Chaotic sound chamber
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. lofted a trial balloon Monday. He may make a 2016 presidential run, said the 47-year-old actor-governor-turned-senator. Maaga pa naman (It’s still early). English doesn’t capture the nuances of the word garapal.
“If you can’t raise a billion pesos, why run?” rags-to-riches Sen. Manuel Villar, 64, told Reuters. Then Speaker Villar lobbed President Joseph Estrada’s impeachment to the Senate without catching a breath after his opening prayer. He owns a P48-billion real estate firm and dealt himself into the race. A less affluent Benigno Aquino III trashed him in the 2010 presidential polls. “I dislike millionaires,” writer Mark Twain joked. “But it’d be dangerous to offer me the position.”
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. frets at “the starting line.” He churns out press releases on everything—except last year’s $353.6-million fine by the US Federal Court. “Bongbong” had tried to smuggle paintings from judicially contested hearings, the 9th Circuit Court fumed.
Meanwhile, who of our kids will die? Infant death rates here stagnated at 19 per 100,000 births. Compare that to Taiwan’s six. The toll resembles that of Ecuador. Yes, the Ecuador that former US national security contractor Edward Snowden, accused of espionage, would sneak into and shake off US federal posses hot on his heels.
How many infants under five years old will slump into premature graves? Here, 25 for every 1,000, according to a UN Interagency Group report. We’re bracketed with oil-flush Iran, ruled by ayatollahs. It’s seven for Malaysia.
And how many will achieve what the Psalmist writes? “Seventy is the sum of our years, eighty if we are strong.” Don’t ask Revilla. In his province of Cavite, functional illiteracy stood at 9 percent the last time the Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) looked. And 7 percent lacked “improved water sources.” The life expectancy today for Filipinos and Guatemalans is 73, the World Health Organization estimates. A Singaporean can live to 82.
But lust for power blinds. Today’s “candidates” plot well past midnights on how to grab political advantage. “Let me have men about me that are fat/Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights,” Shakespeare’s Caesar mutters to Antony. “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look/He thinks too much…”
A study on the Philippines, Brazil, India, South Africa and Guatemala found that “interventions during the first two years of life [of a child] are likely to result in substantial gains” in height and schooling, the research journal Lancet reported (3/28/13). “[They] give some protection from adult chronic disease. Adverse tradeoffs are few.”
How would Bongbong react? In Ilocos Norte, the poorest 10 percent make do with three centavos of every peso while the richest get 28 centavos, the PHDR says. And that doesn’t include secret dollar accounts in the Virgin Islands.
The tracking of 3,080 mothers and infants from 243 Cebu barangays partly anchors this analysis. The late Fr. Wilhelm Flieger, SVD, crafted the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey at the University of San Carlos Office of Population Studies in 1983. “Yesterday’s infants are today’s adults,” Viewpoint reported (6/25/12 ). “Some are parents and hold down jobs. There are school dropouts. A number have died and 136 moved out. One is an OFW worker in Iceland…” In 2011, San Carlos completed its examination of new pregnancies and births among once infants in 1983. This makes the survey “a three-generation study.”
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the new analysis covers 8,362 participants in three age periods: 0-2 years; 2 years to midchildhood; and midchildhood to adult stage. Brazil failed to track 17 percent of infants, studied by the Universidade Federal de Pelotas, into adulthood. Guatemala and Cebu showed marked growth failure in early childhood. South Africa and India showed intermediate patterns.
“The bottom line” for decisive intervention is the first 24 months of a child’s life. “Act there,” Cesar Victoria of Brazil stressed earlier. Dividends in a child’s health dwindle in the third year onward. “Our findings suggest that interventions to increase birth weight and linear growth during the first two years of life are likely to result in substantial gains in height and schooling,” the Lancet adds.
Malnourished pregnant mothers result in the “stunting of kids, lower attained schooling, reduced adult income.” Indeed, “stunting today is the most prevalent nutritional challenge in developing nations,” the G8 Summit heard mid-June in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. “Worldwide, 165 million children are affected.” (In Philippine kindergarten and primary classes, 562,262 pupils are “severely wasted.”) The World Bank boosted this year’s funding for child nutrition from $230 million to $600 million. The European Union pledged an extra $500 million for related projects.
Except for Sub-Saharan Africa, mortality and under-nutrition rates are falling substantially in most parts of the world. New targets are now being formulated to replace the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. This five-country study “provides strong justification for the proposal of a new goal, namely a reduction in stunting,” adds the Lancet. This will replace the present target, which is narrowly constricted to whittling down underweight.
Philippine politics is a chaotic sound chamber. The most strident voices erupt from would-be 2016 candidates who clone yesterday’s trapo. They drown out the whimper of vulnerable infants and emaciated mothers. And that silencing guts our common humanity.
* * *
E-mail: [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.