BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Philippines on MDGs: Goals 1 and 2 Likely To Be Missed - TH!NK ABOUT IT

The Philippines on MDGs: Goals 1 and 2 Likely To Be Missed - TH!NK ABOUT IT

QUEZON CITY, Philippines - The Philippines is racing against time. It is struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. Of the eight goals, the government is unlikely to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and achieve universal education, MDG goals 1 and 2, respectively, based on statistics and indicators as of February 2010.

With only five years left, the government concedes that there are challenges.

Philippine Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the biggest problem is the lack of funds.

“Mostly, we are deficient on the expenditure side, largely on education and health services,” Teves told this blogger in an interview for THINK3. He said that overall, the government is not spending enough for such services because there are not enough funds.

“We need more funds. We need to increase our level of spending for services. To do that, we need more revenues,” he said.

The key is really to increase revenues, Teves stressed.

Last year, the government’s budget deficit hit P298 billion or roughly USD6.6 billion at the current exchange rate.This is equivalent to roughly 3.5 percent of the country's total economic output.

This lack of revenues is the government’s main stumbling block in achieving all eight MDGs.

However, increasing revenues by slapping the people with new taxes as what the government wants to do isn’t the only answer. Corruption and smuggling in the Philippines continue to be rampant, a problem that needs to be addressed.

Indeed, in the government's progress report on the MDGs, the government is realistic enough to note that there are some areas that may be difficult to achieve. The progress report listed down the eight MDGs and below each goal are various indicators. For every indicator there is one of three faces: The green smiling face indicates that the pace of progress is high; the yellow “neutral” face indicates “medium” pace of progress and the red sad face indicates that pace of progress is low.

MDG GOAL 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

The target is to halve by 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.

There are three indicators for this target but the most telling is indicator one which is the Proportion of Population Below National Poverty Threshold. The government hopes to bring to only 22.7 percent the proportion of population below the national poverty threshold from 32.9 percent as of 2006. The government put a yellow neutral face for this indicator which means that there is a 50 percent chance of meeting this goal and an equal 50 percent chance of failing. Another indicator is to lower the prevalence of underweight children under age five. The goal is to bring this down to 17.3 percent of the population by 2015 but the latest available data, which is for 2008, showed that the prevalence of underweight children under five years of age is still at a high 26.2 percent of the population.

II. MDG GOAL 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Unfortunately for this goal, which is one of the most important factors for genuine development for any country, the government conceded that all four indicators are experiencing very low pace of progress: All have red sad faces.

Indicator one which is to bring the net enrollment ratio in primary education to a full 100 percent by 2015 is difficult to achieve because as of 2007--the latest available figure for this indicator--the net enrollment ratio in primary education, is still at 84.8 percent, the government said.

Similarly, the proportion of pupils starting from grade 1 who reached grade 6 is still at 75.3 percent as of 2007 when the goal is to bring this to a full 100 percent of the population by 2015.
Furthermore, the country's primary completion rate is still 73.1 percent as of 2007 when the goal is to bring this to 100 percent by 2015.

The last indicator under this goal is to improve the literacy rate of 15 to 24 years old to 100 percent by 2015. As of 2003, the literacy rate is 96.6 percent and the government said that the pace of progress is low.

III. MDG GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Most of the indicators under this goal are achievable, the government said. These include improving the ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education and the share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector.

However, the government said that another indicator which is to improve the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament, is not likely to be achieved.
As of 2007, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament is 20.2 percent, still far from the goal to bring this to 50 percent by 2015.

IV. MDG GOAL 4: Reduce Child Mortality

The target is to reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015 the under-five mortality rate. The government is pleased to report that this goal is likely to be achieved, with the rate as of 2008 at 33.5 percent.

However, the government noted that it may not achieve another indicator for this goal which is to improve the proportion of one-year old children immunized against measles to a full 100 percent. As of 2007, only 82.7 percent of one-year old children are immunized against measles.

V. MDG GOAL 5: Improve Maternal Health

In the area of maternal health, the government isn’t optimistic of meeting the target.

In 2006, the maternal mortality rate was 162 percent. The government hopes to bring this down to 52.3 percent by 2015 but the government believes this is unlikely to be achieved. It also hopes to increase the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel to a full 100 percent from a low of 72.9 percent in 2007.

VI. MDG GOAL 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

To achieve the goal of combating HIV and AIDS, the government hopes to increase the use of condoms and contraceptives but with the Philippines as a predominantly Catholic country, it is not optimistic of meeting the target.

On the other hand, the government said it is making some progress in fighting malaria. As of 2003, the death rate associated with malaria is 0.3 percent and the goal is to bring this to 0.0 percent.

VII. MDG GOAL 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

For this target, the government hopes to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes to reverse the loss of environmental resources; to halve, by 2015, the proportion of population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation; and to achieve by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

In the area of reversing environmental losses, the government hopes to increase the proportion of land area covered by forest, increase the ratio of areas protected to maintain biological diversity to surface and to decrease the proportion of households using solid fuels for cooking.

VIII. MDG GOAL 8: Develop A Global Partnership For Development

The government hopes to achieve this goal by “dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries thru national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term; to develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth and with the help of the private sector, to make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.”

Specifically, the government hopes to slash debt service as a percentage of exports of goods and services and to cut the unemployment rate of 15 to 24 year olds.

In the area of communications, the government hopes to increase the number of telephone line and cellular phone subscribers.

Unfortunately for this goal, the government was unable to provide progress updates.

As seen in the government's progress report, the statistics are stark and telling. There are only five years remaining. The Philippines is racing against time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


The muse gets off the plane. Mindanao is perspiring in the heat. But the muse loves it. It is the warmest embrace. She is back in the southern Philippine island which she saw for the first time many years ago. She feels at home in this strange land, as if back in the arms of a long-lost lover.

This time, the trip isn’t with a bunch of soldiers off to war. It's not to write about the re-opening of a highway conquered by rebels or to see bodies strewn grotesquely on the dry earth. Nor is she here to again trace the footsteps of a priest murdered in cold blood.

She’s not back to listen to stories of victims kidnapped by a terrorist group in Basilan nor to witness how the Badjao children dive in the deep blue sea to earn a living.

But as before, she stumbles upon stories after stories. Tales woven in the dark, in hushed whispers, in eerie silence, are all crying out to be heard: Sacks of rice distributed by politicians to voters less than 48 hours before Election Day; Teachers line up for money in a dark corner on the eve of Election; Of intense hunger; Of babies without mothers; Of memories of the thunderous sounds of flying howitzers; Of families without homes; Of fake municipalities; Of million-peso jacuzzis built by politicians out of people's money; Of teeming poverty; Of pain; Of still lives; Of nothingness.

There are urban legends, too but this one she found to be true: Mister Suave -- yes the man in the Parokya song -- lives on top of a tall tree in the middle of Sitio Kuhan, South Upi, a village at the end of the earth. He is there watching over the visiting muse. He is real. In the flesh.

In between chasing stories, there’s the day-to-day life some wolves parachuting from Manila never get to see. The muse is privileged to see these vignettes: Walk a few steps from the church and there’s an ukay-ukay kingdom; The orange Columbia cap belonged only to her; Wake up or pretend to be sleeping when you hear the bell in the priests’ house, hurry go hide the can of Red Horse; Share a meal of tulingan in the home of a stranger; Relax in Nodi and Giovanni’s driving prowess; Feel the safest on a motorcycle zooming at 120-kilometers per hour on zero visibility; Listen to the laughter of the children of Upi; Hear the chants of the Muslim faithful slicing in the stillness of dawn.

And only for the anointed ones: a taste of the best tasting buko pie in the universe.

This island is as real as it can be. In its fullness, it is more real than anything else. Who cares about missed flights back to Manila? Oh Mindanao. Shukran!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

FILIPINO IDPs: Struggling to rebuild their lives - TH!NK ABOUT IT

FILIPINO IDPs: Struggling to rebuild their lives - TH!NK ABOUT IT

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(text and photos by the author)

DATU PIANG, Philippines – Jun comes out from the darkness with a charcoaled kettle on one hand. He squints, eyes blinded by the glare of the yellow sun. His four-year-old-daughter peeps outside to look for her daddy. Strands of curly brown hair cover her big round eyes. Jun makes a few steps to an open fire to boil some drinking water.

People start coming out of this huge enclave beneath Datu Gumbay Piang Central Elementary School, a dilapidated two-storey wooden building.

This space is temporary shelter to dozens of internally displaced persons (IDPs) here in the province of Maguindanao in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Caught in the middle of decades-long conflict between government troops and rebels, the IDPs had to leave their homes in far-flung villages.

When they moved to the school compound, they slept inside makeshift tents set up on the vacant front-yard but authorities transferred them to the huge area underneath the school in preparation for the national elections held last May 10. In the Philippines, the voting and counting of ballots are done in public and private schools around the country.

Photos by the author

This underworld is a shadowed space. Small amounts of light seep through the slabs of wooden panels that serve as walls. Some makeshift doors are too small. To get inside, you have to bend through these manholes, like in the movie Alice in Wonderland.

There are no tables and beds, everything improvised from broken classroom chairs and tables. They sleep on tattered mats laid on the dry earth, sharing the space with scrap and junked materials the school no longer needs.

The stench of mud, trash and spoiled food pervades in the air. There is no toilet, just patches of dug holes on the ground. No clean water, no electricity.

Jun, his wife Angel and their three children are among the IDPs who fled from the interior villages.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, in a March 14, 2010 article published by Mindanews, a Mindanao-based online news cooperative and information center, there are 320,000 people who remain displaced in Maguindanao and neighboring areas as of September last year.

Two years have passed but the thunderous sounds of guns and flying howitzers still echo in their ears. The pain of leaving their homes still haunts them. They remember it like a loved one's death anniversary.

“It happened on August 17, 2008,” says Angel.

Each passing day, they struggle to rebuild their lives.

Angel now works with Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international medical and humanitarian aid organization working mostly in conflict areas including the Philippines.

She helps distribute medicines during mission work. She earns P300 for a day of work.

“That’s a big help for my family,” she says.

On most days, Jun waits for Angel to come home while looking after the children. A regular job is hard to come by for him because he did not finish elementary school.

But on lucky days, he says, non-government organizations offer them “food for work.” He points to a distant concrete house he helped build some months ago in return for some cash for his family’s survival.

There are other IDPs here, the spaces divided for each family by whatever clothing and wooden panels they can find.

Photo by the author.

In another area are Aida and her children. Today, she is busy weaving fans out of the native silay or palm leaves. The whole space she occupies is covered by heaps of colored leaves, some untouched, some unfinished.

She is preparing to complete a dozen of these fans to sell to the market for P110. It’s a long process. The leaves are laid out on the sun for days. These are then dabbed with different colors to create designs straight of her dreams.

The dyed fans are then left under the heat for another long process of drying.

From the sun-dried leaves, there emerges--like magic--a kaleidoscope of yellow, purple and green colored fans.

This helps Aida and her kids survive on most days.

When there is nothing to sell, she puts her children to sleep with their stomachs grumbling and empty.

But for the IDPs here, giving up isn’t an option.

Slowly, one by one, piece by piece, difficult as it may be, they struggle to rebuild their lives harshly disrupted by war, as tedious and as careful as the way they weave those little intricately-colored fans for a few pesos a day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

DATELINE MINDANAO: Still lives at the ends of the earth

SITIO KUHAN, South Upi – This end of the earth is a forgotten place. There is no electricity and no water. There is no radio. There is no television. There is no transportation except one or two motorcycles that come and go.

If you want a ride, you have to stand beside a tree behind a thatched house. It is only from this spot where one can obtain – only if one is lucky enough – a mobile phone signal. You send a message to the men who drive the motorcycles roaming nearby villages and they will come and get you for at least P200 pesos, depending on where you’re going.

There is no signal from this “sacred” tree today. I walk toward the only school in the community. It is 500 meters away. On good days, there’s a signal there, too.

I need to request for a motorcycle to come pick me up. It is five in the afternoon. Darkness will soon set in. I need to leave because I have to file my story. I’m not sure when I can go back here.

Sitio Kuhan is a remote village in the municipality of South Upi in Maguindanao. I am here to cover for THINK3 how people in far-flung communities in Mindanao are preparing for the elections.

The rented two-wheels arrive. We start the most arduous ride I have ever taken my whole life. The narrow, rugged terrain is riddled with boulders and covered with potholes. The thickest mud makes it slippery and in just one wrong move, we will crash.

At 120-kilometers per hour, we zoom past through blankets of fog. Zero visibility. I can barely see anything, not even the wild grass that constantly slap my face as we move deeper into the trail.

It is a 45-minute ride and for the people of Kuhan, coming and in out of the village on this motorcycle ride may be the only single movement in their lives.

Kuhan is a farming village teeming with poverty. The lives of the people here are at a standstill.

The men spend the whole year toiling kernels of corn in distant farms that are not their own. They earn only once a year, which is during harvest season when they sell their produce to the markets in Cotabato, a province five hours away. This happens only if rodents have not feasted on their crops.

The rest of the year, they eat whatever vegetables they can harvest. The women while their time waiting for their men to come home after spending the whole day at the farm.

The children of Kuhan, who look half their age with the lack of proper nutrition, spend the time playing on the dry earth. They play on wheelbarrows used by their fathers to transport crops. They play on broken benches, sticks and stones, mud and stagnant water.

Their laughter reverberates in the air.

People here live in decrepit single-room shelters that barely have walls.

“People here have no incomes. Try living here and you’ll be lucky if you can even buy yourself an underwear,” says 22-year old Naida who plans to find a better future in Manila.

The dominant color of this village is a huge patch of faded brown, as brown as the earth and as faded as the blank expressions on the people’s faces. The only hues of red, yellow and blue come from the posters plastered by politicians running for the national elections.

In a country with a national budget that runs in at least a trillion a year, I’m not surprised why this village of 300 voters does not get even the smallest slice of the pie.

I’m not surprised because Kuhan is in Mindanao and in this southern Philippine island, the reality is that wealth is shared only by a few politicians who spend people’s money building pseudo municipalities in their names.

What one can see in the rest of the country, one will see in Mindanao unfolding cold, live and ruthless before one’s eyes. Poverty is at its worst. Kuhan is just one village. There are thousands more in remote and distant places. The lives of the people are at a standstill.

photos by the author