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UPDATE (Philippines): A mother of an infant who died from severe malnutrition dies; illness worsen by lack of food, medicines

In our previous appeal HA-26-2005, we have mentioned that John Paul Mahinay died from severe malnutrition in September 2005. His death had been aggravated by lack of food and the abject poverty his family had long been experiencing. His parents, who could not afford buy him milk powder, had to feed him with a soup from boiled grind rice. His family was also struggling to feed themselves.

UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Update on Hunger Alert

13 November 2007

[RE: HA-26-2005: PHILIPPINES: Infant dies of severe malnutrition and a hunger related disease in General Santos City, Mindanao]
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HU-006-2007: PHILIPPINES: A mother of an infant who died from severe malnutrition dies; illness worsen by lack of food, medicines

PHILIPPINES: Hunger and starvation; lack of medical assistance; government neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deeply regrets to inform you that the mother of an infant who died from severe malnutrition has herself died in General Santos City. On October 31, Maricel Mahinay, mother of John Paul, died from an illness aggravated by lack of food and the abject poverty her family had long been experiencing. She died a day after she was taken to a public hospital for treatment. She was three months pregnant. Her family and relatives could not even afford to cover the cost of a piece of land in a public cemetery where she would be laid to rest. They exhumed the remains of her deceased father, burned his casket and reinterred them together.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

In our previous appeal HA-26-2005, we have mentioned that John Paul Mahinay died from severe malnutrition in September 2005. His death had been aggravated by lack of food and the abject poverty his family had long been experiencing. His parents, who could not afford buy him milk powder, had to feed him with a soup from boiled grind rice. His family was also struggling to feed themselves.

When the attention of the local government in General Santos City was drawn to his death, they sent social workers to evaluate the living conditions of the family. However, apart from interviewing and giving them health cards, no adequate assistance was given to help them alleviate their condition. They also did not consider the family qualified for adequate social services because she had relatives who are government employees.

In the Philippines, evaluations are made by social workers before the affected family is given assistance. However, social workers failed to consider though that even her relatives are struggling to support their own family and to support hers would be insufficient. The social workers nevertheless were not convinced that her family should be classified as eligible and that they had no possibility of obtaining other means of assistance.  They instead suggested that the blame for their condition should be placed on her relatives for not helping her family.

Maricel's illness was aggravated by the family's lack of food and inability to buy medicines for her and to have medical checkups. The health cards given to them have limited coverage making it impossible for her to completely recover. Also, despite the fact that they gave her health cards they failed to properly inform her of how to use them in seeking medical attention at the health centers for checkups. The situation was aggravated by the fact that she could not even afford to pay for the transportation to go to the health centers.

Maricel's family has likewise been needlessly ridiculed and humiliated in their village. The people in their village supposedly responsible for ensuring their constituent's welfare took turns ridiculing them for exposing their plight. Not only has Maricel's family suffered abject poverty, hunger and starvation in their community, their desperate living conditions has become a social stigma there. Other affected families are forced to keep silent to avoid being ridiculed or humiliated. They too fear from reprisals by local leaders once they are exposed to have neglected their duties.

Maricel was also told by the social workers interviewing her that she could have informed them first and settle the matter amongst them. The report of the death of Maricel's son prompted the city's mayor to reprimand his local social workers for their neglect. Since the incident, however, there has not been any adequate assistance given to them. In one instance, when Maricel asked her fellow villagers about why her seven-year-old son, Daryll, could not get rations for milk powder, she was told her son age exceeds the age limit for recipients.

Maricel died from complications in a public hospital on 31 October 2007. She was three months pregnant. Her illness had been aggravated by lack of sufficient food, regular medications and medical checkups, and abject poverty she and her family had long been experiencing. They never obtained any appropriate or adequate assistance.

Since they could not afford to buy a piece of land for her tomb, Maricel's family had to exhume the tomb of her deceased father in a public cemetery in Uhaw, General Santos City. They collect his remains before burning his casket. It would be the same tomb where Maricel would be laid to rest. On November 10, Maricel and the exhumed remains of her deceased father were laid to rest in one tomb.

Maricel was survived by her son, Daryll, and husband, Darwin. Daryll now lives with his grandparent. Daryll has since been showing signs of depression. The boy had already lost his interest of going to school. His studies have also been hampered by the family's desperate condition. His father remains no sufficient source of livelihood to support his son.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The case of Maricel's family is one of the many examples of a widespread and endemic condition of abject poverty there. It illustrates the weakness and ineffectiveness of the mechanism for intervention on social services by the government particularly on cases of hunger and starvation which requires their prompt and adequate assistance.

Under the law, the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8425) requires the government to take action to alleviate poverty. However, once cases of hunger and starvation are reported, social services for affected families are hardly obtained. Often some of the local governments deny that incidents of hunger and starvation take place. The interviews they are conducting on affected families, once their plight is reported, are often made more of confirming their bias instead of adequately helping them.

This was the case when the AHRC reported the starvation of families displaced by fighting in nearby municipality of T'Boli, South Cotabato HA-22-2005. The local officials and social workers in General Santos City conducted inquiry into the incident. They concluded in their inquiry that there was no starvation incident there. The social workers argued that some of the heads of the affected families could even afford to buy cigarettes, which implies that they could have afford to buy food but they prefer to support their vice instead.

However, the manner the inquiry was conducted on that case was inappropriate. The social workers and local officials gathered all villagers in a meeting and asked them in open public whether they were hungry or starving. What they have done, however, have denied opportunity for the villagers to raise their concerned openly. The consultation they have done was farcical that despite a glaring state of abject poverty in the area none of them admitted they and their children suffers from hunger, starvation and malnutrition.

Furthermore, even though the government allocates funds to provide burial assistance for indigent victims, for instance Maricel, this too could hardly be obtained. Once the indigent have no connections with the local government, or those in charge in processing for financial assistance they would never obtain any as it happens in this case. Her family and relatives are not even aware of any burial assistance that has been offered to them. When she died, her relatives could hardly afford to her buy casket and pay for a space in a public cemetery where she would be laid to rest. The cost for her burial was Php 10,000 (USD 233). Her relatives, however, have only been able to raise Php 5,000 (USD 117) barely enough for her casket.

It has been noted that the severe depression brought about by abject poverty has resulted in the increase in suicides, even among children. Some of these were reported in the public; however, the response to this phenomenon is negligible. This case represents a small fraction though of cases of hunger, starvation and abject poverty that vastly goes unreported.

For instance, in November 2006, Dennis Talag of Sta. Cruz, Metro Manila, hanged himself after he could no longer bear the suffering of his family due to hunger and abject poverty. In June 2007, Teodoro Pacuio and his wife, Lorena, 39, both committed suicides together after telling their relatives they could no longer bear living in abject poverty. Teodoro hanged himself with an electrical cord while Lorena engulfed three bottles of insecticide. The couple was residents of Camarines Sur.

A recent suicide case was that of a 12-year-old girl, Mariannet Amper, of Ma-a in Davao City. She hung herself due to severe depression. Her family has long been facing abject poverty and was unable to give her and her other siblings money for their school project, transportation and food allowance in going to school.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Send letters to the concerned authorities urging them to ensure that the surviving family of Maricel, particularly her seven-year-old son, is afforded with adequate and appropriate assistance they require. The boy and his father must be included in food rations. The boy must also be admitted for counseling to treat his depression and ensure that he is given assistance to continue his studies. They must also ensure that the boy's father is given an alternative source of livelihood to enable him to support his son.

An inquiry must also be conducted as to why the local government has failed to provide necessary assistance for Maricel and her family. Those found to have neglected their duties and failed to ensure their welfare in accordance with the provisions of RA 8425 and of giving burial assistance for indigents should be held to account.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

PHILIPPINES: Mother of an infant who died from severe malnutrition dies; illness worsen by lack of food, medicines

Name of the victim: Maricel Mahinay, 22 years old. Her son John Paul died from severe malnutrition in September 2005.
Location: Purok 8, Lanton, Barangay (village) Apopong, General Santos City, Mindanao
Brief details: Maricel died on 31 October 2007 due to acute pneumonia. Her illness had been aggravated by their family's lack of food and continuing abject poverty. Her family could not afford for her regular medication and could hardly buy food to eat

I am shocked to learn about the death of Maricel Mahinay, mother of an 11-month-old infant, John Paul, who has died of severe malnutrition two years ago. Similar to her son, Maricel's illness was aggravated by the continuing lack of food and abject poverty her family had been experiencing. John Paul's illness was also born by hunger and starvation.

While I acknowledge the action taken by the local government when John Paul's death was first reported in General Santos City, however, the intervention has not been sufficient. In fact, the affected family is themselves being subjected to ridicule by some villagers, some are supposedly responsible in ensuring the social welfare of their constituents there. Though the local social workers had come to her place and interviewed her. But apart from giving them health cards there has not been any other assistance afforded to them.

They were also not included as beneficiary for social service for reasons that she had relatives working in the government. It is disappointing that the evaluation on Maricel's family centered on her relatives and not on her and her family's condition which eventually made them to conclude that she does not qualify for social service. This is contrary to the provision of the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8425) in which evaluation of affected person and families suffering abject poverty should have been on them. Even her relatives are themselves struggling to support their own family and to support hers would be insufficient.

Also, it is disappointing that even Maricel's seven-year-old son, Daryll, have not been included in rations of milk powder for reasons that he exceeds the age limit. Although the social workers do provide health cards, they failed to properly assist them in seeking assistance from health centers. It is also disappointing that although the family could hardly buy food to eat, their failure to visit health centers for lack of money to pay for transportation, have instead been blamed on them. I am concerned that this systematic neglect aggravates the deprivation of adequate assistance for the affected family. I am not aware of any concrete action taken to alleviate the suffering the family had been experiencing.

Even after Maricel's death, the local government has failed to ensure that necessary burial assistance is afforded to her. For lack of money in paying for a piece of land where she would be laid to rest, her family and relative's had to exhume her deceased father's tomb. Maricel had to be laid to rest with her father in the latter's tomb. I am aware that indigents should have been given burial assistance, and it is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure this. However, I am deeply disappointed of that never took place. It is disappointing that a person, whose illness had been aggravated by lack of food and abject poverty, could not even have descent burial in public cemetery.

I urge you to look into why the local authority has failed in providing burial assistance to Maricel and to her family despite being fully aware of their desperate condition. The neglect by the concerned authorities to help Maricel and her family at the time they requires them the most, and even after her death, is completely unacceptable. I am deeply concerned by the inability by authorities in addressing problem of this nature. As you are aware, this is one of the many examples of families experiencing immense poverty; and failure to effectively address this problem is depriving them of social services.

Finally, once again I urge you to save the lives of Maricel's surviving family by giving them appropriate and adequate assistance. Please ensure that Maricel's son, Daryll, would be able to continue his schooling. He must be provided with necessary assistance to ensure that he completes his studies.  Also provide him necessary counseling to ensure his full psychological recovery. I have been informed that the boy have had bouts of severe depression, for instance, losing interest of going to school due to his family's condition. His father, Darwin, should also be given an alternative livelihood to enable him to support his son.

I am looking forward for your immediate action in this case.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Pedro Acharon Jr.
City Mayor
Office of the City Mayor
City Hall Building
General Santos City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 83 554 4212
E-mail: cmo@gensantos.gov.ph

2. Ms. Zorahayda T. Taha
Regional Director
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD XII)
Koronadal Gymnasium
Koronadal City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 83 228-3180
E-mail: FO12@dswd.gov.ph

3. Mrs. Esperanza I. Cabral
Secretary
Department of Social Welfare and Development
3/F DSWD Building, Batasang Pambansa Complex,
Constitution Hills
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 931 7916 / 931 8068
Fax: +63 2 931 8191
E-mail: eicabral@dswd.gov.ph

4. Sec. Domingo Panganiban
Lead Convenor
National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC)
3rd Floor, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)
Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Trunkline Nos. +63 2 426-5028/ +63 2 426-5019/+63 2 426-4965/+63 2 426-4956
Fax: +63 2 927 9838
E-mail: secdfp@napc.gov.ph

5. Atty. Quinciano V. Bueno
Officer-in-Charge
Commission on Human Rights (CHR XII)
Pascua Building,
Arellano St.
Koronadal City
PHILIPPINES
Telefax: +63 83 520 0615
E-mail: chr12orcity@yahoo.com

6. Mr. Jesli A. Lapus
Secretary
Department of Eduction (DepEd)
DepEd Complex, Meralco Avenue
Ulra complex, Pasig City
Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 633 7208
Fax: +63 2 636 4876
E-mail: osec@deped.gov.ph

7. Dr. Nicolas Alipui
Resident representative
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)
31/F Yuchengco Tower, RCBC Plaza
Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave
Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 901-0173
Fax: +63 2 901-0195
E-mail: manila@unicef.org

8. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Room 4-066, C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel.: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

9. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 655 4413
E-mail: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programmes
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

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