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Recovering a lost decade

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CEBU CIT Y–“You have the face of hunger” is not the title of a new study of 12.8 million kids trapped by “multiple dimensions of poverty”. That line is cribbed from a 1955 Spanish film classic.

In this Cannes Film Festival entry, the orphan Marcelino snitches bread and wine from the monastery’s pantry. Tiene cara de hambre, he explains on offering them to the Crucified. That film spun off into the ABS-CBN drama Philippines — May Bukas Pa.

More visages, shriveled by need, is guaranteed tomorrow, unless decisive reforms are adopted, warn the Philippine Institute for Development Studies and United Nations Children’s Fund.

Chronically-famished youngsters increased by over a million in three years: these kids grapple daily with lack of water, medicine, a roof, or a school.

About 9.2 million– the population of 14 Sorsogons –cluster in rural barangays. The others meld into slums of Manila, Cebu, Davao and other cities. One out of 10 kids in the National Capital Region is an “informal settler”.

In this country, “the powerful buy the lowly for pair of sandals.” These children drew the short straw Barely had their lives started, their futures were shredded. Is it “almost too late” for them?

Traditional yardsticks, like per capita income, “ do not truly reflect what is happening in the regions,” PIDS president Josef T Yap cautions. PIDS and Unicef gauges “other deprivations”: shelter, health, education, water, simple toilets, an extra light bulb – and information.

Poverty rates in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao exceed 69 percent. This penury level quadruples that of the National Capital Region.

“ Metro Manila, Soccksargen and Central Luzon have the largest share of children who suffer from multiple deprivations,” estimate Celia M. Reyes and Aubrey Tabuga of PIDS.

Main poverty issues in the National Capital Region swirl around shelter and squatting. The number of children, in informal settlements, doubled in 21 years.

In five years, school dropouts bolted from 1.8 million to 2.2 million.

The National Statistical Coordination Board’s Child Development Index tracks that downward spiral.

Wasting from chronic hunger is often overlooked. But the last National Nutrition Survey stumbled across “the largest rise in prevalence of underweight kids” in three years. The proportion of stunting and thin children likewise bolted..” Tiene cara de hambre.

Progress has been spotty. “The proportion of children deprived of electricity has rapidly gone down. Those without access to radio, TV, telephone or computer also decreased. Access to water and sanitary facilities improved”.

But seven out of 10 in Lanao del Sur still drink from unsafe wells, notes Human Development Report. Compare that with one in Bulacan Daily, 3,700 migrate in search of jobs abroad so their kids can break free from a “lost decade”.

By happenstance, the network Social Watch Philippines also released its report Winning the Numbers, Losing the War.

Government will flub Millennium Development Goals on halving poverty, tamping down maternal and infant death rates, plus ensuring universal primary education, the “shadow report” asserts.

Presented to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Sonny Belmonte, the study sketches a catch up plan.

“Many would still be left behind”, when curtains fall on MDGs in 2015, warns SWP convenor Isagani Serrano. “The Philippines is in a worse poverty situation in 2010 than in 2000 when 180 countries adopted the MDGs .

Don’t look now. But are those not the Arroyo years? In that decade, Le Cirque dinners, serial government corporation bonuses or diluted fertilizers commanded priority over destitute kids and wizened mothers.

In 2000, estimates already revealed serious budgetary shortfalls, former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones stressed. But government didn’t bridge the gap. Applying the 2010 pork barrel for human needs, instead of waiting sheds, would be a good start to recover a “lost decade.”

“Those who suffer multiple deprivations… are often hidden and hard to reach, “UNICEF representative Vanessa Tobin …( But ) 44 percent of children living in poverty is too high We can, and must, take steps” to reduce that.

President Benigno Aquino whittled his delegation for the UN General Assembly — which will assess MDG goals. No congressman will sneak aboard. Having a profligate Rep. Imelda Marcos strut at the UN as House chair of MDG committee, would have been gross.

PNoy should refuse to paper over failures in achieving MDGs. His UN audience is savvy. They know Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dumped this mess on him.

The President must resist the temptation to seek refuge in similar failure by other countries. Indeed, “the gap in child mortality is widening, in some nations, by as much as 10 percent…”As in the Philippines, “children from the poorest households run twice the risk of dying before age five”.

The only acceptable currency is reform. The President must focus on the poorest and the most deprived. Supported by World Bank and Unicef, ongoing conditional cash transfers aim to reach four million families by 2012. Aquino must harness local governments and civic society in similar initiatives.

“Do you hear the children crying, o my brothers/Ere sorrows come with the years?” Browning asked.

Few hear in a country of leaders deafened by sleaze. Aquino’s reforms must be sustained if they’re to recover a lost decade. Only then, will they echo the Master’s directive: Ephphetha. “Be thou opened”.

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