Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The real state of the nation

The story of the two year old boy who fell down the stairs of their house in Sagay, Negros Occidental, describes more poignantly than Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her bevy of speechwriters could ever attempt, the real state of the nation.

We are indebted to Carla Gomez of the Inquirer Visayas for this true story. The boy, Wilfredo Labajo Jr. was brought to a district hospital, later transferred to a regional hospital where he was diagnosed to have suffered from head trauma as a result of the fall. Many of us fell from trees or stairs in our childhood days, and suffered fractured legs or arms, even a gaping wound in the head perhaps, the result of mischief and boundless energy.

But Jun-Jun Labajo fell because he got dizzy after a meal of boiled rice laced with monosodium glutamate. His mother, Jonelyn, who is pregnant, had to leave her youngest son in the care of four other siblings because she and her husband had to sell ice buko candy in the poblacion. She explained to doctors that her children are usually fed boiled rice with salt because that was all they could afford. Their supply of salt though ran out, so her 9-year old daughter used some monosodium glutamate instead, vetsin to the poor and unschooled. She mixed this with the rice and water before boiling and simmering. The toddler Jun-Jun felt dizzy after his vetsin-laced lunch, and fell from the stairs.

Joneyln and her husband, Wilfredo Sr. have five children, the eldest being 12 years old, and the youngest, two-year old Jun-Jun. Together, they earn about 60 pesos a day selling ice buko.

"With rice now costing us more than 30 pesos per kilo, there is almost never enough to buy any viand, so we just add salt to the rice to give it some taste," recounted a tearful Jonelyn.

Now think of the Labajos of Sagay as typical of millions of Filipino families pushed to extreme poverty and hunger, where underemployment and marginal livelihood are elevated by government statistics into employment. Think of similar households with five or six, even eight or ten children, subsisting day-in and day-out on vetsin-laced instant noodles wolfed down slowly poisoned throats and into hungry bellies with rice. In Samar and Bicol, even rice has ceased to be staple. Balinghoy or cassava, and boiled green bananas, foraged in countrysides, have become substitutes for rice. At least these are more nutritious than what the urban kids in Isla Puting Bato, Parola, Magsaysay, Payatas, Maricaban, and God knows wherever else, whose daily staple are instant noodles, and count themselves lucky when their father or elder brother is able to forage some scraps and leavings from some fast food table.

With our dear bishops of the church telling us, the poor especially, to "go forth and multiply" and forbidding the use of "artificial" family planning methods, even as they could only sing hallelujahs to the illegitimate leadership that is upon the land a curse, has God truly forsaken this country?

Such, Dona Gloria, is the true state of our nation, a nation you have led, without our collective choice, for the past seven years and seven months.

Meanwhile, executives, both in government and the private sector, including a former chief executive of the benighted land, trooped to hear a lecture from New York's Rudy Giuliani, and paid some 25,000 pesos each for the event, only to be told that especially in periods of crisis, "transparency" is the hallmark of good leadership.

"No one wants to do business in a place with a great deal of corruption," Giuliani said.

Well, a group of foreigners who have decided to retire in the country are complaining that for the "privilege" of staying in this accursed land, they are milked periodically by persons at the behest, kuno, of Philippine Retirement Authority officials.

Said one who wrote us, "It seems that these days only the scum of the earth, the corrupt and the powerful have the right to survive in this forsaken country." And then concludes, "With these on-goings (sic), with thieves and crooks running the government, God help the Philippines."

Now our friend Susan Ople, who heads an NGO named after her late father of deeply respected memory, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center which addresses labor concerns, reports about the sad plight of undocumented Filipino workers in Sabah who are now being repatriated to the benighted country. Toots Ople worries about the tedious work that a "caring" government should be doing to give these unfortunate Filipinos a fresh start in life.

"There should be a holistic plan that would service these Filipinos even after the massive crackdown done by the Malaysian government," says Ople, a former Labor undersecretary in the Arroyo government. Filipinos troop to Sabah to work in construction sites and palm plantations because of the lack of job opportunities in the homeland. Nowadays though, the Malaysian government intensified its crackdown against the illegal workers as the latter are being blamed for crime and other social problems. Undocumented Filipino workers in Malaysia normally fall under two groups: those who already have established a family in Sabah; and those who opted to stay in the Philippines after being victimized by illegal recruiters or have fallen prey to drug trafficking.

"Those who have families in Sabah should be helped in securing proper documentation to resume work there, but providing a living for those who will stay here is more challenging," she added. Ople recognized the fact that the Social Welfare and Labor departments have been taking measures to assist the deported Filipinos through counseling, training sessions and shouldering fare expenses, but a lot more must be done. And as far as these agencies or the local governments in the South are concerned, there are not enough funds available. Can they too apply for "Katas ng VAT"?


A Filipino from the East Coast writes in reaction to our Saturday column on the feeling of hopelessness that disturbs many in the country:

"I could not but agree with the sentiments you described in your column of August 2. I migrated to the US in 1980, to wait it out until the Marcos regime would end. But family obligations kept me in the US even after 1986. Later, my own professional career played a major role in keeping me here. I took early retirement some three years back as a vice-president and chief audit officer of a bank and started making plans, off and on, to return.

"All through the years since I migrated, I did not lose the desire to spend my remaining years in the Philippines. I made it a point to visit the country at least once every two or three years, on average. I remained a Filipino citizen through those years hoping to come home as a proud Filipino.

"Until last year. The constant reports of corruption of ever increasing magnitude and the virtual involvement by members of the First Family in practically all government contracts (contract size seemed not to matter) and the constant lying and cheating took their toll on me. That corruption has permeated through all levels of government and, as some reports say, even the private sector, contributed to my disillusion. But the biggest factor, I believe, is the open and gross disregard for the rule of law by this administration. It has become like a spoiled child (isn't she?) throwing tantrums to get her way, as if she owned the country herself. And I do not foresee a positive change, however slight with the prevailing system, and with the current crop of politicians, national and local, who run the country.

"I have given up on remaining a Filipino citizen. This year, I became a US citizen and do not intend to apply for dual citizenship. I will continue to visit (after all I still have close family there) but that would be the extent of what I would do -- visit. I am quite excited that I will be able to participate in the next US presidential elections, albeit as a voter only. And I am certain that my vote will be counted by those computers that Philippine politicians seem to hate with a passion, because that just might prevent their perpetuation in public office."

Truly, the state of the nation.

Malaya, August 5, 2008