A baby’s death, a leader’s ordeal
Remember reading a magazine feature on Filipino men as fathers, including the sight of shirtless men in urban poor areas proudly carrying their very young children outside their homes, lovingly holding them up to the sun for some vitamin D?
It is one of the more endearing rituals of Filipino parenthood. Recently, my son and I were studying my now 4-year-old grandson remarking how much he had grown.
“Yeah, I remember holding him with one hand when he got out of the delivery room,” reminisced my son, not normally sentimental. “Also, holding him in my arms for sunning (paaraw) while I walked up and down our sidewalk.”
It is a memory every Filipino parent — and perhaps grandparent and caregiver — cherishes. It is also a practice we often take for granted.
A few nights ago, I felt a chill clutching my heart at a TV news item about how a mother-and-child were mowed down by a rushing vehicle. The mother survived the mishap, but her child, delivered a few days previously, was thrown under the wheels and died instantly. The mother had been sunning her baby when the vehicle rushed in from behind.
How shocking, heartbreaking, indeed, that death and injury should descend on a mother and child while they were out on a daily routine, on the most innocent and beloved of parenting chores.
The reporter said that as of the item’s airing, the mother was still catatonic, perhaps unable to process the tragedy that befell her and her child even as the rest of the neighborhood had been going about their early morning business.
In the usual estimation of significance the infant’s death would not count for much. What is the death of one baby in a vehicular accident compared to the current infant mortality rate (IMR) in the country which stands at 35 babies per 1,000 live births, translating to about 61,000 a year?
Compare this figure with the infant mortality rate of Singapore, which stands at 2.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Even counting the large difference in populations, the contrast is still glaring, shameful on our part since the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) says IMR has “remained unchanged” through the past decade or so. The PSA cites “lack of sufficient medical care, before and at the time of delivery” as one of the causes of complications and infections that can cause “death or serious illness for either the mother or the newborn.” And because two-thirds of all births take place at home, only 56 percent of mothers receive assistance at delivery from a health professional.
This means that from birth (or even before), a Filipino child’s chances of survival are already dismal, dying of causes from infection, illness (exacerbated by falling rates of immunization), malnutrition, neglect—not to mention being mowed down by a speeding vehicle while in the loving arms of one’s mother.
The recent observance of Mother’s Day, one filled by bright cheery promotions extolling the joys of motherhood, only lends an ironic backdrop not just to the tragedy of the mother and child carelessly hit by a speeding vehicle, but also to the realities of most Filipino children’s struggle for survival and a meaningful life.
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Beholding photos and video of President Duterte staggering down the stairs, stumbling down from a low platform and even falling asleep during the Philippine Military Academy graduation rites, I was reminded of a scene from the “snap election” campaign of 1986.
I recall a scene from a campaign rally “graced” by the presence of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The crowd was thick and unruly, so Marcos’s bodyguards decided to carry him aloft to the stage. How the mighty and once vigorous had fallen! Here he was, helpless in the upraised arms of his security, looking wasted and in pain, one bloated hand weakly waving to the crowd.
I wondered then why Marcos and his family had allowed him to be tested in this way. How could his wife and children consent to such an ordeal? Same goes for our current President and his loved ones. Why subject him to such public spectacle and humiliation? Perhaps this is only a temporary setback. But clearly the man needs a respite from the rigors of the presidency.
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