To be a real agent of change, the incoming president does not need to look any further than the Millennium Development Goals.
Now that elections are over, at least except for the formalities, it's time to buckle down to work. The incoming national administration, if it is to make good on its lofty promises, must as early as now figure out which of the country's numerous pressing problems it must tackle first, and most intensely.
The administration of incoming president Benigno Aquino III need not set new targets just so it could claim ability to effect change. It simply has to work decisively in meeting goals that are already in place. Goals, for instance, like the Millennium Development Goals.
First, some background. The MDGs are a set of eight time-bound and specific targets aimed at significantly reducing poverty in all nations of the world by 2015. One hundred and eighty-nine countries signed an agreement in September 2000 expressing their commitment to work toward this end.
These goals are: One, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Two, achieve universal primary education. Three, promote gender equality and empower women. Four, reduce child mortality. Five, improve maternal health. Six, combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Seven, ensure environmental sustainability. Eight, develop a global partnership for development.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, the MDGs have been “tightly integrated into the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (2004-2010) thus allowing government strategies, policies and action plans to simultaneously address national and MDG targets.”
It is unfortunate, however, that the published “current” figures in the UNDP Web site (and thus the basis of saying whether the goals are likely to be met or not) are those for 2005-2006. We need more current data for the prognosis – and the prescription -- to be accurate.
But let's make do with the numbers on hand for purposes of illustration. The year 1990 serves as the baseline; the goal is to halve whatever that base figure is. Using current levels (or the most current level available), the UNDP does some number crunching on the average rate of progress in relation to the required rate of progress, and from there determines whether the probability of attaining the targets is high or low.
For example, in 1990, 34.5 percent of children between 0 and 5 were underweight. The goal by 2015 is to bring down this number to half, or to 17.25 percent. In 2006, the prevalence rate had been brought down to 24.6 percent. The average rate of progress was calculated at 0.66 percent per year. Compared to the required rate of progress – the yearly rate required for the 2015 target to be attained – the ratio is 1.11. Hence, the probability is high.
Other probabilities, according to the UNDP:
For eradicating extreme poverty and hunger -- Lowering the proportion of the population (or families) living below poverty (or subsistence) threshold, HIGH.
For achieving universal primary education -- increasing the elementary participation, cohort survival (define), and completion rate, LOW.
For improving maternal health -- lowering the maternal mortality ratio, LOW. Increasing the prevalence of couples practicing responsible parenthood, LOW.
For reducing infants and under-5 mortality rate, HIGH.
For lowering HIV and malaria prevalence, HIGH. (I will get back to this later.)
For ensuring environmental sustainability: proportion of households with access to safe drinking water and to sanitary toilet facility: HIGH.
The numbers may be found in the UNDP Web page, www.undp.org.ph.
Last month, just before the elections, the United Nations Millennium Campaign released the results of its “I Vote for MDG” survey, conducted to get the public's opinion on the issues that should be given priority by the next administration. More than 7,000 Filipinos of voting age – government workers, students, skilled laborers, housewives, health professionals and others from all walks of life -- were asked to participate in the survey.
The results: poverty alleviation and access to basic education should be the next administration's top concerns.
Indeed the incoming administration will play a critical role in the attainment of the MDGs. After all, in the reckoning year of 2015, the country will be under the presidency of the same man who's going to take his oath on June 30. Mr. Aquino will be not judged by how he is able to bring change in any unconventional, headline-grabbing way but by how he is able to deliver extraordinary results on these fundamental aspects of governance.
So there's got to be a “breakthrough plan,” something to ensure that significant gains are made in ALL goals, not only in some, and that these advances are felt by ALL Filipinos, not just some citizens, says Salil Shetty, global director for the Millennium Campaign.
The new administration can take the cue from the survey, which says it must give priority to alleviating poverty and improving access to basic education. Or it could refer to the assessment of the rate of progress, which says the Philippines is not likely to meet its targets in (again) primary education as well as in maternal health and reproductive health services. The UN also emphasizes that there is great disparity among the country's various regions in terms of the goals. The gains being made in Metro Manila are not necessarily being felt in the other regions. This is a daunting task in itself.
It becomes especially problematic since Aquino has never quite made clear where he really stands on the issue of reproductive health. He was one of the authors of the House version of the bill but over the course of the campaign, he has made vague and conflicting statements on the matter. Perhaps now that he has actually won the elections, Mr. Aquino would feel less inhibited to take a firm stand, once and for all. There is no room for indecision here.
Likewise, the assessment does not take into consideration very recent developments in
the fight against HIV and AIDS. Early last month I wrote in this space about the extraordinary increase in the number of reported cases of HIV and AIDS. Using the January 2010 figures, there are now four to five cases reported per day whereas there was one case every two days reported in 2000. Again, indecisiveness is the enemy here. The high-probability assessment given to us by the UNDP in this area may just as easily become a low-probability one if nothing is done. And no, the problem won't go away by itself. We need to know how the President-in-waiting feels about condoms and informed choice. And whether he is prepared to act on these convictions.
Mr. Aquino has said that one of the first things he would do upon assuming office is to run after corrupt officials and cronies of the Arroyo administration. I laud this zeal to set things aright; it is always good to go after those who have unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of the people. Corruption brings the country down a few notches before investors. It is also counterproductive and anti-MDG. The diverted funds could have been used to build roads, schools and health facilities.
But it is better to display the zeal non-selectively. Going after the corrupt means doing so regardless of their political affiliation. Administration, opposition, “independent” -- they are all the same. Mr. Aquino will only show his sincerity in stamping out corruption if he uses an even hand in running after the corrupt regardless of their political color. Doing otherwise would betray that he is just a traditional politician even as he has succeeded in persuading the electorate he isn't so.
At the end of the day, it's not compliance with numerical goals and standing before the international community that matters. It's making a difference for Filipino people who deserve to do more than just drift to day to day. If there's going to be payback, let that payback be made not to donors, supporters and endorsers but only to the people who gave Mr. Aquino a resounding mandate.