The power of the people


How can we help the poor when we do not feel for them? How can we feel for them when we have no relationship? How can we relate to them when they have no names, no faces, no parents, no brothers and sisters, no children – they have all been lumped inside the word “poor.”

When I criticized the Philippine Regulatory Commission (PRC) for the priority its decision-makers give to their regulatory powers than the urgent need of millions to have health care and medicine, I was grounded on the massiveness of poverty. For over 10 years, I have been following the quarterly hunger incidence report of SWS. I do so because there are many ways to manipulate the percentage of poverty. My definition of the very poor refers to those constantly threatened by hunger with many of them actually experiencing it.

For many years, including the two and a half years of the Noynoy Aquino presidency, hunger incidence has hovered in the 20 percent range. A good, but rare, quarter, can reduce it to 15 percent, and the new administration enjoyed this substantial reduction only once as I remember it. That made me conclude that in eight quarters, the Conditional Cash Transfer is not effective as an anti-hunger intervention, maybe because that is not its purpose.

I know I speak of great numbers, but these are individuals, families, and often, colonies of the very poor. To me, they have names, faces, parents, siblings and children. They are very much like you and me, or they were created to be such. Yet, the intent of creation is grossly mis-applied in real life in the Philippines. It matters little that we are Catholic, Christian or Muslim – we are all in default of the most important tenets of our great religions. Our poor in their great numbers and even greater suffering tell us of our religious hypocrisy, of our convoluted economic values.

An apparent apologist for the PRC, and maybe partly for the DOH whom I have not even started to take to task, recently told me that my figures were obsolete. Her claim was so ridiculous or irrelevant, as though a few percentage points, more or less, really make a great difference when we consider that the very poor are about 20 million. But her actuation simply amplified what I feared most – that the poor are not people but numbers to some of our bureaucrats. All the more, using a provincial health officer of Northern Samar to respond, not only to my articles and pointed accusations but to the universal resentment of Filipino – American medical missioners, displays all the more how narrow, even arrogant, bureaucrats can be.

The PRC can also take credit for single-handedly negating the promotion efforts targeting Filipino-Americans by the DOT and economic agencies. Medical and surgical missions have been cancelled or deferred with ill-will against a government that mostly did not know how it’s carefully developed credibility and good will was carelessly thrown out of the window. Fil-Am doctors are not only capable of being the extra helping hands that can augment the efforts of the DOH and local doctors to help the un-served, they can also be the largest sectoral investors in our motherland.

Still, I needed to review the possibility of obsolete statistics as the apologist of PRC (why PRC when she is from the health office of Northern Samar, I do not know yet). But before I could get to the archives of SWS, I was gifted by a front page report from a major daily on very related statistics covering “food poverty.” The latest (August 2012) figures from SWS say that food poverty dropped from 39 percent to 35 percent, or from 39 million to 35 million Filipinos. While there is a slight improvement, SWS says that poor families have been lowering their living standards by further belt-tightening.

I never even used food poverty statistics because I keep monitoring actual hunger incidence which are only in the 20 percent range. But I again suggest to PRC, and DOH if it is interested, to check the hunger statistics and realize hunger is everywhere, including Metro Manila. In other words, if people actually experience hunger, they cannot afford medicine, what more doctors’ fees. Yet, I was greeted by this apologist with a counter claim that my statistics were obsolete. In a way she was right – the food poverty statistics tell me that the figures I used were too low.

I was referred to DSWD-NHTS statistics which I am not familiar about. Anyway, the apologist said these figures refer to where the poor are and how many have been given Philhealth insurance. I went into the DSWD site but the figures I found ARE obsolete, maybe because the report was made when the DSWD-NHTS was just recently launched in 2010. Anyway, I moved to other articles posted in the DSWD website and, lo and behold, relevant SWS statistics were there! The last was as of July 2012 and the hunger incidence had lowered to 18.4 percent. Okay, I concede, it is not 20 percent, only 18.4 percent. But a quarter before, in May of 2012, it was 23.8 percent. But does it really matter when it is 23.4 percent, 20 percent or 18.48. PRC, DSWD, DOH, please naman, inculcate a more national sense of view in your apologist.

Figures can be deceiving, so friends and I have made initial contact with officers of the League of Barangays. When we meet, we will ask them to identify the medically un-served in their areas and bring these to the doorsteps of PRC, or DOH. These can be 20 million, or 18 million, but there will be faces, then there will be names. The poor will not be invisible anymore, not to the bureaucrats we will introduce them to. They will be people again, not mere numbers.

Once again, to Filipino doctors and medical professionals who have felt humiliated and discriminated against, I have monitored that several mission groups have been cancelled, or diverted to other countries. Many more have been held in abeyance, waiting for a more considerate and appreciative official attitude. Please, our people must not suffer all the more because you allowed  narrow-mindedness or arrogance to overwhelm your concern and generosity.

Prepare your missions, prepare your surgeries, prepare your medicines, prepare your donations of hospital equipment. The power of the people is on your side.

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Tags: featured column , hunger incidence , Jose Ma. Montelibano , Poverty , Professional Regulatory Commission , SWS

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