Red October | Inquirer Opinion

Red October

/ 01:00 AM October 02, 2020

There is one main meaning for Red October, a historical one, referring to the Revolution of 1917 in Russia. That popular uprising caused such impact on the life of a nation that its influence reverberates still in Russia today – and the world.

There was also a popular 1984 movie, The Hunt for Red October, that is remembered by the present senior citizens. Plus, personally, I have often called the redness of leaves changing colors during autumn as Red October.


Today is October in the Philippines, and it is dotted with red. I do not mean red here as the symbol of the local communist insurgency. October is not its symbolic month. I point to the pandemic of Covid-19 with local maps littered by red spots to highlight where infections are highest. I point to the rising hunger of the country but most especially what the poor in Metro Manila. Hunger is now creating new red spots around the metropolis.

During the first lockdown of Metro Manila, the focus was on medical frontliners. Naturally, the fear of the unseen virus and its power to infect and kill made everyone sympathetic and supportive to doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff.


However, there was another fear, not by all, but deeply felt by millions to merit attention and resources from government. That was the fear of hunger. Some were already hungry and many more knew they would soon get hungry. They were not wrong. The number of people experiencing hunger tripled in six months.

Infection and hunger have created heat maps, accentuated by red. Local government units have their own version of heat maps to pinpoint Covid hot spots. These have been augmented and upgraded to contact tracing maps. I am sure that they are scrambling today to develop new heat maps to pinpoint hunger. They should have these soon enough as they already have their data on informal settlers and economically depressed families. But for a problem that has been there for so long, the absence of hunger maps is a reflection of our priorities.

October will be hot and will deserve being called red as well. Most areas in the country are re-opening economic and even social activities. There is a dire need to do so because both businesses and employment will collapse under a longer strict lockdown environment. At the same time, this is October, not March 2020. The base of Covid-infected people today are thousands of times more versus last March. There is no way that infections will not spike starting the latter part of October. This is science, nothing else.

When people interact, when people gather in numbers, even when correctly physically distanced, there are enough carriers among them, asymptomatic though they may be, to spark new infections in big numbers. When mass transport and unrestricted travel increase, Covid carriers will necessarily have a field day. It should not surprise us that the consequences, mostly measurable after a few weeks, will be a dreaded spike, or call it a second wave.

We should simply prepare to protect ourselves as best we can. The DOH is now emphasizing the low kill rate of Covid-19, quietly steering our attention away from the steadily rising infection rates. In other words, if we cannot stop Covid-19, let us live with its low kill rate. The only problem is when infections go up hundreds of thousands, even with low death rates, government and all of us will panic.

Now, with hunger spiking like the virus, another pandemic is emerging. I have been following the quarterly surveys of SWS for 15 years. Hunger is not new but hunger incidences today affecting a historic 31% of our people brings with it a myriad of challenges. There is the suffering of the hungry, intensified by their fear that tomorrow will be even hungrier. That demands compassion and action from us from a moral and cultural standpoint. That demands recognition and even greater action from a political standpoint.

Hunger is part of poverty, but hunger has a low scientific breaking point. When hunger rages within a quarantined territory, there can only be a few questions we can ask. Where are the hungry? How many are they? How often are they hungry? How near are they to being desperate? What happens to us when they reach their desperation?


I know of no hunger map for Metro Manila yet. But I know enough about poverty, homelessness, and informal settlers to make a map. Anyone interested enough in addressing hunger can make a hunger map. It can be only in one small area, it can be city-wide, or it can be for the whole of Metro Manila. I can easily and clearly imagine such a map.

In fact, some of us will make such a map. It need not be 100% accurate but it will be more than enough to guide a comprehensive and coordinated plan to mitigate that hunger. We can do it because there is a lot of data already there. They were just never used to make a map to track hunger. If we really want to mitigate hunger and act immediately, the conditions are there to make it happen. What is not there is the food for the hungry. That is the only cause for hunger in Metro Manila.

There is adequate food supply, thankfully, and our problem is so much simpler. It is a matter of getting food that they cannot afford to buy to get to the hungry. Who can afford to buy the food to feed the hungry?

It can only be you and I, we who are not hungry. Millions of us not hungry can help millions of them who are. It takes very little to buy a meal for a hungry person. Millions of us can afford it every single day, for as long as it takes. Money is the lesser challenge. Rather, it is awakening our resolve to care and to share.

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