids in Beijing , Seoul or Hong Kong. Many of them frailer, and academically slower than their Malaysian, Korean or Singaporean counterparts? Why?

Poverty forces 33, out of every 100, to quit school before reaching Grade 6. “From grades 5 through the end of high school, boys drop out 2 to 2.5 times more than girls, “former education Juan Miguel Luz points out. 

“Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely,” Charles Dickens wrote in 1843.

But the tambourine brigade never heard of Dickens.  None  read his tale of Christmases past, present and yet to come. Most don’t read  because they can’t. Surveys show most students begin to read – and comprehend – only by Grade 4.

United Nations Children Fund confirms this stark Christmas season profile in a 2011  study: “Child Poverty in East Asia and the Pacific: Deprivations and Disparities”.  The  report analyzes  2007 to 2010 data from the Philippines and six other countries of this region.

Poverty that hobbles adults is vastly different from indigence that chokes off the sparkle in children. Look beyond traditional measuring gauges, like family income, Unicef  suggests. A starker portrait of penury in 93 million  youngsters in 53 countries then emerges.

Over 30 million kids agonize from at least one form of severe deprivation, e.g. basic health care, adequate food, safe drinking water or a sanitary toilet. More than 13 million were afflicted by two or more forms of extreme scarcity that interlock.

Child destitution was 130 per cent higher in rural Philippines than in urban areas – a feature shared by Thailand and Cambodia. The number of impoverished ethnic minority Filipino children, like “lumads” was nine times higher than those of dominant ethnic groups. “This is an issue in most countries surveyed. ”

In 2000,  out  of every 100 kids, 56  were deprived of at least one essential service. There are 4.46 million  Filipino  families  who scrape below poverty lines.  Aside from Conditional Cash Transfer Program,  the Aquno administration’s 2011 budget earmarks 34 centavos out of every peso to go to the social  sector.

“A child who is malnourished will be stunted for the rest of their life if they have inadequate growth,” a Unicef spokesperson said. “If they dropped out of school, they are extremely unlikely to go back into school again. They’d be the wrong age for their grade”.

“A failure of continuity in education just means kids dropping out. Despite the crisis, economies especially in East Asia are continuing to grow so there isn’t any need for reduction of government budget. The future well-being of society depends on the investment in children now.

“Shortened lives and premature graves is the lot of tambourine kids,” we noted several  Christmases back.   “Yet, they could have been doctors, priests, pilots or teachers. In  each of them, “Mozart is murdered”, Antoine de Saint-Euxpery.

“On Christmas,  we give one another  presents in His name,” the 1928 Nobel  Laureate Sigrid Undset wrote “Let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans and all that lives and moves upon them.

“He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit — and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused.  And to save us from our own foolishnesses, and from all our sins, He came down to Earth and gave Himself”.

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