PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Because our children should not wait

In the end, in death, all the state machineries can only do is to implement face-saving measures—measures that aim to dispel widespread uproar and not really to solve the root cause of children’s misery.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has reportedly ordered the Department of Education (DepEd) to fast track the expansion of the alternative distance-learning program so that children can study and finish schooling without having to go to a formal school. She also ordered the Department of Budget and Management to release one billion pesos to fund hunger mitigation programs. Mrs. Arroyo ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) and 125 Tindahan Natin outlets to sell cheaper rice, a P400 million funding for which is to be taken from the earlier released P1 billion anti-hunger funds.

But I guess these efforts are hardly enough to cover the breadth and scope of the poverty problem in our country. About 69 million Filipinos (80% of population) struggle to survive on P96 ($2) or less a day [2003, Family Income and Expenditure Survey]. On the other hand, the government claims that poverty incidence is only 30% (24 million people) using as an unrealistic basis P33.70/day.

IBON reports that the share of the poorest 30% of the country's families in 2006 accounted for only 8.6% of the total country's total income, while the top 10% account for almost 36 percent. Poverty has actually increased between 2003 and 2006. Comparing the 2006 FIES to average annual living wages (for a family of six) showed that poverty increased from 82% in 2003 to around 86% in 2006.

How can we expect our people to be freed from the pangs of poverty amidst horrendous inequality and unemployment? Profits of the top 1,000 corporations in our country have an annual increase of 20%. The net worth of the 10 richest Filipinos is pegged at US$12.4 billion (2006) and is the equivalent to the combined annual income of the poorest 9,600,000 families (approximately 49 million Filipinos). In contrast, about 1/3 of the labor force or 11.6 M Filipinos are looking for work. They are crowding into non- or low-paying, low-earning, uncertain and irregular work in the cities and in the countryside.

Because Pres. Arroyo prefers to borrow heavily, budget for social services have also been pared down severely. The Arroyo administration has accumulated a foreign debt of US$ 60.5 billion as of June 2006 while its local public debt was PhP 2.17 trillion as of February 2006. It has spent the most debt service in the country’s history with $48 B (2001-2005) or 11.8% of GDP each year. In contrast, budget for education was cut by 22%, health by 25% and social welfare by 9% .

Sadly, the single-minded thrust of the Arroyo government is to provide the most profitable opportunities possible for foreign investors, at the expense of any substantial domestic development that would mean more and better quality jobs.

And while poor children suffer poverty and oppression of their families, girl children suffer the most. The Unicef 2007 State of children report said:“Despite overall growth in educational enrolment, more than 115 million children of primary school age do not receive an elementary education.

With few exceptions, girls are more likely than boys to be missing from classrooms across as they reach puberty for many reasons – the demands of household responsibilities, a lack of school sanitation, a paucity of female role models, child marriage or sexual harassment and violence, among others.

And so Marianeth could not wait.

My colleagues in this chamber, the time is now. Now is the time to truly implement the spirit of the Convention the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Children’s Welfare Code, and the other laws that seek to protect our children.

Now is the time to give greater budget to public schools and barangays so that the urban poor can access scholarships and free education and allowances. Now is the time to legislate wage increases across the board, put a stop in labor only contractualization and promote sustained decent employment for our labor force.

The case of Marianet has taken on different angles, including the issue of failure of schools to provide adequate support to students like her. If you have heard, Marianet was reportedly absent from her class for more than three days. As we have learned, the teacher had allegedly heard a report of her crying in the morning, but no adequate support has been provided.

In the event that the pending truancy ordinance will be calendared for debate anew, I shall not hesitate to cite the case of Marianet, whose dreams are not at all isolated. And whose reasons for her reported absence is not unique, and advance the proposition to strengthen the support system instead.

You could just imagine how listening to and hearing Marianet we could have saved her.

In time, as one of the alternatives, I shall request the LSB to look into the guidance counseling behavior offices especially in the public schools. In time, I shall pass a resolution requesting the city mayor to allocate more funds and to support the public schools; if need be, I shall pass a resolution to request the city mayor to revisit the budget for the Task Force Davao and channel directions the same and directly for our children.

At the local level, we can do so much for our people, while at the same time, we call for genuine economic and political reforms—reforms that involve a change in the leadership and in the system at the national level.

Because our children should not wait.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Privileged Speech is open to Mindanawon legislators. Email and Councilor Angela Librado is chair of the Committee on Women, Children and Family Relations in Davao City).