Mercado: Neither here nor there for Pinoys

Sun Star, Philippines
Aug 8 2004

Mercado: Neither here nor there for Pinoys
By Juan L. Mercado

What emerges when the hard facts and new data on our development is
stacked against those of other countries?

Human Development Report (HDR) 2004 brackets us between Armenia and
the miniscule Maldives Islands, in the Indian Ocean. It’s a `cold
dose of reality’ in this annual report, published yearly, by the
United Nations Development Prog-ramme (UNDP).

HDR reports track progress-or backsliding-of countries. Over the last
two decades, last year’s report, for example, noted: the Philippines,
and 80 other countries, ousted dictators and restored democratic

But pervasive poverty and inept governance since then caused some to
backslide to authoritarian rule, as Somalia. Others, like
Afghanistan, are failed states. Some are `in transition to nowhere.’
Does that include us?

HDRs go beyond traditional yardsticks like gross national product.
It’s innovative indicators factor in far more: from probability of
surviving to 60 years, TB incidence and cellular phones. What emerges
is ordinary citizens’ `quality of life,’ seen in an international

Thus, in overall human development, the Philippines ranked 83rd, out
of 177 countries studied. Norwegians, Swedes and Australian enjoy the
best quality of life. Danes were number 17. The worst was in Africa’s
Niger and Sierra Leone.

`Three basic decisions underpin Nordic success,’ explains Jeffrey
Sach’s of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. `First, it
prioritized education, study and science. Second, it decided it would
leave no countryman behind. Social insurance-pensions, health care,
education-became a shared commitment. And third, it built a vigorous
private sector.

How do we compare? `Oh, would some power the giftie give us / The
gift to see ourselves as others see us,’ Robert Burns fretted. HDR
does that and shows other Asian countries ensure basic human needs of
its citizens better. Singapore ranked number 25, HDR notes, and
Malaysia 59.

Life expectancy remains the most sensitive of gauges. Indeed, `life
is the threshold at which all other hopes begin.’

Filipinos today can hope to live to 69.8 years, almost on par with
Vietnamese. That’s more than a decade for `lower-drawer’ Asean
countries like Cambodia and Myanmar. But it is 78 for Greeks and
Singaporeans -a year longer than Americans, 77. For Japanese, it’s
almost 82.

`As a priest, one of my sad tasks is bless bodies of far too many
babies,’ a friend said over coffee. Rough-hewn tiny coffins,
shouldered by relatives on country roads, are so common, they pass
almost unnoticed, he added.

Nonetheless, infant mortality here has dropped: from 60 percent in
1970 to about 29 today. That’s a vast improvement. But far more can
be done. Infant deaths are down to four percent in Singapore, 17 in
Sri Lanka.

Of every 100,000 Fili-pinas who give birth, 200 die. Are these deaths
unavoidable? Sure, Laos has mortality rates at 650. But in China,
maternal fatalities are down to 56, and in Malaysia 41.

Is this stark record due, in part, to the stampede abroad of medical
personnel and lack of medicine?

Midwives, nurses or doctors assist at more than half (58 percent) of
births here, a fraction better than Vietnam’s 54. But South Korea and
even conflict-torn Bosnia provides universal coverage. It is 99 per
cent in Brunei.

All the ailing poor get, in many public clinics, is a prescription.
About 49, out of every 100 Filipinos lack `sustainable access to
affordable essential drugs,’ HDR notes. `Is there no balm in Gilead?’
was the ancient cry for drugs that offered relief. The plaint echoes
in countries on a par with us: Uruguay, Ukraine and Surinam.

But nine out of 10 Thais have access to those medicines. It is eight
in China and Indonesia and seven in Maldives.

Chronic hunger stalks many. One out of five Filipinos is
undernourished, like Khazakstanis and Indians. That problem affects
one out of 10 Indonesians. It is practically zero for Malaysians. En
tiempo de hambre, no hay mal pan, my mother – rest her soul – would
say. `In times of hunger, there’s no bad bread.’

Ill-fed mothers give birth to wizened infants who, in turn, bear
equally small babies. This appalling treadmill of marginalized
citizens spill across generations.

At birth, 20 out of every 100 infants are underweight. It is only
seven for Thais and Armenian. And three out of every 10 kids are
`under-height’ – stunted is the more brutal word – when they turn

In Cebu, 41 percent of pre-schoolers (0 to 5 years old) are stunted,
the Fifth National Nutrition Survey found. And 51 percent were
Vitamin A deficient.

`Will the emerging generation be scrawnier, frailer and shorter than
their Singaporean or Taiwanese counterparts?’ worries Nutrition
Institute director Florentino Solon.

A new HDR indicator is: `Probability at Birth of Surviving to Age
65.’ Some dub this `Yeat’s yardstick’ – a reference to the poet
William Butler Yeats’ moving line on the early death of a loved one:
`We dreamed that he’d live to comb gray hair.’

Seven out of 10 Filipinas born today will probably see gray hair. It
is six for us males. But it is nine for Canadian, French and
Norwegian women – and, like Filipinos, a year shorter for the men.

`Human development is first and foremost about allowing people to
lead the kind of life they choose,’ UNDP’s Mark Malloch Brown writes
in HDR’s foreword. It is `providing them with the tools and
opportunities to make that choice.’

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress