Of rankings, ratings, ravings and rantings

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Of late, the public has been subjected to a plethora of rankings and ratings about the country which triggered headlines, praises and brickbats.  The headlines in turn sparked debates, as well as ravings from those who were persuaded that all was well. There were  rantings from those who insisted that the country is facing serious challenges. What is the truth?

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First, it started with the poverty statistics. The Philippine Statistics Authority announced that as of the first semester of 2013, poverty levels stood at 24.9%. PSA also announced that the 2012 numbers stood at 27.9%. PSA was careful to note that the basis for the 2012 numbers was the Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES) while the basis for the 2013 numbers was the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS). The FIES had always been the basis for poverty statistics until it was changed for the 2013 numbers.  This is the first time that APIS numbers are used.

The explanation nothwithstanding, the immediate impression was that poverty levels had gone down. The new numbers drew flak from groups which monitor poverty statistics, among them Social Watch Philippines. The message was that data sets using different bases and methodologies should not be compared, especially since the public got the impression that indeed, poverty levels had gone down. If methodologies are changed, these should be explained to the confused public.

Another ranking which earned headlines was the ILO ranking of the Philippines as the country with the highest unemployment rate in Asia.  The announcement jolted those who thought that last week’s Labor Day would just be another “business as usual” celebration with the usual speeches from the Labor sector and the expected promises from the government.

The ILO announcement was followed by the release of the Misery Index which zeroed in on unemployment as the triggering factor in misery.

The Department of Labor stated that the methodology of ILO was different from theirs.  What I know is that UN member countries have harmonized their definitions and methodologies so that the standing of one country can be compared with that of another. This is particularly true of economic statistics.

Interestingly, the number announced by NEDA on unemployment at 7.5% is even higher than the ILO number at 7.3%!

Late last week, paeans of praise were heaped on our economic managers for Standard & Poor’s upgrade of the credit rating of the Philippines. This was bannered in all leading newspapers and duly reported on television and over the radio.  Our economic managers issued statements modestly claiming credit for the upbeat upgrade.

While the public knew that this must be good  news — screaming headlines,  back-patting, and  ecstatic reviews– they could not see what the hype was all about.

Credit ratings do not necessarily measure what is most important to the ordinary person–a good job, food on the table, adequate housing, education and health services for the children.

What Standard & Poor’s measures is the capacity of a country not only to borrow but also the capacity to pay its debt. Thus, it stated that the upgrade was based on “the country’s strong external liquidity and international investment position, monetary policy, as well as low inflation and interest rates.”

Rating agencies do not necessarily examine  social development indicators; their interest is in financial information, as well as fiscal data.

Obviously, Standard & Poor’s assessment is of crucial importance and interest for  two groups:  first, the government and private sector which are very anxious to know if they can borrow, and second, the international investment community which wants to know if the Philippines can pay.

Ratings and ranking measure different aspects of our national life. Those which tell us whether there will be food, good jobs, homes, education and good heath are most important to most Filipinos.

Finally: Mother’s Day in the time of high maternal mortality

Last week, I wrote about celebrating Labor Day in the time of unemployment.  I can also say the same time for Mother’s Day which we celebrated last Sunday in the time of high maternal mortality.

We have a tradition not only of honoring our mothers, but also of venerating them. This was long, long before the commercialization of the official Mother’s Day.  I cannot forget a lesson which was incessantly drummed into the  minds and hearts of pupils of my generation:  “You are riding on a banca with your mother and your spouse . The banca capsizes and you can only save one of them. Who will you save? There is only one answer. You save your mother; you will never have another mother while you can get another spouse.”

As early as Friday, Saturday and finally, Sunday, malls and restaurants were overflowing with mothers of all sizes, shapes and ages towed by their affectionate families. In churches, they were given flowers, plants and small gifts.

Sure, we love mothers. In the meantime , the National Statistical Coordination Board of NEDA has reported that our total fertility rate (TFR) is still the highest among the 10 member countries in the ASEAN. Another horrifying piece of information is that there has been a substantial increase in maternal mortality in the last decade.

As early as 2011, the Family Health Survey of the government showed that the maternal mortality ratio had gone up from 162 per 100,000 to 221 deaths per 100,000 deliveries. For women in the middle and higher income classes, it is unbelievable that women still die from delivering babies in this day and age!

Ironically, the infant mortality rate has been going down. Can it mean that there are infants who survive even as their mothers die? Once, I spoke before students of Silliman University.  I asked them how many of them still had their mothers. Many of them raised their hands. I asked how many had mothers who died while giving birth to them.  A few raised their hands with tears in their eyes.  I asked those who had mothers if they could imagine growing up without their mothers. By that time, the girls were crying openly while the boys endeavored to be manly and dry-eyed.

No less than the NEDA Director General has admitted that “we remain challenged by our country’s high fertility rate.”

Those who believe that  highfertility rate is beneficial to the economy point out that the cause of persistent high maternal mortality rate is not the fertility rate but the abysmal lack of maternal health facilities, medical care and medicines.  This is also a point to consider.

In the meantime, we love mothers and worship them but we cannot stop their dying in childbirth. It has been said, “No woman should die while bringing forth life.”

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1 Comment

  1. Madame, that’s one article I definitely would tip my hat off to you. You sound like my mother until I saw your picture. It shows the intelligence and hard work put into it. The essence with full understanding that without a doubt you are absolutely and positively correct. Let me just greet you – belated Mothers Day.