Do we really care? | Inquirer Opinion

Do we really care?

05:48 AM August 31, 2018

I was hungry …

And you formed humanities groups to discuss my hunger.

I was imprisoned …

And you crept off quietly to your church to pray for my release.


I was naked …

And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick …

And you knelt and thanked God for your health.


I was lonely …

And you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of God.


I was lonely …

And you left me alone to pray.

You seem so holy, so close to God …

But I am still hungry … and lonely … and cold …

~ author unknown ~

I was disturbed by the recent dynamics of rice supply and prices in the Philippines. Somehow, short supply was experienced simultaneously in several places, always a sure sign that there is a breakdown both in supply and distribution. Because I know that the country has enough money to import all the rice we need, then there must be some level of either mismanagement or intramurals within NFA. And whenever there is, all sorts of acrobatic explanations only tend to make matters worse. Because when people need food, only food can help.

There have been only a very few more times when a rice shortage became acute enough to become a political crisis. They were quickly taken resolved, too, as I recall. The present rice shortage and price hikes will be, too. I do not believe that the Duterte administration will allow this to become a full-blown political crisis when it has much more than what is needed to diffuse it. My concern is the poor, those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, the lowest 30 to 40% in the economic scale. They are not just statistics, they represent stomachs that ache from under-eating, they represent children crying and adults in despair It is most painful if they suffer not from a true rice shortage but from an agency’s mismanagement or internal conflict.

Meanwhile, while the hungry and the not-so-hungry are upset, it is not time for concerned officials to go through weak and insensitive explanations because this just worsens the situation. A sincere apology, a simple plan, followed quickly by action, would be a more effective communication. There is need to address the physical shortage. There is also need to assuage the fears of those adversely affected. A stomach ache is painful enough; panic will make it worse and raise the problem to the political level.

This rice shortage is quite ironic. Only recently, a national feeding program became a law, one of the most important and intelligent political decision taken. A national feeding program addresses the nutrition of millions of the youngest children in the public school system. It also creates a national opportunity for farmers to have a steady and assured market for vegetables. The program involves the parents and many other volunteers to do the preparation, the cooking, and the distribution of fresh hot meals to their target audiences. In short, an aura of caring emerges and participatory good citizenship is encouraged. I hope the law is funded very soon and implemented with dispatch. Our country and the world needs good news like this.

The poem above is a muted cry of the poor, those who have become victims to economic systems that prejudice the weak, to corruption in society in both the public and private sector, to hypocrisy of religion and help organizations who care more for their funding and sustainability than the urgent needs of those they were supposed to care for, and to a value system that mirrors the hierarchy of money and power. It is not about a rice shortage, it is about the greater shortage of compassion, humaneness and our sense of fairness.

For 35 years, I spent some time and resources to address this picture of grave inequality. I did not do so following the methodologies that others before me had used, simply because they were mostly ineffective, if not violent. There have been good examples, but those examples could not be replicated enough to reach the millions of families wallowing in poverty. Either the methodology was exception-oriented like helping the best or most deserving of the poor and therefore not for the ordinary or the weak, or a bureaucracy emerges from what was originally a passion-mission group. I acknowledge that most start with a purity of intention, even those who enter government, but end up eaten by a system that makes practitioners eventually ask, “What’s in it for me?” because they could not sustain their original purpose, “What is it that I can do for them?

Because solving the problem of poverty in the Philippines is like mission impossible, any and all attempts to alleviate and reduce it substantially truly seemed inconsequential. Many times, I got lazy, or tired, or just despaired that 35 years of effort would not amount to much. Once or twice, I even thought of going the political route, radical as they were. But even removing a president from office does not stop another corrupt one from coming in. Worse, even honest people are not necessarily committed to dismantling poverty as a primordial obligation, only as a necessary effort but not the flagship focus of governance.

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Yes, doubts and frustrations do affect me, but my conviction is clear and strong that poverty is, as some have said, man-made and can be unmade by man. There have been affirmations as well, good effective examples of both the attitude and methodology. There needs only more to follow those good examples. Most of all, I have realized that it is a value system that looks down on the poor that perpetuates poverty. Attention and resources are allocated according to our hierarchy of values. This is what we must transform, the reality that there are huge gaps in wealth and importance because these simply flow from the hierarchy of our values. It may not really be good governance we need, just good people who care about others.

TAGS: NFA, political crisis, Rice shortage, Rice supply

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