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Viewpoint : Thresholds

Charter change is not “the threshold at which all other hopes begin.” Life is. Nor is a politics-gutted constitution the more telling indicator of national advance or setback. Life expectancy is.

Today, Filipinos with the longest life spans are in La Union province, says the Philippine Human Development Report 2008/2009. “On average those born in 2006 in La Union are expected to live 74.6 years,” as Ecuadorians do.

In contrast, Tawi-Tawi life expectancy resembles that of Djibouti in Africa: 53.4 years. Bulacan’s 73.4 years is two decades longer.

“Those expected to live the shortest” are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s conflict-savaged provinces or the Cordillera Administrative Region’s backwaters. Is this a twilight zone of shriveled hopes?

Filipino scientists craft PHDRs within the Human Development Network. The first of these biennial studies came off the press in 1990. The United Nations Development Programme and New Zealand co-sponsored this latest edition.

PHDR and the global Human Development Report go beyond usual measuring tools, e.g. gross domestic product. They apply “human development indices.” HDIs factor in schooling, poverty, health—and life spans.

“Long lifers” cluster in Ilocos Norte, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Batangas, Pampanga, Cagayan and Albay. Life expectancy in these provinces is in the 70s, and climbing. An Icelander, however, can expect to live up to 81 years.

Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province and Agustan del Norte are tail-enders. Life expectancies in these five provinces hover in the 60s, often below. That’s where Pakistan and Eritrea are wedged today. “Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur are worst off.”

“Differences in homes, clothing or even menus are galling enough,” the late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali wrote. “But denial of life itself and premature graves are an obscene injustice… These are death sentences. And they cut into the very depths of our common humanity.”

Nationwide, “Filipinos born in 2006 will live, on average, about eight years longer compared to those born in 1980,” PHDR notes. “Between 1980 and 2006, life expectancy improved by roughly three years for every decade.”

Fine, take a bow. But what underpinned the heartening advances? And what triggered those tragic setbacks?

Improved scientific analysis, for one. PHDR did further sophisticated work on mortality tables. These were first stitched together by San Carlos University’s Fr. Wilhelm Fleiger, SVD and UP Population Institute’s Josefina Cabigon. The result provides clearer insights.

Cash shortages, for another. For every dollar our legislators pony up for health, Malaysians allocate two, Koreans five. This results in skewed survival rates.

Here, 25 infants die in every 1,000 births. Thais have cut that to 18. In every 100,000 pregnancies, 230 Filipino mothers die. That toll resembles Cape Verde.

Camarines Sur, Leyte and Zamboanga del Norte “registered the biggest improvements,” PHDR found. “More than 14 years were added to life expectancy.”

Other gainers: Sorsogon, Surigao del Norte, Zambales, Palawan and Pangasinan.

Some updated life expectancies (figures rounded): Bohol and Iloilo, 71; Negros Occidental and Bukidnon, 70; Nueva Ecija and Tarlac, 69; North Cotabato and Ilocos Sur, 68; Negros Oriental, 67, Davao del Norte, Southern Leyte, Western Samar and Masbate, 66; Romblon, 65.

“He who knows how to use a writing brush will never have to beg,” the Chinese proverb says. Look at the “no-read-no-write” data.

In Batanes, 2 percent are functionally illiterate. That bolts to 35 percent in Basilan, where teachers are often kidnapped. Roughly, the same level of deprivation prevails in Sarangani, Siquijor—and Uganda.

“For the country, as a whole, the proportion of high school graduates among adults in 2006 was 55 percent,” PHDR found. “[This is] up nine percentage points from the 1997 level.”

Four out of every five adults finish high school in Metro Manila. “Benguet follows closely with seven in every nine adults. Provinces cheek-by-jowl with the metropolis—Rizal, Cavite and Laguna—have relatively high ratios,” the report notes. “So do northern Luzon corridor provinces like Bataan.”

Abra registered the greatest improvement (15 percent) in secondary schooling. Guimaras and Biliran followed closely with 13-percent surges. Maguindanao, Benguet, Apayao and Surigao del Norte chalked up 9-percent increases.

“Water is life.” In Capiz, 48 out of every 100 drink from open, often contaminated, wells. The comparative figures are 37 in Palawan and down to 7 in Cavite.

PHDR computers crunch out overall rankings for human development. The study also sets provincial ranking in an international context.

Metro Manilans are wedged between Lebanese and Peruvians, the comparison shows. Cebu matches the Palestinian territories. Topnotcher Benguet clones Armenia. “Davao del Sur, Abra and Bohol lie between Nicaragua and Uzbekistan.” Manguindanao compares to Ghana.

“The value of inter-country comparisons is redeemed only when people—seeing the gap between what is and what could be—begin to demand more of themselves and of those who purport to represent their interests.”

Yes, yes. But what if our so-called leaders set their thresholds at Cha-cha? (juan mercado, inquirer.net)

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E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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