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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MDG-related articles from PCIJ

I browsed the PCIJ website as one of the media coordinators, Ed General of SULU, informed me of an article there re: SULU. Turned out, he actually wrote it. =) I found other MDG-related articles worth reposting in this blog.

Read on...


KAHIKUKUK, BANGUIGUI, SULU — Asaali Muhalli is no ancient mariner, but there was a time when his lament was practically an echo of that of the protagonist in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem: “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

Kahikukuk residents now enjoy access to safe drinking water. [photo courtesy of AMORE]

Muhalli, a 40-something schoolteacher, has lived in this remote village since birth. He recalls, “I lived on an island surrounded by water, yet ironically, our life was without drinking water.”

But for the last two years, Muhalli and the rest of the residents here have had no reason to sigh — at least not over the lack of potable water. In September 2006, Kahikukuk became the beneficiary of a solar-powered system to supply drinkable water to the entire village, and life here has not been the same since. For one, says Muhalli, water-borne diseases are no longer as common as before. For another, villagers have stopped digging just about anywhere they could think of in their desperation to tap an underground water source.

Muhalli says that one of his neighbors began digging a hole in his own backyard, hoping to strike water. Instead, the neighbor unearthed a pile of human skeletons. According to Muhalli, his neighbor decided to transfer house posthaste.

Location map of Banguigui (formerly Tongkil), Sulu courtesy of Wikipedia

Impoverished communities elsewhere in the country probably do not share Kahikukuk’s near-moonscape past, but many (if not all) of them can certainly sympathize with its former thirst for potable water. In fact, many areas in the Philippines still lack access to safe drinking water, which has led to a significant incidence of water-borne illnesses, among other things. Across the province of Sulu, of which this island is part, only 26.8 percent of families have safe water to drink, according to the 2002 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS); from all indications, that figure is not going to improve significantly anytime soon.

It’s no wonder then that the government itself has cautiously predicted that the country has a “medium” chance of achieving the target of halving the proportion of the Philippine population without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. The target falls under the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of Environment Sustainability that the Philippines is committed to meeting seven years from now. Numbering eight in all, the MDGs, which range from education to health, to food security, are part of a global initiative to combat poverty.

The initiative stresses the cooperation of aid agencies, national governments, and the private sector in the effort. Indeed, Kahikukuk may not have gotten its rather unique water system had such cooperation been absent. Banguingui Mayor Hadji Wahid Sahidulla himself says that with his local government’s meager budget, “we cannot afford to develop such a project, considering the many immediate needs (of) our constituents.”

LOCATED ABOUT five hours away from Zamboanga City by motorboat, Kahikukuk is part of the Tongkil group of islands in Sulu. It is home to some 30,000 Samal-Banguigui natives who depend largely on fishing and seaweed farming for their livelihood. Some families also operate motorboats that ferry people to nearby islands, but even then many households here often can afford to have only two meals per day.

Kahikukuk’s story illustrates how the lack of access to potable water can make an already poor community even more impoverished. Children suffering from water-borne illnesses like cholera and diarrhea, for example, lost days — sometimes weeks — of school, while similarly stricken adults were unable to work.

SOLAR-powered water system in Kahikukuk. [photo courtesy of AMORE]

Muhalli says that as far as he knows, at least three children died in the village because of some disease that was later traced to unclean water. Banguigui Island Municipality health statistics also show diarrhea as among the top three causes of infant morbidity in the area.

A father of two boys, Muhalli adds that his family’s paltry household budget shrank even more each time they bought water that was brought in from neighboring Basilan. Peddlers sold each 20-gallon container for P25; normally, says Muhalli, one household would consume some 10 containers each day.

The alternative was to fetch water from either any of the makeshift deep wells that still dot the island or the main water source that was about an hour’s walk from the village. That source, a very deep open well located near the foot of a hill, is adjacent to a muddy area where cows like to wallow.

During the rainy season, the well would overflow and the surrounding field would be flooded. The result was water that was murky with soil and animal dung. But the water did not necessarily clear up whenever the sun was out.

“I could waste a whole day just to fill two containers and even then the water was brown,” says Ernilisa Jurail, a 28-year-old mother of four, recalling her long treks to fetch water for her family. “I also had nothing clean to wear. I washed my clothes and took a bath only once a week.”

The backyard wells were no better, perhaps because many families also maintained their latrines in the same area. Experts point out that even professionally built tube wells are easily contaminated when these are located less than 30 meters away from animal ditches, latrines, stagnant waters, garbage, and poor drainages.

Many of the families thus tried to save rainwater in huge drums and jars. But they had a hard time keeping this free from mosquito larvae, says Muhalli, and so they would try to filter the water through cloth and boil it before drinking it. He also recalls how some women and children would brave going to Abu Sayyaf-infested Basilan just to get potable water.




THE ambulant and transient poor are excluded from official poverty estimation. [photo by Jaileen Jimeno]

For the last several months we have been swimming in an alphabet soup of acronyms — NBN, ZTE, NEDA, FG, FGI, to name a few. And more keep pouring in; these days, the most oft-repeated one is NFA, or the National Food Authority. Yet what we should have been repeating like a mantra is MDG and its plural form, which stands for Millennium Development Goals. In 2000, the Philippines became one of the signatories to the Millennium Declaration, thereby sealing its commitment to meeting by 2015 eight goals that address development concerns worldwide. Last year marked the midpoint in the period allotted to the achievement of these MDGs.

In its progress report on the MDGs that it launched last October, the Philippine government said there may be trouble ahead regarding targets for achieving universal primary education (goal number 2), as well as those on improving maternal health (goal five), specifically improving the maternal mortality ratio and increasing access to reproductive health services. But it also said that there was a high probability of meeting most of the other targets for the rest of the goals, which are: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (goal 1); promoting gender equality and empowering women (goal 2); reducing child mortality (goal 4); combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases (goal 6); ensuring environmental sustainability (goal 7); and developing a global partnership for development (goal 8).

Even in October, the Philippine midterm progress report made economists and development experts blink and purse their lips. Today, just a few months later, the furrows on their brows have also deepened.

On January 31, 2008 the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported an increase of 7.3 percent in the GDP for 2007. Less than two months later, the NSCB said that poverty had worsened between 2003 and 2006. During the recently concluded Philippine Development Forum, representatives of donor institutions and countries asked repeatedly: “How come there is rising poverty and hunger in the midst of growth?”

Before the statistics on worsening poverty broke out, rosy projections about the future and the MDGs were also threatened with fears about a looming U.S. recession and increases in the price of oil. These developments cannot help but have a profound impact on the attainment of the MDGs by 2015.

TO BE fair, the high probability of attaining most of the targets hold true for national figures. But the picture changes dramatically when data are broken down to the local level. The wide disparities among regions, provinces, and municipalities are vast and seemingly insurmountable. The Philippine midterm report itself recognized the yawning gaps across regions. Among the challenges it identified were the high population growth rate, the low performance of the agricultural sector, the weak implementation of basic education and health reforms, and lax enforcement of laws. It also noted the problems with the financing gap, the capacity of local governments, transparency and accountability, peace and security issues, public-private partnerships, and targeting, database, and monitoring.

But perhaps what has to be scrutinized first is the mystery of worsening poverty amid supposed economic growth. After all, eradicating poverty is Goal No. 1, with its more specific targets being to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, as well as those suffering from hunger. The level of success in achieving this goal has a profound impact on the rest of the MDGs.

Yet no less than government statistics confirm the worsening of poverty. The twin threats of a looming rice crisis and global warming also do not warrant the happy prediction of a high probability of meeting the goal in nutrition — and especially not when surveys of the Social Weather Stations reflect persistent high levels of hunger, particularly in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In 2003, the government counted four million families as poor. By 2006, that figure had gone up to 4.7 million. This translates to 27.6 million wretched souls. The poverty threshold for the same year went up from P12,309 per capita annual income to P15,057.

Even worse, the number of the subsistence poor or absolutely poor has been rising. There are now 11 million families or 14.6 million individuals who belong to this category.

To quote the NSCB, “In terms of poverty incidence among population, out of 100 Filipinos, 33 were poor in 2006, compared to 30 in 2003.” This means a full third of the population! No wonder even the usually sedate and diplomatic representatives of foreign institutions and donor countries expressed utmost concern and repeatedly raised the issue during the Philippine Development Forum.

Here are more depressing statistics: In 2003, official figures indicated that 56.9 percent of households have per capita intake below the 100 percent dietary requirement. Given the other economic data, it is likely that proportion has become bigger. In more pedestrian terms, more than half of households are not getting adequate nutrition.

Yet the government keeps on saying that the country is experiencing unprecedented economic growth.

What officials may be refusing to see is that growth can only be meaningful if it results in increased incomes, more jobs, and stable prices for the man on the street. Among the initial questions that should be asked then are: Where is the growth coming from? Who are the main beneficiaries? These are crucial queries because the state of the economy cannot be separated from the state of social development, particularly the MDGs. Like the MDG numbers, while the national totals look good, they raise worries when disaggregated.

We can’t trust gov’t with population funds

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:19:00 05/28/2008

Amid fears of a rice shortage, it is inevitable that attention should turn once again to population control / family planning. After all, the reasoning goes, with fewer mouths to feed, there would be more food to go by for everyone. And, not surprisingly, the Catholic Church gets the blame for spoiling government efforts to promote modern contraceptive methods.

Excuse me, but now that we have dragged the Church into the fray, the government suddenly becomes trustworthy and competent enough to manage a multimillion-dollar population control program?

Modern contraceptive methods, which must be invented, tested and paid for, cost real money. No wonder, then, that a recent UN study shows that the Philippines needs about $2 million a year from 2007 to 2010 to provide contraceptives for free or at subsidized prices to the poor.

Put this huge amount of money in the hands of the same government that wasted P728 million of fertilizer funds? The same government whose job it is to make sure there is adequate rice on the table of Filipinos, to begin with? Why this sudden trust in the government? Is it because the $2 million per year (a total of $8 million in four years) is so small an amount as compared with the $329 million the government wanted to spend on a “flawed” national broadband network project?

We can argue all day long on the morality of modern contraceptives, but to propose that government handle the program and its funds is just about as wise as asking the wolves to guard sheep.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Islam 'recognizes homosexuality'

Abdul Khalik , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta
Fri, 03/28/2008 1:38 AM

Homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus permissible within Islam, a discussion concluded here Thursday.

Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran's al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

"There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety," she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi.

"And talking about piety is God's prerogative to judge," she added.

"The essence of the religion (Islam) is to humanize humans, respect and dignify them."

Musdah said homosexuality was from God and should be considered natural, adding it was not pushed only by passion.

Mata Air magazine managing editor Soffa Ihsan said Islam's acknowledgement of heterogeneity should also include homosexuality.

He said Muslims needed to continue to embrace ijtihad (the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Koran and the Sunnah) to avoid being stuck in the old paradigm without developing open-minded interpretations.

Another speaker at the discussion, Nurofiah of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the dominant notion of heterogeneity was a social construction, leading to the banning of homosexuality by the majority.

"Like gender bias or patriarchy, heterogeneity bias is socially constructed. It would be totally different if the ruling group was homosexuals," she said.

Other speakers said the magnificence of Islam was that it could be blended and integrated into local culture.

"In fact, Indonesia's culture has accepted homosexuality. The homosexual group in Bugis-Makassar tradition called Bissu is respected and given a high position in the kingdom.

"Also, we know that in Ponorogo (East Java) there has been acknowledgement of homosexuality," Arus Pelangi head Rido Triawan said.

Condemnation of homosexuality was voiced by two conservative Muslim groups, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Hizbut Thahir Indonesia (HTI).

"It's a sin. We will not consider homosexuals an enemy, but we will make them aware that what they are doing is wrong," MUI deputy chairman Amir Syarifuddin said.

Rokhmat, of the hardline HTI, several times asked homosexual participants in attendance to repent and force themselves to gradually return to the right path.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Population Control is inevitable

Population control is inevitable

First posted 00:30:59 (Mla time) May 07, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

There is no escaping population control. Whether it is done now or 20 years hereafter, it is inevitable. In fact, if we don’t adopt it today while the situation is still manageable, we will have to do it tomorrow under desperate circumstances. This is how rational minds think.

But irrational minds treat inevitability like death: Everyone dies, but it is best not to think about this reality. So the irrational minds don’t bother to make provisions for their funeral or to ensure that those who love them are spared the “burdens” of their passing into the afterworld. They act like children, ignoring the inevitable and look to the future with the glazed eyes of drug addicts. No, I’m not saying our government has some kind of addiction.

What I’m saying is that the government, like someone who has taken drugs, is hallucinating and is taking great pleasure in the experience. I don’t blame the Catholic Church, not this time, for the food crisis, which directly stems from population growth. Catholic priests are guided by the same principle wherever they are. The Church is against family planning, so be it. The position is grounded on its theological, philosophical and moral doctrines. What is astounding is the behavior of politicians.

I have heard very few of them—from the ranks of representatives and senators alike—opposing artificial birth control because of principle. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo opposes it not because of principle. No president of the Philippine Republic has ever opposed it because of principle.

But other countries, despite their Catholic orientation, have found a way to implement population control despite the faith of their people and the Church’s opposition. I am hard put to name a country in South America and Europe that does not practice population control with full support of its government.

So what is it with our government? What is it that makes our government believe that not acting now is better than acting later?

The worse imaginable scenario is a Philippine government that’s convinced that population control will never be needed. What if our leaders would come to believe that the population problem will magically disappear?

BRIAN BROTARLO (via email)

Palace renews call for unity to fight poverty

Palace renews call for unity to fight poverty
First Posted 11:37:00 05/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- Faced with a rising inflation that could threaten economic growth, MalacaƱang has renewed its call to the public to unite in uplifting the poor and do away with politicking, while urging the private sector to help in cutting back food prices and lower rates.

The Asian Development Bank in its report has stressed the need for developing countries in Asia to strike a balance between providing relief to the poor amid rising food prices and guarantee the availability of inputs and credit to boost food production in the coming seasons.

"The ADB report, which cites inflation, food, and other economic challenges facing all of Asia, must galvanize all Filipinos to redouble development efforts and set aside petty distractions from our number one goal: uplifting the poor and protecting them from soaring prices through livelihood and basic needs programs," Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said in a statement.

Saludo, who will soon sit as chairperson of the Civil Service Commission, also said Congress should focus on enacting priority legislation.

Saludo said that "the government was spending tens of billions on rice subsidies, P5 billion on direct cash assistance, and has mobilized P80 billion for microfinance. And we continue our public investments in infrastructure and social services, creating jobs and providing education, health and other vital needs of the poor."

Rachel Hermosura, Contributor

Monday, May 05, 2008

Family Planning in the Philippines: A Global Wake-Up Call for Policymakers

Family Planning in the Philippines: A Global Wake-Up Call for Policymakers
By Tod Preston on April 24, 2008 10:21 AM

“Birthrates Help Keep Filipinos in Poverty” – that’s the headline of an April 21, 2008 Washington Post article highlighting the plight of a growing number of poor women in the Philippines who lack access to one of the most basic forms of health care: family planning (FP) and reproductive health services. The article, which mentions that the U.S. is scaling down its FP program in the Philippines, should be a wake-up call for policymakers about the global impact of declining FP assistance on the lives of hundreds of millions of men and women in the Philippines and other developing nations.

U.S. investments in international family planning have been one of the most successful and cost-effective ways to improve maternal and child health, ease population pressures on the environment, and help countries fight poverty. But despite the achievements of recent decades -- including an increase in use of contraceptives among married women in the developing world from 10 percent to 60 percent since 1960 and a decline in average fertility rates from about six children per woman to three children per woman -- significant needs remain. For example, only one-third of married Filipino women use modern contraceptives.
The reality is that family planning remains out of reach for hundreds of millions of women and men. In fact, more than 200 million women in the developing world want to space or limit their childbearing but are not using modern contraception. In some countries such as Haiti, Pakistan and Uganda, one-third or more of married women have this “unmet need” for FP.

Nonetheless, in recent years funding from the U.S. -- a long-time leading donor of FP/RH assistance -- has declined significantly when accounting for inflation and the growing demographic demand. And FP/RH assistance from other donor nations has also declined.

Current U.S. funding for int’l FP (about $460 million) represents a cut of $300 million or 40 percent (adjusted for inflation) from what the U.S. provided for these programs back in 1995. Had the Bush Administration gotten its way and Congress not intervened in the past two years, U.S. funding for these programs would have been reduced by an additional 25 percent. Making matters even worse, the Bush Admin has withheld all U.S. funding (nearly $200 million) for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides FP/RH assistance in more than double the number of countries the U.S. does.

So what does this downward U.S. funding trend mean for a country like the Philippines? As you’d probably suspect, it’s not good. In its budget request to Congress last year, the Bush Administration proposed spending only $5.2 million for FP/RH assistance in the Philippines -- less than 1/7 of what the U.S. spent in that country in 1995 ($37 million in inflation-adjusted dollars). That’s despite the fact that 25 percent of Filipinas ages 20-24 have an unmet need for family planning -- and these rates are even higher among uneducated women. So funding is going down and contraceptive shipments are ending while the need and demand remain high. And remember, the backdrop for all of this is a country in which more than 40 percent of its people live below the poverty line.

Ironically, this meager funding request for FP in the Philippines was proposed in the same budget in which the Administration acknowledged to Congress the connection between high birth rates and poverty in the country. In its FY 2008 foreign assistance Congressional Budget Justification, the Administration stated that “[the] Philippines struggles to provide sufficient jobs, infrastructure, health services, and education for its rapidly growing population.” (PDF, p. 348)

Just how fast is the population of the Philippines growing? It’s doubled since the late 1970s and -- if access to family planning does not increase and current fertility rates remain static -- it will double again from 86 million today to 170 million in the next thirty years. That’s a lot of additional mouths to feed, especially in a nation that’s recently acknowledged it has a serious shortage of rice and faces the threat of food riots.

Make no mistake, because of declining funding USAID has had to make very difficult choices of where it allocates its limited FP dollars. One of those choices is to scale back its family planning program in the Philippines and to end shipments of contraceptives -- contraceptives that we know many Filipinos desire. Tragically, this story isn’t limited to the Philippines. The U.S. has scaled back FP assistance to a number of countries, some with even higher unmet need than the Philippines. Kenya is one example, with troubling implications for maternal and child health and its development prospects.

The great tragedy in all of this -- “outrage” might be a more accurate term -- is that the cuts in FP funding are depriving women and men, many of them impoverished, of something they fundamentally want: that most basic ability to choose how many children to have and when to have them. And by depriving them of this reproductive right, we’re contributing to an increasingly unsustainable and impoverished world.