Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Hungry Filipino

After the latest SWS survey regarding hunger came out, I'm not surprised by the numbers posted. 16.9 percent is a huge number. It might not be big in some sub-Saharan country where the climates are extreme, but in an Asian country rich in resources, its a catastrophe. The National Anti-Poverty Commission however refutes this numbers, saying that the data collected came from highly impoverished areas.

How stupid can this people be! Where else will you get the data, from some affluent subdivision? Of course the survey was conducted in the many depressed areas all over the country. The countryside where there are vasts areas to plant have remained idle. Tracts of land are left uncultivated due to the lack of agricultural knowhow and honest government support has pushed the people deeper in the quagmire of poverty. Only big "haciendas" controlled by landlords continue to churn out produce. The lowly farmer is left to his own devices.

How ironic it is that Mindanao who's produce feeds most of the country is the poorest region in the country. How can this be? We can sum it all up in the way the agriculture sector is handled. In this modern age, land ownership has been the lowly Filipino's elusive dream. Feudalism which has been dead in most parts of the world still thrives in this country. Although cooperatives are encouraged by the government, support and infrastructure is almost non-existent. Farmers are deprived of much needed aid, aid that is often times lost to corruption. The Dept. of Agrarian Reform tasked to distribute land is also highly inefficient as landlords are politicians as well. Landlords have continued to circumvent the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform law.

The rate of malnutrition has been steadily going up due to the high cost of, believe it or not, food. Families are forced to feed their children "junk food" to somehow lessen their hunger. This is evident in my barangay were families content themselves with fried corn kernels and instant noodles. Even government-sponsored feeding programs are using "junk" to feed the kids in school. But even this program suffers from mismanagement and corruption. Government agencies tasked to manage these programs end up siphoning the funds. The Fertilizer Fund Scam and the NFA Rice Importation Scam are just some of the many unresolved cases facing the administration today.

Many would ask why put the blame on government for this, its up to the individual to fend for himself. This may be true if government for its part is implementing programs and policies which will afford the people some sort of opportunity to earn. This is where the real problem lies. Government priorities do not point to this direction. Investment in agriculture is few and far between. The government's focus is more on exploiting the natural resources through mining and speculating.

Micro-financing has also been mishandled as small farmers are forced to borrow at high interest rates. Productivity is very limited and cost far outweighs the output. Fund diversion has also hurt efforts to alleviate poverty. The government forces the people to subsist on P36 a day. With the high utility rates alone, the ordinary family is forced to cut down on food.

While the economy as the government claims is growing, it relies mainly on OFW remittances, stock market and currency speculation. Although heavy taxation has somehow improved the national deficit, this is countered by heavy government borrowing. Despite increasing international aid, this is not enough. The continuing lack of opportunity continues to prevail further increasing the rate of poverty. The government clearly does not have a firm grasp of what is really happening in the countryside. Far-flung areas are never reached by the government.

The trickle-down effects which the administration had been promising for years are still not felt by the lowly Filipino. While the administration busies itself with changing the constitution, the poor Filipino becomes poorer and hungrier. While government heads earn millions, the lowly Filipino has to tighten his belt some more.
Unless government address this pestering problem in earnest, the Filipino will sink deeper in desperation.