A tempest brewing
It has been five months since the lockdown in mid-March. As with everybody else in the world, the Philippines stepped into a strange reality that it never experienced before. In the past, other countries were ready to help us as they did when calamity after calamity had struck us. This time, we have been standing on our own as other countries had to journey alone as well through a still raging pandemic.
I remember early in the pandemic when the Philippines did not even have the capacity or laboratory, to analyze a single test of the Covid-19 virus. That was how unprepared we were in the last several decades in a world that had been attacked by one deadly virus after another. No technical capability and a health system that was being beefed up for most things but not a viral epidemic or pandemic.
The first wave of infections spared us the kind of death rate that several countries went through. I fear, though, this emerging second wave and wonder how much longer our natural immunity will continue to resist severe infections and a higher percentage of deaths. Containment of the spread of the virus is extremely challenging when economic conditions demand greater activation of business activities. It seems like a precipitous balancing act on a tightrope five hundred feet above the ground.
Covid-19, though, is not the only enemy attacking Philippine society. The government may be trying its best to contain the pandemic but struggles every single day to do so. This inability to flatten the curve, so to speak, extends the fear of the general population and further drives businesses to close. We have seen the effect of this fear during times when quarantine rules were relaxed but most people still chose to stay home instead of spending time and money outside.
What keeps me most restless and apprehensive, however, is not something new – hunger. There had been a steady reduction of hunger incidences in more recent years. I was ecstatic when it broke the 10% mark from a high of over 20% just over ten years ago. Expectedly, though, the pandemic has totally upset that positive trend and now it is in reverse. The last two quarterly surveys by SWS has established that hunger incidences have doubled and that it could be worse soon. I have gone over the whole hunger incidence surveys to find new ways to mitigating hunger and arrest an almost inevitable deterioration.
We have to understand what a 20% hunger incidence means beyond what is most obvious. We have to consider that the state of hunger among the less fortunate has been a consistent reality. Because that is precisely so, both government and the private sector have had programs and mechanisms in place intended to lower or eliminate incidences of hunger. That means that a 20% hunger incidence simply attests that the total effort of both government and the private sector still resulted in a net loss.
I willingly concede that government is doing its best to fight hunger. I willingly concede as well that elements of the private sector, especially the religious, civic organizations, NGOs, and compassionate individuals are doing their level best to help feed the hungry. Still, the net result is a negative 20%. The doubling of poverty, the massive loss of jobs, the depletion of small savings, all these point to more hunger in the immediate future, or every single day witnessing an increase. At what point will this hunger bring desperation to its victims?
To be more effective in decreasing hunger incidences in the balance of the year, there are only two obvious possibilities. The first is for government and the private sector to do much more than what they have already been doing. On the side of government, this possibility is slim to none. We have already heard our highest officials say that government does not have the funds that it did in the first five months. This means more will experience hunger.
The second is for the private sector to do what it has never done before. This means that those who have been helping cannot stop or reduce their assistance without hunger incidences going up. This leaves only that part of the private sector that has not been doing anything of substance against hunger to finally get involved. The daily mantra must be, “If you are not hungry, if you are not afraid of going hungry, then you can afford to feed a hungry person for 20 to 30 pesos every day.”
In Metro Manila alone, assuming a population of 15 million, 20% means 3 million residents experience hunger rarely, moderately, or frequently. Let me assume that another 20% are already afraid that they, too, will experience hunger in the near future because of present and deteriorating employment circumstances. In all conscience, we who are not hungry and not afraid to go hungry cannot just watch our brother and sister Filipino go hungry.
If the poorest 20% are experiencing hunger, the richest 20% can completely and easily solve their problem. If the next poorest 20% may happen to fall into a hunger situation, the next richest 20% can also just as easily solve their problem. For 20 to 30 pesos a day. Just one meal a day, for 20 to 30 pesos.
I know a few people and groups are deeply alarmed and now preparing to mount a campaign for Filipinos to help Filipinos. They know a tempest is brewing, they sense the growing sense of helplessness of many. Yet, the same tempest is stirring hearts towards deep sympathy and action. I pray for them, that they succeed in what they are setting out to do. And I pray for us, that we find in us what it needs to be one people.
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