WHILE CATCHING UP on news yesterday, I came across this picture, actually a thumbnail of a video, that screamed “watch me!” The image of a little girl’s face brightly jutting out of a warren of pipes and concrete was disturbing, to say the least.
The report featured the children of informal settlers in Navotas who are forced to climb a rope over a wall I’d say is at least 3, maybe 5 meters high, just to get to school.
The smaller kids who can’t manage the wall squirm through a canal in their school uniforms.
The wall was built to secure the Navotas Fishport Complex but cut off their access to the main road. Parents can’t afford the additional fare around it, so they make do and help their children go over or under it. Notice the power cables that seem connected to the barbed wire atop the wall – the children nimbly duck under them. Of course, the wall gets slippery and the canal fills when it rains.
What’s amazing is that, according to their teacher, these kids are hardly ever absent. They show up each morning neat enough and on time, with their homework ready, eager for class. After school, some of them swim out to the fishing boats to glean dead fish from the nets for dinner, or clean garaged buses to finance their school projects.
I then came across the story of Jasmine, a 10-year old girl from Catanduanes. Her mother, Sunshine, is raising her children alone and doesn’t earn enough to feed them regularly. Jasmine often has to stave off her hunger with water.
The show’s producers brought Sunshine and her children to the local health center for a check-up. It was their first doctor’s visit in their lives as Sunshine doesn’t have a budget for trips to town. All children were underweight but Jasmine was the worst of them, at merely 12 kilos. Without the proper nourishment, Jasmine may die. According to the latest data, Catanduanes has the highest rate of malnutrition in the Bicol region.
Then there is Dina of Angadanan, Isabela, who has held a market stall in her hometown for the past 20 years. In 2011, typhoons Pedring and Quiel destroyed Pigalo bridge, the quickest means from Angadanan to San Guillermo, where Dina buys her vegetables. The DPWH reported the rehabilitation of Pigalo and other Isabela bridges in November 2011, but to date, Pigalo remains in disrepair.
House Bill No. 4040, which provides for its reconstruction, was approved on first reading in March 2014, but now seems stalled in the House. For Dina and other residents, this means daily jeopardy as they traverse the damaged bridge to ply their trades and carry out quotidian routines. It also means added expense: Dina’s transportation budget has trebled since 2011 since she has to take four tricycle rides to and from the crippled bridge and pay a porter to carry her goods across it every day.Hear Dina tell her story here.
These tales are the crux of things, aren’t they? This is what should determine the outcome in May 2016 and the substance of Monday’s and future SONAs. These politicians who seem so charming and heroic now, who appear so sacrificial as they give away largesse and grandiose promises – can they guarantee that, under their watch, the people will get what they really want?
The Navotas kids, and many like them, only want an education. I have no quarrel with the wall, yet I wonder why the Navotas government can’t provide them with safer, quicker access to the road and the transport hub. It would be the responsible, compassionate thing to do. What can the DepEd and the DPWH do to help the LGU address this situation?
Jasmine and her family, and many like them, only want to eat. Naturally, poverty is part and parcel of this malady but it should be possible to introduce feeding programs in the regions that need it most. How can the DSWD, DOH, and the DepEd help the Catanduanes government save its population from malnutrition? Surely, the private sector is willing to help. Why is Jasmine still a statistic?
Dina and her colleagues, and many like them, only want to work and get on with their lives. I understand that getting funding for such projects involves a process and time, but surely the DPWH and the Isabela government could build a temporary bridge to help its residents across the Cagayan river meanwhile? Or barring that, can they not devise a ferry system for that purpose? Certainly a bit of imagination would go far in enabling these hard working, persevering citizens to move on.
I hope PNoy’s last SONA will have more to it than recrimination and gloating. I wish to hear a report of substantial results and fulfilled promises with the evidence to back them.
Those of us who believe in prayer, let us be thus diligently employed – for we will need divine guidance, and I believe, divine intervention in great measure next year. From now until May 2016, with God’s help, I will be looking for the candidate with the capability to give the people what they really want.
The problems of the Navotas kids and Jasmine and Dina could all have been addressed by someone with common sense, fortitude, and the resolution to act. I will be looking for such a one. Conversely, I will campaign against anyone who falls short of this. Even now there are those who speak with the braggadocio of victory, yet display no moral fiber and promise only to leave the majority of our people still wanting.