Socially advanced

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Friday, April 4, 2014

ON April 4, 2014, The New Zealand Herald had a one-half page headline that read, “Celebrate New Zealand,” as the nation was rated as the most socially advanced country in the world, according to the Social Progress Imperative, a Washington-based think-tank. The next four are: Switzerland, Iceland, Netherland and Norway. The Philippines is 56th in the list.

SPI ranked New Zealand (88.24) first out of 130 countries using 54 indicators of social progress. The nation of 4-million plus is ahead on indicators of personal rights and freedoms, the top four for water and sanitation, access to schooling and tertiary education, and tolerance and inclusion of minority groups. In obtained low rate in three indicators: 28, nutrition and basic medical care; 35, health and well-being; and 32, ecosystem sustainability.

Having lived in New Zealand for nearly ten years, I can generally agree with the ranking. The country is a genuine working democracy with people voting freely for their preferred candidates or parties.


The electoral process is based on honesty, as electorates simply fill up their ballots and mail these back to the election office. Losing candidates concede promptly and protests are a rarity. Public officials do not expect royal treatment as most people do not know or really care much about them.

Just a few days ago, in a farewell activity for a justice in the High Court I attended, the Supreme Court Chief Justice was present. She did not have a speaking part nor was she formally acknowledged. She simply mingled with everyone, without any air of importance.

Everyone is given access to education with free education in public elementary and high schools. The Government provides interest-free loans to students wanting to pursue a degree in the university. Once graduates work, automatic deduction is made on their salaries whether in government or private employment.

The New Zealand society is seen as highly liberal with prostitution legalized and same-sex marriage recognized. It is a fact that everyone has come to accept, including those with conservative views.

Food is affordable, but nutrition is ranked low, as people tend to gravitate to fast foods and takeaways (food-to-order) resulting in obesity becoming a problem.

But what surprised me is why basic medical care, health, well-being and ecosystem sustainability got low grades, when citizens are provided subsidies for medicine and hospitalization, and care for the environment is evidenced by efficient sanitation and segregated garbage collection; and strict environmental policies and enforcements.

There is much to be learned from New Zealand, as it has put to work what is legislated (it does not have a Constitution). The Philippines has such a well-intentioned Charter, and hundreds of laws that aim to attain the aspirations of the Filipino people. There is no reason that it should rank 56th, if we observed the spirit of the law, and lived accordingly to our vision.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 05, 2014.


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