Sound chamber | Inquirer News

Sound chamber

/ 07:48 AM April 23, 2013

As the May 13 elections campaign careens into the home stretch, many  candidates get strident. There are 18,053 posts up for grabs—almost quadruple the number of office seekers.

Candidates of outstanding—or dubious—credentials seek 12 Senate seats and  233 slots in the Lower House. Elective posts in  80 provinces, 143 cities plus  1,491 towns, are to be filled.


Add 58 “Party List” representatives. Wait. The Supreme Court just granted 54 petitions for inclusion, filed by party-list groups blackballed earlier by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). And the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elects a governor, vice governor and 24 “regional assemblymen.”

Overseas  foreign workers started casting  ballots April 13. Comelec says  975,263 Pinoys abroad are eligible to vote. This time around, 60 percent of overseas Filipino electors—around 585,000—may vote. Is there basis for that optimism?


In the 2004 overseas voting, 65 out of every 100 qualified voters turned up, Rappler recalls. That  slumped to 16 percent in 2007, then to 25 percent  in 2010.

Candidates, meanwhile, zigzag from one rally to another. Their pitch for votes range from the thoughtful to the silly. “One more chance,” pleads Joseph Estrada, convicted for corruption. Ernesto  Maceda sashays onstage to disprove he is decrepit. “Keep the focus on issues that matter,” be they the Sabah controversy or  a  strained school system, Dick Gordon urges.

These voices clash and poll zarzuelas are part of the cost in rebooting the Marcos dictatorship’s “unanimity of the graveyard” elections.

* * *

Journalists are padlocked, by their craft, into this sound chamber, Louis Lyons would drill into editors at Harvard University ’s Nieman sabbaticals. A babel of voices batters them. They range weak whimpers to imperious tones, shrill screams to fading tones.

Swirl beneath the obvious, fester survive-or-perish issues. Often, these lethal threats are overlooked.  “Learn to listen,” Lyons would say. “Extract what is true and relevant  from this chaos. At  the same time, think for yourself. That’s the only way you can serve those you write for or broadcast to.”

There is no substitute for water. A Filipino has 4,476 liters of  this  “internal renewable resources.” A Malaysian  has  21,259 liters. “The  wealthy have better access than the poor to water” asserts  “Asian Water Development  Outlook  2013.” “Most  striking  is inequality in access to sanitation,” this Asian Development Bank study  adds. “The  disparity is widening, especially  in burgeoning smaller cities….”


Here, only 43 percent of households have piped water. That’s better than   Indonesia ’s 20 percent. But dry taps jack up the incidence of illness and number of deaths. Thus, “sanitation  access” is  74 percent  for us. It is  96 percent for Thais.

Lack of water crimps handling of  “DALY”—shorthand for “age-standardized  disability-adjusted life years.” This gauge tracks the diarrhea toll per 100,000 people. DALY counted 528  Filipino victims and 483  Indonesians. In contrast, Sri Lanka pared that toll down to  153.

How did Colombo do that? You won’t know from candidates seeking to be elected senator. Only former Palawan governor Edward Hagedorn discusses  water policies.

Abortion is called the “silent scream.” The number of  Filipino mothers, who  die at childbirth are quadruple that of Thailand. About 11  mothers died every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth—up from three years back, the National Statistics Office reported. Only 90,000 mothers get post-abortion care.  About half of 3.4 million pregnancies are unintended.

There’s  no hard data to show  that the number of bootleg  abortions— estimated  earlier  at 560,000 yearly—ebbed. The bitter quarrel over the Reproductive Health bill merely delayed   access to family planning services, even to non-Catholics.  Surely, that ‘s  as  important as  that  Bacolod diocese  billboard on “Team Patay” and “Team Buhay”?

In  2013, the old scourge of  malnutrition put on a new mask: the faces of    67,000 ill-fed kids in Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur, ravaged earlier by Typhoon Bopha.

In the Philippines, malnutrition accounts for  more than a third of deaths of children younger than five years. Only six out of 10 kids, in the vulnerable age bracket of  6 to 23 months old get  a good diet, United Nations Children’s Fund notes. After two years, the damage sets in for good.

Two of the biggest culprits are lack of vitamin A and zinc during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s first two years of life. Chronic hunger reduces one out of three into a puny underweight. They don’t starve to death. But debilitating—and preventable—diseases like TB, anemia, diarrhea take their toll.

A Nutrition National Survey found that progress inched forward by only five percent. “At this rate, it will take maybe half a century before we can eradicate the problem of malnutrition.” But kids can’t wait. “Their name is today”.

These are preventable deaths. Yet, there is no outcry, Why?

Because death stalks kids in city hovels or farm shacks. Their burial shrouds are usually out of sight. As a result, their coffins blend into the woodwork. So the massacre persists.

“Striking a child in anger may be pardoned,” George Bernard Shaw once said. “But a blow, against a child in cold blood,” as in continued tolerance of malnutrition, “is an obscenity.” That’s an apt handle for our candidates’ myopia.

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