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At Large

‘Chatbot’ vs national emergency

If, as Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia declared in a recent “teen summit,” that teenage pregnancy has become a “national social emergency,” then time has come for the entire government machinery and the private sector to act on it.

Pernia noted that adolescent birth rates over the past decade had hovered at a level meriting “national concern.”

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The economic cost alone is “staggering,” as a report in this paper indicated. Pernia estimated the lost and foregone income by young women due to early childbearing at between P24 and P42 billion. Which means, said the National Economic and Development Authority head, that “a large cross-section of families would be condemned to perpetual intergenerational poverty.”

Fortunately, private and public institutions are now joining hands to address the problem of “children having children.”

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Among these efforts was the recent launch of the #DoItRight campaign, spearheaded by DKT International and 10 other reproductive health nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies like Popcom. The campaign, said Benjamin de Leon of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, is meant to urge Filipinos to “show their support openly for family planning and reproductive health,” adding that “the time is right” for such a campaign following the passage of the Reproductive Health Law.

The campaign will include a social-media blitz, festival events, as well as advertising in traditional media like billboards, print and radio. It encourages couples and individuals to flash the Do It Right! hand sign in selfie posts or in public: Two fingers held up together — representing a couple — with a thumb in-between representing the contraceptive or safe-sex measures that strengthen their bond.

#DoItRight aims to reach young people seeking guidance, knowledge and solidarity as they negotiate their way through the minefields of relationships and personal aspirations.

Young people, too, are the main beneficiaries of a newly developed “chatbot,” a digital platform that seeks to provide the public, but especially young people, access to information on reproductive health matters in a timely, nonjudgmental but factual and reliable manner.

With funding support from the Canadian Embassy, the chatbot project is a collaboration between the UP College of Medicine and Likhaan Center for Women’s Health. While still in the process of refinement, such as making it more relevant for young Filipinos, the chatbot has been pilot-tested among urban poor youth in Tondo who showed no problem gaining access to the technology. Indeed, some 75-80 percent of questions posed to the “bot” were answered satisfactorily, users said.

On Nov. 14, 2016, almost three years ago, the Ombudsman found Aurelio Umali, then a representative of the third district of Nueva Ecija, and his co-accused, former Agriculture OIC director Renato Manantan of Region 3, guilty of grave misconduct, gross negligence of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. This was in connection with a questionable P15-million Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allotment of Umali, who was accused of conspiring with NGOs for the release of his PDAF for 2005.

Under a memorandum of agreement between Umali and Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation Inc., coursed through the Department of Agriculture represented by Manantan, the NGO was granted P12 million for the purchase of fertilizer. Another P3 million went to the Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi Inc. to buy a water pump.

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A total of 7,920 bottles of liquid fertilizer were bought at P1,500 each while the original price in the market was only P150, meaning the fertilizer was grossly overpriced, the Ombudsman found.

When the verdict was handed down, the Ombudsman directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government to immediately implement its decision ordering the perpetual disqualification of Umali from government service.

Despite the passage of time, though, Umali has since been able to run—and win—as governor of Nueva Ecija. This despite the order of the Ombudsman dismissing Umali and Manantan from the service, with forfeiture of all their retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from joining government service.

Why isn’t the case against Umali and Manantan being pursued to its just end? Why was Umali allowed to run for office despite the findings of the antigraft body? And what special immunity do the two enjoy to avoid their just trial and punishment?

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TAGS: #DoItRight, At Large, chatbot, Rina Jimenez-David, teen pregnancy
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