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Politicizing hunger

12:30 AM June 25, 2021

Filipinos helping Filipinos is cultural to its roots. It has been the most effective and consistent way by which Filipino communities have survived calamity after calamity throughout recorded Philippine history. From this native perspective and practice, great Filipino words have emerged that now become part of how Filipinos are described. Bayan, Bayanihan, Bayani – our most noble terms for our most noble Filipino traits.

Therefore, it seemed to me just appropriate that the national government named its massive assistance package in these pandemic times as Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2. I realize that many other countries had their own version of aid to cushion the painful impact but I found that our Bayanihan 1 & 2 reflected much of that cultural consciousness so embedded in our spirit.

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We have also been monitoring since last year the process of securing anti-COVID vaccine supply. I know that some details are controversial, on their own merits and often for lack of transparency in their initial stages. It is most unfortunate because the essence of securing the vaccines, which is to effectively immunize Filipinos against COVID-19, has been buried under discussions and debates on brands and costs.

Because we politicize everything, it is understandable that actions of government are colored or discolored by citizens who have been indoctrinated by partisanship. And not only government’s moves but those who also oppose the administration, which includes those of private sector personalities or groups. Very few noble deeds and programs are left untouched by destructive partisanship, and most of these thankfully are activities of our young entrepreneurs and advocates in special fields of interest. Many young role models in successful productive pursuits are themselves engaged by government agencies to promote meritorious programs.

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We have enough evidence in our societal lives to condemn the evil of partisanship and its attendant bias and prejudice. Not only has it blurred the truth itself, it gave birth to fake news, trolls, and everything counter-culture to bayan, bayanihan. and bayani. Partisanship has long been our worst enemy. It is not only its own evil but more its capacity to outlive the worst villains. The personalities we were programmed to hate may have long died but our hate remains alive, waiting to attach itself to new ones.

The 15-month chokehold on the world and the Philippines by the global pandemic has been like a pressure cooker. During traditional calamities, our culture naturally prods us to help one another. We saw this sentiment when medical frontliners were the most in need of help. Sympathy flowed and overflowed, and I still have red ribbons tied to windows of our house facing the street. Because it was not politicized, red ribbons were not red-tagged, simply taken as an expression of sympathy towards doctors, nurses, and other health workers.

The food packages distributed from the Bayanihan 1 and cash releases in Bayanihan 2 were not politicized either. It was greed and corruption, not partisanship, that made some town or baragnagy officials pocket some of the money. In fact, the national government did its own initiatives to punish them. Other complaints lodged by some residents about not getting their share were not driven by partisanship but were cries of discrimination by those deprived.

Then, the community pantry phenomenon burst into the scene. That it became an instant success was never because of partisanship, it was because of hunger. If hunger or its imminent threat had not been present, the community pantry in Maginhawa could not have gained such powerful impact enough to spark thousands more to follow suit. However, it was publicly red-tagged and that gave it a color of partisanship. To the public in general, however, it was not a political issue but a deeply cultural one – Filipino helping Filipino.

We are entering another contentious political period because of the presidential and national elections in May, 2022. The administration may be seeing politics, especially oppositionist at that, in everything because there are many who are involved not just in governance but in the elections ahead. Opposition, too, will try to exploit anything that will weaken the Duterte administration. That is par for the course. The public and especially the hungry did not ask for that. Partisanship is entirely the nature of political dynamics in the Philippines. Innocent Filipinos should not be faulted for something that politicians are guilty of.

Before, during, and after elections, for decades and decades, natural calamities have brought Filipinos together, not apart. Hunger is a calamity, urgent for some, long-playing for others, but all in all affecting tens of millions of poor Filipinos. That is not a partisan reality, it is an objective one. Before the pandemic, the Duterte administration had brought down hunger incidences to its lowest historical level since surveys on hunger were begun. But the economic consequence of the pandemic simply has been more than government response to it, and obviously not for lack of trying. Simply put, Covid-19 caught everyone unprepared, including health officials.

I implore the national government to extend its fullest cooperation in all efforts to mitigate hunger in the pandemic season which will extend to at least next year. Even if government budgets are limited, private sector efforts can substantially augment government assistance to the hungry. That is not partisanship; that is all of us working together for those who need our help. Whether community pantries, food pack distribution or soup kitchens, let us all go the extra mile to contribute our share. Government remains the largest contributor, materially and via official assistance. May I ask the government, then, from Malacañang to the barangay officialdom, to extend their utmost assistance not only to the hungry but for all who would like to help fight hunger as well.

All efforts to politicize hunger must be neutralized by more generous and committed initiatives to not leave our hungry Filipino brothers and sisters behind. Against hunger, let us set aside the partisanship that cheapens us all.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
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For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: Bayanihan, coronavirus pandemic, hunger, politics
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