Bashing the Niño

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Saturday, January 19, 2013


AT THE centuries-old Santo Niño fiesta, eye-catching Sinulog buntings to lissome dancers can smudge “values that endure even after the sun goes out.” So can bickering politicians.

Who’ll elbow their way to first places in the stands, some ask. Will Gov. Gwen Garcia emerge from her Capitol bunker to shashay with a town troupe? Where will Acting Gov. Agnes Magpale sit?

In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan’s vessels carried the Niño icon up a pristine strait.

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Since 1970, quality of Mactan water has deteriorated as Cebu waste is recklessly dumped, University of San Carlos environmental monitoring reports.)

He presented the Niño to newly baptized Queen Juana, recounts chronicler Antonio Pigafetta. It vanished after Magellan was slain in the Battle of Mactan. Mariner Juan de Camus stumbled across the Niño 44 years later in ruins of a burnt house.

Today, the Niño is enshrined at Cebu's Basilica. Over the centuries, it has drawn crowds. Some are curious. Others go for a culture binge. Scores pray for help.

Some nights, an old tale goes, the Child walks the streets: Those who help what appears to be a bewildered Child end up blessed. At dawn, the Niño’s cloak is sometimes studded with amor seco. Some botanists shrug. Andropogan aciculatus proves this deforested country is semi-arid.

"How can the Sto. Niño today become refuge of families who are landless, jobless, homeless, hungry and who lack basic services? asks the Visayas Clergy Discernment Group. “Our celebrations will be like empty clanging cymbals (Amos 5:21-24) if (these) realities of the least of the Sto. Niño's brothers and sisters are not addressed effectively.”

Eastern Visayas staggers from having the most children deaths among 17 regions, the 2011 Family Health Survey found. Malnutrition continues to savage lives and 10 most affected Cebu barangays were in “a state of calamity.”

Majority of deaths are “inflicted indirectly by stunting and poor resistance to disease." Two of the biggest culprits are lack of vitamin A and zinc during the mother’s pregnancy and the child’s first two years of life,

In a recent study of the Philippines and 19 other countries, the British medical journal Lancet reports: “Under-nutrition is to blame for 3.5 million deaths among children aged under five each year-—more than a third of child deaths worldwide… Most fatalities occur in 20 countries, where targeted aid programs could swiftly address the problem.”

Rep. Tomas Osmeña announced, in May 2010, a P1 million bash at South Road Properties.

It would feature kilometer-long barbecue stalls queue, singing to fireworks, plus all of Osmeña's allies. Why, he’d chip in half-a-million bucks from his own pocket for the revelry.

On a P30,000 monthly salary? wondered GMA's Bobby Nalzaro. “How?” In the event, not a centavo went for malnourished mothers and kids. A pity.

Popular devotion “continues to animate the life of the people,” Jesuit psychologist Jaime Bulatato noted. But worship is sealed off, on a “split level,” from deeds. An official, who lights a taper to honoring the Child Sunday, has no qualms Monday on pocketing “Christmas gifts” from realigned funds courtesy of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Kids can’t wait. “Their name is today.” Striking a child in anger may be pardoned, George Bernard Shaw once wrote. “But a blow, against a child in cold blood,” as in the continued tolerance of malnutrition, is an obscenity. “Let the little children come to Me,” the Niño said.

(juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 20, 2013.

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