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Nitwits’ ride

/ 04:35 AM December 28, 2013

Editorial and TV desks are swamped, on Dec. 28, by features on practical jokes. The one fooled is ribbed: Na-Niños Inocentes ka. That jab refers to the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Liturgy readings recall that King Herod went ballistic after the Magi, who had found the Child and His Mother, didn’t report back as asked. His centurions then slaughtered boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem.

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“A cry was heard in Rama, sobbing and loud lamentation,” Jeremiah wrote six centuries earlier. “Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”

Bethlehem is dwarfed by the carnage that plays out daily here. Look at the “Under-age-5 child death rates” (U5MR) indicator.

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Two decades back, 59 kids out of every thousand births never made it to age 5. In 2011, only 25 under five died, notes Unicef. That’s a cut of more than a half in infant deaths. Take a bow.

But take a second look, too. The UNDP Human Development Report 2013 documents that the U5MR for Filipino kids stood at 29.  We are bracketed between Moldovia and Uzbekistan. In contrast, Malaysia has slashed death rates to 6, Thailand to 13.

The odds are stacked against kids born in penury cesspools. A child delivered in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, once a feeding trough of the Ampatuan clan, has four times less chances to reach his/her fifth birthday than one born in Metro Manila. Factors from polluted wells to lack of medicine cut them down.

The number of Filipino women who die in childbirth quadruple that of Thais. Last year, 15 mothers died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  Many infants are borne by ill-fed mothers in job-short families.

Preventable ailments, like pneumonia and diarrhea, are main infant killers. Babies born preterm—or before the 37th week of pregnancy—are especially vulnerable. Almost a third of infant deaths stem from this one cluster.

“The first two years of life are a window of opportunity. Nutrition programs then have an impact on a child’s development, with lifelong benefits,” the International Food Policy Research Institute points out. After age three, the economic benefits dwindle to near-zero.

Lack of micronutrients saps intelligence quotients. The IQs of ill-fed kids can be whittled down by 10-14 percent, an Asian Development Bank study found. This loss is irreversible. “Their elevators will never go to the top floor.” That’s layman’s lingo for permanently impaired lives.

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These are preventable tragedies, yet there is no outcry. Why?

Because death stalks mostly kids in city slum hovels or farm shacks. Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight. As a result, these tiny coffins blend into the woodwork. The rich man who feasts daily never notices the pauper Lazarus scrounging for his leftovers.

Flabby responsible-parenthood programs whittled maternal deaths too slowly. Responding to unmet family-planning needs can slash maternal deaths by almost a third. More can be done to save mothers from premature graves or kids from being orphaned.

“There is unfinished business” such as securing vaccines, adequate nutrition, medical plus maternal care, wrote Unicef executive director Anthony Lake. “[There are] proven, affordable interventions…. The challenge is to make these available to every child.” Indeed, “life is the threshold at which all other hopes begin.”

“After 25 years of pastoral and social involvement, I see the Filipino family as very much at risk,” Jesuit sociologist John Carroll notes. But the threat does not stem primarily from contraception. The main destructive forces are infidelity, multiple families, drugs, alcoholism—and sheer poverty.

The Bethlehem birth “has unavoidable social implications,” wrote The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson. “If the deity was born as an outcast, it is impossible to treat outcasts in quite the same way. A God who fled as a refugee, preferred the company of fishermen, and died as an accused criminal will influence our disposition toward refugees, the poor and those in prison.” As Dorothy Day wrote: “He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

“Today, the well-armed empire that judicially murdered Jesus of Nazareth exists only as archaeological digs. The man who was born in obscurity and died an apparent failure is viewed as guide and friend by more than two billion people. Our history, laws and art are unimaginable without his influence. The author of this creed sought a different victory than politics brings—the kind that ends all selfish victories.”

Here, hard cash is the sole yardstick of value. Doors open depending on your car model, checkbook, or Virgin Island secret bank stash. Ask Imee. “Net worth equals self-worth.”  A society that pegs the worth of a man on his pork barrel will betray the poor.

“Do you know who I am?” Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr. denies he ever snapped that to Dasmariñas Village guards who manned a no-exit-after-10-p.m. gate. The open gate was a block away. Yet, Binay and bodyguards who cocked their pistols stood pat for a time. His Makati cops hauled in the guards and kept them for four hours. “Checking their firearm licenses” was the excuse.

At a Canadian airport, a junior Cabinet member got impatient when the long queue slowed down. He fretted that he might miss his Christmas Eve flight. He became angry, then enraged, and finally snapped at one of the attendants: “Do you know who I am?”

Without missing a beat, the attendant punched the public address button and said: “We have a gentleman here who doesn’t know who he is. Can someone please help him?”

Na-Niños Inocentes tayo. Translation: We took all you nitwits for a ride.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: `U5MR’, Filipino kids, Holy Innocents, infant deaths, Moldovia, Niños Inocentes, Practical jokes, UNDP Human Development Report 2013, Unicef, Uzbekistan
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