Privilege speech on the status of the Philippines in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

UPDATED: We have updated this post to include the actual speech that Sen. Cayetano delivered in the Senate on March 8, 2011 on the occasion of International Women’s Day. An anti-RH blogger recently cried ‘plagiarism,’ citing the February 23, 2011 draft speech on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which was inadvertently posted on this site. We chose not to remove the undelivered draft speech for everyone’s reference. Those who wish to verify this speech may click on the Senate Journal No.72 dated March 8, 2011. Relevant pages are pages 4 and 9:!.pdf We have taken the necessary measures to prevent such oversight in the future, and we thank all well-meaning individuals, including bloggers, for immediately calling our attention on this matter.

Privilege Speech* of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chairperson, Senate Committees on Health and Demography
and on Youth, Women and Family Relations

Senate Plenary
March 8, 2011 (International Women’s Day)

“A baby is a blessing. No one can dispute that. But every baby deserves a decent life.

“To begin with, every baby deserves a mother. In the Philippines, 11 mothers die from childbirth every single day. That means hundreds of infants and all their older siblings will grow up without knowing what it is like to have a mother. They will never see their mother’s smile. They will never be held in her arms, nor enveloped in her love.

“I can cite many more figures, I can read my 10-page speech but in this case, I believe less words will make a bigger impact.

“Let me just take two minutes of your time to open your eyes to the plight of women and children. My office hosted a film showing this afternoon here in the Senate along with the Mu Sigma Phi fraternity which shared with us the entries to the 2nd Quisumbing Escandor Film Festival. With us in the gallery are some of the people that made our film showing possible.”

(Sen. Cayetano proceeded to acknowledge her guests in the gallery including: Dr. Danilo Alpapara of the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity, which co-sponsored the film showing; Donnie Sacueza, director of ‘Ang Ina,’ one of the documentaries shown earlier at the Tanada Room; Edgar Baltazar, director of, ‘Tinalikdan’; Aiza Jane Idanan, director of ‘Limang Libo’; and Dr. Anthony Cordero, director of the UP-Manila Center for Gender and Women Studies. After which, a two-minute documentary on the state of maternal and child health was screened in plenary.)

* Note: To mark March 8 as International Women’s Day, Sen. Pia Cayetano was originally scheduled to deliver a 10-page privilege speech on the status of the commitments of the Philippines under the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The speech was to focus on MDGs 4 (Reducing Child Mortality) and 5 (Improve Maternal Health), where the country has been performing poorly. She was, however, requested to give way to interpellations on the proposed GOCC Governance Act of 2011(SBN 2640). She delivered this brief, impromptu speech instead.


Privilege speech on the status of the Philippines in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

By: Sen. Pia S. Cayetano
23 February 2011

“Will the Philippines deliver, and how?”

Mr. President, in the 2007 report of Social Watch Philippines, entitled “Missing Targets, An alternative MDG midterm report,” this very crucial question was posed to gauge the capacity of our country to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

Indeed, the numbers from the 2003, 2005 and 2007 reports may depict an encouraging picture of the Philippines on the sure road to meeting the MDGs. However, a closer look of the whole situation may prove otherwise, shattering the rosy colored picture before us.

Since numbers can be adjusted to fit our concept of what reality is, it is important to consider a “better” indicator- do these numbers correspond with the real and actual situation.

Mr. President, the sad reality is that a lot of Filipino families still live under the poverty line, children still suffer and die from diseases which should have been wiped out fifty years ago and mothers die while giving birth.

One of the agreements reached by the Women Parliamentarians in the 119th IPU General Assembly in Geneva last October 2008, Mr. President, is to support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for our respective countries, specifically Goal numbers 4 and 5 on Reduction of Child Mortality and Improvement of Maternal Health, respectively.

I rise, Mr. President, on a matter of personal and collective privilege to bring attention not only to MDGs 4 and 5, but on all eight MDGs because I believe that all these goals are interrelated and that we are running out of time in achieving all these goals by 2015.

What are the Millennium Development Goals?

On September 2000, the Philippines, together with member states of the United Nations, affirmed its commitments towards reducing poverty and the worst forms of human deprivation. The Member States adopted the Millennium Declaration which embodies specific targets and milestones in eliminating extreme poverty worldwide.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions -income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. There are 8 goals and 18 targets set within 2015. The following are the eight goals:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Status of the Philippines in achieving the MDGs

Without doubt, Mr. President, these goals embody the basic social services that we owe our people, as elected leaders of the land.

Keeping track and monitoring our progress in terms of achieving the MDGs is important as it will guide our government in coming up with long and short term programs and projects as well as in ensuring that the allocation of resources are aligned with the achievement of these goals.

Where is the Philippines now in terms of achieving these goals? Are we on the right track? Can we achieve these goals by 2015, four years from now?

The government, through the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), which is the agency tasked to oversee the achievement of these goals, says that the Philippines is on track with majority of the MDG targets. However, it admits that there is a danger that the country will not be able to achieve Goals 2 (to achieve universal primary education) and 5 (to improve maternal health) by the year 2015.

If the government reports that most of the MDGs will be attained by 2015, Social Watch, an international network formed by several national citizens’ groups aimed at following up the fulfillment of internationally agreed commitments on poverty eradication and equality, on the other hand, claims otherwise.

Social Watch emphasizes that most of the goals will not be fully met, judging from MDG performance for the past seven years. It ranks the Philippines as very low in the Basic Capabilities Index or (BCI) on a global scale. The BCI is based on three indicators: percent of children reaching Grade 5, Under-5 mortality, and percentage of births attended by health personnel.

The 2006 report of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and ADB also shows that the Philippines is falling further behind in relation to countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Mr. President, allow me to focus on a few goals.

On MDG No. 2 – Achieve universal primary education

The target of achieving universal primary education is said to be the most threatened goal among the eight MDGs and is feared that it is not likely to be achieved by 2015.

In the past, there was a time when the Philippines used to be the top education performers in Asia, along with Sri Lanka, Thailand and South Korea. Sadly, we are now left far behind by are our Asian neighbors. The following numbers would show us why.

The government admits that the key performance indicators on education have been consistently declining since 2001. Net enrolment, cohort survival (Note: defined as the percentage enrollees at the beginning grade or year in a given school year who reached the final grade or year of the elementary) and completion rates for both elementary and secondary levels were all down. In SY 2005-2006, participation rate in elementary education went down to 84.41% from 90.10% recorded in SY 2001-2002. Meanwhile, elementary cohort survival in SY 2005-2006 went down to 58.36% while the completion rate declined further to 56.76%.

Besides looking into the number of students going to school and being able to complete their studies, it is also important to look into the quality of education our students are receiving in schools. Indeed, the poor quality of education is clearly shown by the irregular and consistently low scores obtained by pupils in achievement tests administered by the Department of Education through the years. The increases in test results only show marginal improvement while the scores fall far short of the desirable level.

The low quality of education delivered by the public school system can also be gleaned from the poor performance of teachers in assessment tests, with some of them scoring no better than the students they teach.

School enrolment and performance indicators tell only half of the story of the current state of basic education in the Philippines. The other half tells about the continuing problem of illiteracy and the increasing number of children missing education. According to the Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) conducted in 2003, over half of Filipinos have had at most only elementary education while some 9% have not attended school at all. Only 34.7% of Filipinos had completed high school or had achieved higher education levels.

A significant number of Filipino children are outside the school system. There are about 11.6 million children and youth aged 6 to 24 years old not attending school. About half of them or 5.6 million belong to the age group 15-21 years old. Poverty and related factors are the main reasons cited for not attending school. Some 30.5 % cited employment as the reason for not attending school and 20% cited the high cost of education as the reason for not attending school; while another 11.8% cited housekeeping work.

Mr. President, is this the kind of education we want for our future leaders and citizens of this country? Are we to deprive our children of their basic human right to education? Are we to allow our country to be entrusted to illiterate and uneducated citizens? It is our responsibility to ensure equal access to quality education and the delivery of universal primary education, at the very least.

On MDG No. 5 – Improve maternal health

With respect to Goal 5, it was established that at the current rate of decline, the Philippines is unlikely to reach the MDG target for Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) by 2015. [1]

The Philippines is considered the country that has the worst health performance in Asia, with maternal mortality rate being among the highest in the region. It is said that the state of maternal health in the country is alarming with the MMR barely moving in the last five years and even worsening in many poor provinces.

In the Philippines, there are eleven (11) mothers dying during pregnancy and childbirth because of hypertension, postpartum hemorrhage, and pregnancy with abortive outcome, all constituting the top causes of maternal deaths in the country.

Most mothers prefer to give birth at home with the assistance of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). This becomes a problem since where mothers and newborns are distanced from life-saving interventions provided in health facilities by health professionals during intrapartum period, maternal and neonatal deaths are high. [2]

Mothers do not routinely choose to deliver in health facilities and avail of professional services due to several barriers such as (1) hostile hospital system, (2) poor interpersonal skills of staff, and (3) financial, physical, social and cultural constraints. [3]

Mr. President, as Thoraya Obaid once said, “No woman should die giving life.” To rear a life in one’s womb is a miracle and privilege in itself. Are we to allow our noble mothers and mothers-to-be to risk their lives every time they breathe life into this world?

On MDG 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Mr. President, MDG 6 is said to be achievable by 2015. But this statement is belied by statements from the Department of Health. In a news article last December 13, 2010, Health Secretary Enrique Ona noted that “the country’s threat of an HIV AIDS epidemic is now more evident than ever.” Dr. Eric Tayag, director of the National Epidemiology Center of the DOH, described the local HIV and AIDS epidemic as “fast and furious”. According to Dr. Tayag, “five years ago, the country counted 210 new cases per year, which was not even one case every day.” However, this year, the Philippines “has 1,500 cases, which is about five cases everyday. Before the President ends his term, we’ll have 9,800 new cases and the total number of persons living with HIV could reach 46,000.”

What’s more alarming about this is that most of those infected are young and in their most productive years —at between 20 and 34 years old. These involve mostly males engaging in unprotected sex with males and injecting drug users.

With respect to malaria and tuberculosis, Mr. President, it is also sad to note that while other neighboring countries have already reported zero cases, the Philippines is still short of attaining the zero malaria and TB cases.

What’s currently happening in our country, Mr. President, is the total opposite of what is sought to be achieved by MDG 6. Your Committee on Health and Demography will look into this for needed legislative measures to combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

On Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Mr. President, to be able to achieve environmental sustainability, there is a need to create sustainable cities. I am in the process of researching on models abroad with the end in view of filing a bill on how this can be adopted in our own country. In the meantime, I am about to file a bill on alternative and sustainable modes of transportation, which I have requested be part of the priority legislation of the Senate.

Summary of status

According to NEDA’s Philippine Midterm Progress Report on the MDGs, it is claimed that the country is likely to meet the targets on poverty, nutrition, dietary energy requirement, child mortality, HIV and AIDS, malaria, and access to safe drinking water and sanitary toilet facilities.

However, being on-track with these targets is not worth celebrating since there are still goals that I, the civil society, and even the government itself, fear would not be achieved.

There is urgent need to double or even triple our efforts to meet the targets on elementary participation rate, elementary cohort survival rate, elementary completion rate, gender equality in education, maternal mortality ratio, and access to reproductive health services for us to make this country better not merely for the sake of achieving the goals we committed to achieve but most importantly to be able to improve the lives of the Filipino people.

Role of the Senate in attaining the MDGs

Mr. President, looking at the MDG score card of the Philippines – whether based on the Philippine Midterm Progress Report prepared by NEDA or that of Social Watch – we can conclude and agree that there is still a lot to be done for the country to achieve these goals by 2015.

As legislators, we can help achieve the MDGs not only through the passage of legislation geared towards these goals, but more so, by ensuring that our budget includes provisions for programs which are in place or which have to be in place in order to achieve these goals.

Women’s Month Celebration

Mr. President, next week is already March. March is women’s month. The theme for this year is “Magna Carta of Women, Philippine CEDAW: In support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

In line with this, Mr. President, I call the attention of our government to prioritize the achievement of the MDGs. Most, if not all, of these goals directly affect women. We are all aware of the fact that in times of crisis, in times of poverty, when there is lack of availability of social services, women bear the brunt of the problem.

Mr. President, it is our obligation to ensure that our fellow Filipinos, especially our women, have access to a good education, good health, a clean environment, and to basic social services.

Call for the creation of a Committee On MDGs

I therefore take this opportunity, Mr. President, to call for the creation of a Committee on MDGs and move that this request be referred to the Committee on Rules.

The Committee on MDGs will have jurisdiction on all matters directly and principally relating to the achievement of the country’s commitment to the millennium development goals by 2015. The Committee will be tasked to ensure that all government agencies tasked to ensure the achievement of the eight goals are doing their obligation and are coordinating with each other.

It is appropriate to point out, Mr. President, that the House of Representatives already has a counterpart Special Committee on MDGs as early as February 2005. Thus, I believe that it is also high time for the Senate to also do its share in being able to make the Philippines on track with the MDGs.


Mr. President, let us not completely rely on the numbers. A simple look around us is enough reason for us to seriously rethink our actions and make the achievement of these MDGS a priority. For how long can we turn a blind eye on a child with an empty stomach, an out-of-school youth, a mother dying of child bearing?

I hope that with the support of the members of this august chamber, as well as the civil society, we will be able to help the concerned departments do their job for the improvement of the lives of the Filipino people.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] Decrease in trend is very slow. We should have halve it by 2000 and another half by 2015. More efforts to be exerted on this, very slow decline of MMR in past 20 years; present rate of decline not enough to reach MDG target of 52/100,000 LB in 2015; maternal deaths account for 14% of deaths among women of reproductive age; maternal death triggers other adverse consequences in families: orphans, loss of family care provider. (source: Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 Accelerating a Unified Strategy to Save Mothers, Newborns and Children, by Mario C. Villaverde MD, MPH, MPM, Undersecretary of Health)

2 Accelerating a Unified Strategy to Save Mothers, Newborns and Children, by Mario C. Villaverde MD, MPH, MPM, Undersecretary of Health

3 Ibid.

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