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Bill for betrayals

/ 11:01 PM September 27, 2013

Contrast is a compelling tutor. Compare two headlines in the Thursday issue of the Inquirer. “Young lieutenant leaves little Sophie,” read the streamer. The banner below blared: “Jinggoy rats on colleagues.”

Army 1st Lt. Francis Damian was killed in the fighting in Zamboanga against remnants of the Moro National Liberation Front. A 2007 Philippine Military Academy graduate, Damian had volunteered for operations to flush out the rebels who were using civilians as human shields. At one point on Wednesday, while she was in her mother’s arms, nine-month-old Sophie reached down to tap her daddy’s coffin, the report said.

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In a privilege speech at the Senate on the same day, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada ducked the rap that he had repeatedly creamed the pork barrel fund. Instead, he blamed everybody else: “bribed” senators, assorted congressmen, the Department of Budget and Management, the Commission on Audit.

He confirmed Rappler reports that he is building a P120-million house on a 3,000-square-meter lot in Wack-Wack subdivision in Mandaluyong. Construction stopped last week. The lot is estimated to cost between P210 million and P240 million. The house does not appear in his latest statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. And the senator hung up when Rappler called to inquire.

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Isn’t Jinggoy taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye,” ignoring “the log in your own”? Here, we see a society of embedded contrasts. Compare the differences in life spans.

The Philippine Human Development Report 2013 picks 10 provinces where people live longer (73 to 76 years): La Union, Cavite, Misamis Occidental, Benguet, Bulacan, Camarines Sur, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, Isabela, and Sorsogon. The losers (46  to 59 years): Ifugao, Surigao del Sur, Western Samar, Mountain Province, Kalinga, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

In an international matrix, the average life span of a Filipino is similar to an Indonesian’s. Japanese life spans are over a decade longer. The earnings of the richest 10 percent of households here are 19 times that of the poorest 10 percent. This year, the population exceeded 97.7 million—and counting.

Do these disparities turn us into a “democracy of the dead”? All are supposed to be equal in the cemetery. But where one is born matters. Death rates among infants of poor families can be two or three times higher than infants of the rich, an earlier Asian Development Bank study notes. “Equal opportunity is good, but special privilege is better,” a political heiress snaps.

Education is the escape hatch. “Who can use a writing brush will never” beg. But that exit is welded shut for many. Poorer households are almost three times more likely to be out of school than those richer.

Dropouts are estimated at 6 percent among grade school students, and 11 percent among those in secondary school. Lack of schooling “turns the wheels of intergenerational transmission of poverty against them. [It] consigns them to a future of low income…”

Tiny coffins and wizened infants are visible indicators of disparities in health. “Illness comes on horseback but departs on foot.” Yet, improving access to safe drinking water by 10 percent can reduce child mortality by 3 percent, the World Health Organization estimates.

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No indicator captures the divergence in human development more powerfully than child mortality. Out of every 1,000 children 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 five.

Filipino mothers dying in 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.

Yet, there is no outcry. Why? Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight. “Discontent arises from the knowledge of what is possible.” What is different today is many people see the connection between a government scam and the death of young mothers and children—and realize that this is not inevitable.

Blurred in the fury over the pork scam and efforts to blunt reform is this week’s ongoing meeting at the United Nations to recast “Sustainable Development Goals.” The current targets lapse in 2015. And in his report to the UN that year, President  Aquino shouldn’t dally with why we probably won’t achieve MDGs 1, 2 and 5. You can’t eat excuses.

P-Noy set higher standards of integrity. That should anchor the future task of securing closing deficits, at all levels, for whoever Filipinos will elect president after him. That president can build on his reforms to tackle the post-2015 agenda vigorously.

Decent jobs, liveable cities, zero hunger and malnutrition should become part of a new global blueprint to end poverty by 2030, says an ADB report. Despite an impressive reduction in income poverty in recent decades, the region is one where six out of 10 go hungry. The region must address new emerging challenges like rising inequalities, unplanned urbanization, climate change, pollution, and water scarcity.

The World Bank finds that four-fifths of improved income of the poorest 118 countries came from general economic growth, not redistribution. That still leaves a fifth that may be perked up by policies tailored specifically for the poor. These will be required to get extreme poverty to zero.

“Inequality is extremely hard to change,” the Economist notes. “The rich and powerful have an incentive not to change it too much.”

Doesn’t that betray Army 1st Lt. Francis Damian, killed in Zamboanga’s fighting, and his baby daughter Sophie?

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TAGS: Army 1st Lieutenant Francis Damian, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Juan L. Mercado, opinion, PDAF, pork barrel scam, Viewpoint, Zamboanga conflict, zamboanga standoff
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