Tanja Lumba is a senior economic analyst and program officer on information disclosure for Action for Economic Reforms (AER). This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, September 19, 2005 edition, page 5/S1.

Five years have passed since 189 nations signed a pact at a UN summit to improve worldwide social and economic conditions by committing to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.  The MDGs aim to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, provide universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. Unlike previous goals which were mere rhetoric, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General KofiAnnan described the MDGs as measurable, time-bound and achievable.  One can surmise that the MDGs constitute but the bare minimum for a decent humane existence.

That less developed countries (LDCs) will actually achieve all eight MDGs on time seems to be more of a dream than a reality. A report released by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the UN Development Program and the Asian Development Bank entitled, “A Future Within Reach,” expressed concerns and doubts whether LDCs within the Asia-Pacific region, (where approximately 60% of the world’s population belong), would actually achieve these goals.  The inability of countries within this region to keep their part of the bargain will have great repercussions on overall welfare and shape the global picture in 2015.

The Philippines is racing against time as it continues to grapple with insufficient revenues, a growing population that needs increased funding in social services, coupled with a long and drawn-out political crisis. The $8.5 billion worth of remittances is a major factor that continues to keep the economy afloat during these challenging times.

However, the government would like to paint a different picture and is quick to announce that under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, more jobs were created and Filipinos are less poor. Although official records show a decline in poverty and unemployment figures, several sectors are questioning government statistics and argue that the downtrend can be attributed to a change in statistical methods and definitions, thus not accurately depicting the country’s real state of affairs.

Meanwhile, it is not surprising that 2002–2003 data on participation, survival, and completion rates for the elementary school level are all below government’s target brought about by the low investments in the education sector.

In addition to this, the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), reveals that out of 1,000 live births, 40 children will die before reaching the age of five.  Although steadily declining since 1993, a quick comparison with Malaysia and Thailand’s under-five mortality rate of 8 and 28 per 1,000 live births, respectively, clearly shows that the Philippines is lagging behind its neighbors in providing the proper level of health care for Filipinos.

The government has not made significant strides either in protecting our environment.  The country continues to suffer from severe deforestation, declining fish production and inefficient waste management. According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), approximately 100,000 hecatres of forests are lost every year, 70% of coral reefs are destroyed and the country’s food security is threatened by overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

Given the grim situation the counrty is in, 10 years may be too short a time for us to achieve the MDGs.  The bigger question is whether the government is at all serious in securing the future of the next generation beyond the MDG deadline of 2015.  Only when the government decides to stop prioritizing debt payments, and shift the much needed resources to provide social services and curb corruption, can we be assured of a better future.  If not, then the Filipinos’ aspiration to be be healthier, more educated and thus more productive—at least to be abreast of or better than our Asian neighbors—will remain an elusive dream.