Numbers rule the world but they matter most to the poor



The Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Canaman, Camarines Sur campus caps a two-day face-to-face seminar-workshop on “Using Simplified Statistics for Researchers” today, March 18. What a way to start the week after the grueling high-stakes national automated elections last May 9, where numbers ruled the mainstream and social media headlines. The plurality of numbers finally decides the outcome of the elections: who are the victors and losers.


In my opening talk last Monday, I welcomed the invited resource speaker, Dr. Cesar B. Bermundo, author of “Simplified Statistics for Beginners,” and bid the organizers and the 30 participants an enjoyable learning experience about a complex matter as statistics. It is a tijdig, a Dutch word for “napapanahon na,” a timely event to study the value of giving meaning to the meaningless numbers that come our way into data and information. The seminar was designed as a simplified crash course for beginners looking at the module. By understanding basic statistics to interpret the relationship of the volume of numbers that come our way, the system will equip everyone at Mariners with essential tools to use in their respective fields of work and for overall development work with communities.


Not everybody, even in the academe, can work comfortably with numbers. But whether we like it or not, numbers are an inevitable part of our whole being. We cannot live without numbers. We count everything, not only money and age but our friends and blessings. Numbers can mean a lot to all people. For those in management and planning, numbers are essential to create better marketing strategies. They influence decisions related to business performance and investments. Our confidence and ability to handle numbers can impact our lives socially, financially, professionally, and health-wise. We use numbers to count how many push-ups, walks, jogs, treadmills to do, how many pounds to shed off, the size of servings for our diet, and practically everything that affects our health and wellbeing. Numbers rule us from cradle to graveyard that covers the cost of living and dying.


The last electoral campaigns were all about numbers. What were the biggest mobilizations of people in political rallies that reached a million people in various places in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao? Who were the biggest campaign spenders, had the most posters, buntings, tarpaulin billboards, social media, print media ads, or the biggest number of TikTok and Google trending appearances? For the social activists, numbers play a vital role in conducting education and training, house-to-house campaigns, and community organizing.


The life of those who gamble their luck in the lotto, sweepstakes and casinos, also revolves around numbers and the game of chance. In some of my visits to TBM communities, I met people I presume to have or are still engaged in illegal gambling activities. They will not say or admit it, but occasional betting in jueteng, a popular numbers game in Bicol, is just for fun or for “emergency” to survive, just in case they win. Some are into mahjong and Cara y Cruz, which involve betting big or small money. I am amused at how bettors use a lot of probability applications like in classical calculus, proud of their own “sets of combinations” of numbers which they insist are proven true and tested.


Numbers, the poor, and the state


For the layman and ordinary people in the poor communities, however, numbers are more attached to their day-to-day life of survival amid the Pandemic and the worsening economic crisis. They cannot count the days of having a complete set of meals in a day or having money to buy their minimum basic needs. Numbers matter most to the poor.


Arlyn, a member of Ilaw ng Kababaihan in Camarines Sur, is now in a far-flung barangay in Nueva Ecija to take care of her brother. Brother is hanging on to life after a motor accident two days before election day. Arlyn is from a poor farming family who lives in the flooded Barangay of Haring in Canaman. She immediately took a bus from Naga and paid P1,200 to travel to Cubao and then to Cabanatuan, riding on kulong kulong, the counterpart tri-mobile in Bicol, for four hours, spending almost 200 pesos to reach her brother. He had waited for hospital care. Jobless in Bicol, her 30-year-old younger brother found work in Nueva Ecija through friends in a landowner’s palayan. Arlyn messaged Ilaw for help to bring her brother home to Bicol. With TBM’s advice to seek government assistance as politicians promised right where her brother met his accident, Arlyn managed to go around the tedious bureaucratic process to seek medical care at Nueva Ecija’s public hospital. Meanwhile, Arlyn’s little savings are almost gone each day as she counts the amount of money she has to spend while waiting for her brother’s urgent medical action. With elections over, will she get the promised help?


Numbers speak for themselves. Like most regions in the country, Bicol remains poor, underdeveloped, and backward. The number of families without access to hospital care, shelter, jobs, food, and education increases. In terms of poverty rate incidence, 27 in every 100 Bicolanos were poor in 2018, according to NEDA. Still, before the Pandemic, though considered among the country’s poor regions, the region is said to have significantly improved its growth status. Poor Filipinos have now risen to over 26 million, below 25% of the population. In 2021, a family of five needed on average PhP12,082 a month to meet their minimum basic food and non-food needs. The number is 14.7 percent higher than the monthly average amount of PhP10,532 to meet the minimum basic needs of a family of five in 2018.


Statistics, after all, is not just about interpreting the numbers into quantifiable data. Statistics originated from the state’s need to govern and reform it, hence the ‘stat’ part of the name. I am hopeful that by adopting a bigger perspective on numbers and leveling up the study on statistics for the academic community, we help raise the capacity of the Mariners System comprising the three campuses in Legazpi City, Albay, Naga City and Canaman, Camarines Sur in its continuing journey for excellence in maritime education and training through meaningful research and development work.