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Inevitable option?

First Posted 01:19:00 11/13/2010

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PALO ALTO, California?Is ?ovarian lottery? inevitable?

The question arises as the wife and I follow two granddaughters: Alexia, 9 and Tai Noelle, 4. They hop, jump and skip through the boardwalk to Stanford University?s Memorial Chapel for Mass.

Americans are restive over the ebbing recession. But the United States remains among countries that top the list in overall wellbeing, concludes the 2010 UN Human Development Report (HDR).

HDR surveyed 169 UN member-states. It began to measure wellbeing beyond one-dimensional yardsticks like per capita income in the 1990s. Economist Mahbub Ul Haq insisted on ?the simple yet powerful idea that development is about much more than income.?

HDR factors in health, education and life expectancy. Three new gauges are stitched into this 20th anniversary survey: inequality, gender equity and poverty.

?Human development in the real wealth of nations? is the report?s theme. You see that in Alexia and Tai Noelle.

Born in Palo Alto, Alexia receives the services of an advanced country: comprehensive health care, nutrition, safe water, education, etc. In our barangay slums, some kids won?t even get a vaccine shot.

Tai Noelle was adopted from China when she was 11 months old. She has passports from China, the United States and Sweden from her dad; and the Philippines from her mother. Tai enjoys similar benefits as Alexia?and later, political freedoms too.

China posted sustained economic growth that lifted tens of millions out of grinding poverty, HDR says. But Beijing lagged in health and schooling. Indonesia and Laos achieved impressive progress in health, education and income. So did Oman, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco.

?Leaders? in descending order, were Norway, Australia, New Zealand with the United States in fourth place. Then come Ireland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden and Germany.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, millions are food short, lack schooling and are plagued by diseases preventable by clean water and sanitation. Zimbabwe landed at slot 169; Robert Mugabe?s dictatorship causes prices to double in 25 hours, given a hyperinflation of 98 percent, a Johns Hopkins University study reveals.

Filipinos, battered by ?Ondoy? and other storms, will find that HDR?s warning on adverse effects of climate change resonates.

Climate change impacts on grain yields. It could more than double the price of wheat?in a worst-case scenario. By 2050, per capita consumption of cereals would fall by a fifth, leaving 25 million additional children malnourished. Any of our leaders think that far?

The Philippines ranked 97th in this survey. We are wedged between Paraguay on one end and Botswana on the other.

Filipino life spans are 74 plus in La Union, the Philippine HD Report finds. The shortest lives are still in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Overall, life expectancy for Filipinos is now 72.3 years. Compare that to 79 for South Koreans.

Life expectancy for North Koreans dropped from 71.5 years to 64.1. Similar slumps were noted in Congo, South Africa, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland. The main causes were AIDS and armed conflicts.

Life spans also contracted in some parts of the former Soviet Union, notably: Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. ?The reasons were harder to gauge,? New York Times admits. HDR noted that alcohol consumption combined with the stress of changing to a market economy was the likely cause.?

Among Asean member-nations, oil-flush Brunei came in at 37th. Singapore towers at slot 27. Governed by a strait-laced meritocracy, it concentrated on medicine, pharmaceuticals and rule of law, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew told Der Spiegel.

Thailand is at slot 92. At the Asean tail-end is xenophobic Burma with rank 132. Life expectancy is only 62 years in a natural resource-rich nation. Four years of schooling is the pathetic mean.

Burma?s paranoid junta rules by the guns of the Tatmadaw. These soldiers, over the weekend, sent 15,000 refugees fleeing into Thailand as protests broke over Burma?s first sham elections since 1990.

The Philippines finds itself in the middle?far short of its potential. There is a consensus that its piddling performance in securing a better life for its people is due to the stranglehold of the oligarchs: from the Arroyos, Marcoses, Estradas, Cojuangcos to the Ortigases and down to warlords like the Ampatuans.

Are they 31 families? Or 210? No one agrees on the exact number. But their leech-like rule shuts our Alexias and Tai Noelles off from more humane standards of living.

There is no shortage of scholarly documentation: from Alfred McCoy?s ?An Anarchy of Families,? Paul Hutchcroft?s ?The Politics of Patrimonial Plunder,? Cornell Benedict Richard Anderson?s ?Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams,? to Belinda Aquino?s ?Plunder of Politics.?

?Filipinos are among the most wonderful people in the world,? Anderson writes. ?But unfortunately, they do not find anything better outside the circle of the oligarchs.?

Oligarchies have been avaricious in the past. Thus Pacific Strategies and Assessments (PSA) cautioned, barely four months into President Aquino?s six-year term: Reforms promised will likely falter.

?The odds are really stacked against him,? says PSA?s study, which is titled ?Chasing a Legacy: Assessing Aquino?s Ability to Impact Change.? Like US President Barack Obama, P-Noy would be trashed.

?Ovarian lottery? will replace statesmanship?at the cost of our children.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com )

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