Viewpoint

Persisting massacre

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“There are no words for this,” Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote after a gunman mowed down 20 kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA. Their ages ranged from six to seven years.

“Unspeakable massacres… are always different,” she added. “This time, there were children, terrified, being told by police officers to close their eyes. But there’s a ritual to it now….”

In the United States, 88 out of every 100 Americans have guns. In early 2011, Americans preferred stricter enforcement by a 57-29 percent margin, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed. How this debate plays out will be followed by Filipinos who feel the pain.

In Bethlehem, a paranoid Herod sent soldiers to kill all boys two years old and under. There were screams too. But the words were provided by a prophet six centuries earlier.  They reecho in every slaughter of innocents.

“A cry was heard in Rama, sobbing and loud lamentation,” Jeremiah wrote. “Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Yet, Sandy Hook and Bethlehem are dwarfed by the carnage that plays out daily here. Out of every thousand kids born, 18 will die before their first birthday. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, infant deaths crest at 42. Compare that to Malaysia’s 5.

Filipino mothers dying at childbirth are more than quadruple that of Thailand. Last year, 15 mothers died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth—up from 11 three years back, the National Statistics Office reported.

Underground abortionists account for 12 percent of maternal deaths here, the UP Population Institute estimates. Roughly, 560,000 abortions are induced yearly, social anthropologist Mary Racelis wrote earlier. Only 90,000 mothers get post-abortion care. About half of 3.4 million pregnancies are unintended.

Many infants are borne by ill-fed mothers in job-short families. There are more undernourished children and nutritionally-at-risk pregnant and lactating mothers than there were seven years ago, the 7th National Nutrition Survey found.

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

Because death stalks mostly kids in city slum hovels or farm shacks. Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight. As a result, these tiny coffins blend into the woodwork. The rich man who feasts daily never notices the pauper Lazarus scrounging for his leftovers. So the massacre persists.

Flabby responsible parenthood programs whittled maternal deaths too slowly. Responding to unmet family planning needs could slash maternal deaths by almost a third. More can be done to save mothers from premature graves or kids from being orphaned. “We are each other’s harvest… each other’s magnitude and bond.”

The traditional novena of dawn Masses, meanwhile, started Sunday in the runup to Christmas 2012. Fray Diego de Soria asked the Pope, in 1578, to permit Misa de Gallo. This accommodated Filipino farmers who tilled fields after daybreak.

Today, many call center agents to newspaper distributors, who end work before cockcrow, join families attending “Simbang Gabi.” So do many doctors and nurses preparing for the next work shift.

This year’s rites, however, are tense. Catholic bishops and lawmakers are locked in a bitter debate after the House of Representatives approved on second reading the reproductive health (RH) bill. President Aquino has certified the bill as urgent.

The bishops assail the measure as illicit. Lobbing thunderbolts doesn’t work up a sweat. But supporting natural family planning clinics, in dioceses, does.

From the Vatican Council’s decree “Apostolate of the Laity” to Benedict XVI, Church teachings urged the laity to respond “creatively to modern society,” Mary Racelis noted in her commentary “Vatican II at 50: Laity speak out on RH ” (Inquirer, 12/14/12). They did so. Among other things, from contesting martial law dictatorship and corruption of the Estrada and Arroyo administrations to championing indigenous people and Muslim minorities.

Speaking in their areas of expertise, discerning lay Catholics support the RH bill, Racelis said. “This is our commitment as laity co-responsible with the clergy as People of God.”

“After 25 years of pastoral and social involvement, I see the  Filipino family as very much at risk,” Jesuit sociologist John Carroll wrote. But not primarily from contraception. Infidelity, multiple families, drugs, alcoholism and sheer poverty are the main destructive forces.

Only putting to rest the acrimonious RH debates will permit church and state to cooperate on pressing issues. Add to that climate change, Typhoon “Pablo,” relief to social justice for indigenous peoples, etc.

The RH bill deadlock occurs in a society ruled by “pecuniary decency.” Here, hard cash is the sole yardstick of value. Doors open depending on your car model or your checkbook. “Net worth equals self-worth.” Ask Marcos justices who played ball with coconut levy cronies.

A society that pegs the worth of a man on his credit card will betray the poor. Its privileged members rewrite their definition of necessity. Look at Imelda and Bongbong Marcos. Meanwhile, food, medicine—even human warmth—run perennially short.

So, was the seething fury of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s prayer justified? “God of forgiveness,” this Holocaust survivor prayed at Auschwitz death camp rites, “do not forgive the murderers of children.” Indeed, “there are no words for this.”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com )

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