Sunday, April 22, 2018
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Sound chamber

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

Candidates of outstanding—or dubious—credentials seek 12 Senate seats and 233 slots in the House of Representatives. Elective posts in 80 provinces, 143 cities and 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 the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao elects a governor, vice governor and 24 “regional assemblymen.”


Overseas Filipinos started casting ballots last April 13. The Comelec says 975,263 Filipinos abroad are eligible to vote.  This time around, 60 percent of them—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, who was convicted of corruption. Ernesto Maceda sashays on stage to disprove he is 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, from shrill screams to fading tones.

Swirling beneath the obvious, survive-or-perish issues fester. 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 resource.” 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 the handling of  “Daly”—shorthand for age-standardized “disability-adjusted life years.” This gauge tracks the toll of diarrhea, among other diseases, 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 Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn discusses water policies.

Abortion is called the “silent scream.” The number of Filipino mothers who die at childbirth is quadruple that of Thailand. About 11 mothers die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth—up from three years back, the National Statistics Office reports. 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—had ebbed. The bitter quarrel over the reproductive health bill merely delayed access to family planning services, even for 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 “Pablo.”

In the Philippines, malnutrition accounts for more than a third of deaths among children younger than five years. Only six out of 10 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,” researchers of five studies published by the British health journal Lancet note. Chronic hunger reduces one out of three children 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 5 percent. “At this rate, it will take maybe half a century before we can eradicate the problem of malnutrition.” But children can’t wait. “Their name is today.”

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

Because death stalks children 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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