POSTSCRIPT / January 23, 2020 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Session in Batangas: El sitio nada importa

EL SITIO nada importa,” Rizal said in his último adiós more than 120 years ago. The place, he suggested, does not really matter.

But while the patriot’s thoughts were on his impending execution in December 1896, those of the House of Representatives convening in Batangas City yesterday as a “committee of the whole” were focused on the imminent disastrous eruption of Taal Volcano.

House leaders wanted an on-the-spot committee hearing on the plight of Batangueños displaced by the restless volcano that started to belch ash-laden steam the other Sunday. They wanted to listen to the distressed folk right where they are.

The migration of sorts to Batangas of the 300-odd congressmen with their staff, security and assorted hangers-on not only added drama to whatever House leaders wanted to do, but also complicated the rescue and relief work in the disaster area.

Legislation is processed best in the Batasan chamber in Payatas, Quezon City. El sitio nada importa, but politicians seeking national projection cannot let the publicity possibilities of Taal’s tantrums pass unexploited.

The idea was to show congressmen listening to representatives of displaced Taal victims in Laguna, Cavite and Batangas as well as to those who have been helping them since Day One.

The House committee on disaster management has been consolidating data for a “feasible, strategic and comprehensive rehabilitation plan” and a proposed Department of Disaster Resilience.

The Congress, incidentally, still has to look into another movement – the minimally regulated influx of Chinese from the mainland some of whom could be carrying the deadly new coronavirus for which a vaccine or cure has not been found.

Before it is too late, Philippine authorities should take quick and resolute action to filter out arrivals from infected areas who could be carrying the virus.

Some cases have been reported in the Philippines, possibly with several others having slipped through the loose entry screening for Chinese, including those from Wuhan where the coronavirus was first detected.

There is a direct flight from Wuhan to Kalibo for tourists bound for Boracay. Elsewhere, including the Manila international airport, hordes of Chinese land visa-free without a tight check on the possibility of their carrying the virus.

El sitio es muy importante on this public health issue. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that a patient arriving in Washington state from Wuhan was treated for an illness and found with the virus.

In China, there have been nearly 440 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection among humans with at least nine deaths. Other cases have also been confirmed in Japan, Thailand, and South Korea.

This is not a brief against Chinese visitors. It just so happened that the outbreak started in Wuhan, with the possibility of underreporting of cases, and has appeared elsewhere, including the Philippines.

The Lunar New Year holiday, which starts this weekend, will see accelerated travel, making checking of visitors even before they arrive more imperative.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization set an urgent committee meeting yesterday to ascertain if the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what to do about it.

 Davos forum too distant for Filipinos?

AN important site is Davos, Switzerland, where some 3,000 government and business leaders have gathered for the 50th annual World Economic Forum to discuss the theme “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.”

Reading the agenda and accounts of the discussion, a Filipino may feel he is light years away from Davos, known as a spa and skiing resort before 450 world leaders were convened there half-century ago for a European Management Symposium that evolved into the WEF.

A report published at the WEF has placed the Philippines at 61st place out of 82 countries in social mobility, or the ability of an individual to move up from his socioeconomic level compared to that of his parents or ancestors.

The report gave the Philippines a mobility score of 51.7, at the bottom half of all countries surveyed. It was behind most of its neighbors in Southeast Asia such as Singapore (20th), Malaysia (43rd), Vietnam (50th), and Thailand (55th). However, it outperformed Indonesia (67th) and Laos (72nd).

Japan was the highest-ranked Asian country at 15th, while China was 45th. The top 10 globally were Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In a report written for the WEF, Rosamond Hutt said that moving up the socio-economic ladder takes generations, and that it happens much faster in some countries. She wrote:

“Denmark ranks top of the new index, which finds the five Nordic nations and parts of Europe outperform the rest of the world when it comes to giving everyone the chance to succeed.

“If you were born into a poor family in Denmark, it would take at least two generations to reach the median income, or three in Sweden, Finland and Norway. In France it would take six generations, and nine in Brazil or South Africa.

“The index assesses the current state of social mobility in 82 economies around the world, looking at factors such as healthcare, education, social protection, access to technology, fair wages and work opportunities.

“It also estimates the cost of low social mobility in terms of lost economic growth – more than $1 billion over 10 years for China, and more than $850 million for the US.

“There is huge disparity between the regions: 17 of the top 20 most socially mobile societies are in Europe, two are in Asia (Japan, 15th and Australia, 16th), and one (Canada 14th) is in North America. Sub-Saharan Africa includes five of the bottom 10 countries in the index.

“Within regions, there are also wide gaps between the best and worst performers. The US (27th) and Britain (21st) are lagging behind their peers.

“Among the major developing economies, the Russian Federation is placed 39th, China is 45th, Brazil is 60th, Turkey ranks 64th, Mexico ranks 58th, India is 76th and South Africa is 77th.

“The Nordic countries provide high quality and equitable education systems, strong social safety nets and inclusive institutions alongside job opportunities and good working conditions.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 23, 2020)

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