Ang Pasko ay sumapit, mall megaphones blare. Wait. Isn’t that the pirated version of the winning carol at the 1933 Christmas contest in Cebu? Christmas is still 43 days away. Most homes haven’t dusted off star lanterns or Nativity belen.
But in Cebu, a different calendar kicks in early September. Indigents camp overnight on cardboard mats on city sidewalks. “They appear like clockwork,” writes Sun Star’s Publio Briones III. “Their temporary living room/dining room/bedroom/kitchen [has] a view to boot.”
Their scrawny kids flit from jeepneys to buses to cars warbling carols off key. They bang on flattened bottle caps. The “tambourine brigade” is again cadging a few coins. Most are grimy school dropouts. Penury forces 33 out of every 100 to quit before reaching Grade 6.
About 6 percent of 12.6 million children today are out of school. Don’t be conned by that sliver. They make up the majority among the poor. “Wheels of intergenerational poverty [turn] against them,” Unicef notes. Hunger locks your street caroler into a life sentence of poverty.
More will surface in the run-up to Christmas. They’ll blend into the woodwork, spurned by some, unnoticed by most. Do tinsel and partying keep us from reading, in these canto choirs, “signs of the times”?
If we “open our shut-up hearts freely, we’ll discover they’re ‘hard as flint,’” Jonathan Powers wrote in “Scrooge Is Here.” He added: “No steel ever struck [from them] generous fire. They remain secret, self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
Christmas 2013 will come, as it did two millennia ago, to a “pork-giddy” officialdom. The Inquirer’s unrelenting investigative reports have shown five senators and 23 representatives implicated in the pork barrel scam. These include: Bong Revilla (P1.01 billion) Juan Ponce Enrile (P641 million), Jinggoy Estrada (P585 million), Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (P100 million), and Gregorio Honasan (P14 million).
The Commission on Audit put its foot down in “notices of disqualification” for over P6 billion dissipated in pork slabs. Without raising her voice, COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan told a stunned Senator Estrada: “Return the money.”
Suddenly, everyone is getting a refresher course in the forgotten—no, ignored—decree of restitution. Remember the tax collector
Zacchaeus? He became the butt of jokes because the Master lunched with him. “Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold,’” Luke wrote.
Restitution is putting right what is unjust. This is not new. Scholars remind us that Moses decreed laws of reparation. That rule held down through the years. All Grace Pulido-Tan did was to begin enforcing this swept-under-the-rug law. Those “notices of disqualification” reinforce the no-nonsense probe by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
A million more Filipino households went hungry in the second quarter of this year, Social Weather Stations states. That’s up from the March survey’s 3.9 million families. The fifth, sixth and seventh National Nutrition Surveys repeated the stark story of chronic hunger savaging, with little letup, mothers and kids.
“All children have the right to live,” says the 2010 report Winning the Numbers, Losing the War. “But many start dying after they are born.”
The “rise” in the number of Filipinos who experience hunger is not due to a surge in rates, National Statistical Coordination Board Secretary General Jose Ramon Albert said. Pin that on population growth. Sure. But don’t bother telling Jinggoy, Johnny and Co. Bongbong keeps mumbling the mantra of self-absolution.
Tell Naty instead. She is a 53-year-old beggar who looks a haggard 80. What matters is even leftover food, she shrugs. Alms cadged from shoppers and churchgoers tide Naty and her grandkids over to the next day. Walang
tutong sa taong nagugutom. There is no burnt rice to a hungry person.
In the dumps where ill-fed squatters huddle, tuberculosis spreads like wildfire. TB incidence here is 275 for every 100,000 people. (It’s 137 for Thais.) Handouts can’t buy for Naty the anti-TB medicine she needs.
Percentages mean little to street carolers. Where is the next meal coming from? they ask. Hunger triggers a lethal cycle. Chronically malnourished mothers give birth to stunted children who often die early.
More infants are orphaned here today than in 2006. And one out of every four pregnant women are “nutritionally at risk,” says the 2013 study of the Institute of Child Health and Development. Worse, “there has been no change in the past 15 years.” On average, 11 mothers die daily during childbirth. Most of those deaths were preventable.
Indeed, there’s need to curb the leakages: the P130-billion Malampaya Fund, the
P12.5-billion motor vehicle users’ charge, the Pagcor Special Fund, and the PCSO Charity Fund. Beyond that is the need to back the Ombudsman in prosecuting those charged. Justice is the bedrock of structural reforms.
“Christmas is the only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely,” Charles Dickens wrote in 1843. The hungry are not “another race of creatures, bound on other journeys… We all are fellow passengers to the grave.”
Crammed in a stable, the first Nativity crib resembles those carton mats on the sidewalks of city streets 43 days before Christmas.
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