A fresh, untapped force

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo courtesy of The Borgen Project

For almost two months now, a small group called Walang Iwanan Alliance has been working day and night to bring a message to the public but especially to Metro Manila residents.

First and foremost, the message speaks about hunger.

Second, the message is about hunger in Metro Manila.

Third, the message says the hunger is alive and growing, and now at calamity levels.

Fourth, the hunger incidences that have climbed to 31% in the country are happening despite the sum of efforts of national and local governments or the public sector, and all efforts of the private sector. Therefore, how hunger is being addressed by the whole country is unable to arrest, much less, defeat hunger.

Fifth, a new pathway must be forged in cognizance that all else has not worked according to the goals they were designed for in the first place.

“…the hunger incidences that have climbed to 31% in the country are happening despite the sum of efforts of national and local governments or the public sector, and all efforts of the private sector. Therefore, how hunger is being addressed by the whole country is unable to arrest, much less, defeat hunger.”

Moving forward, knowing what we know, do we simply continue what we know has no capacity to solve our hunger situation for as long as COVID lurks in the atmosphere? By repeating what has not worked to stop hunger from reaching 31% of Filipinos, do we really expect it to work this month, or the next?

I hardly think so. In fact, I know so, and why it will not be enough. With hunger at its highest level in Philippine history, it is not being talked about by the leaderships of both public and private sectors. At all. We see the President every week give a status report of the state of the nation. He has not put hunger in the priority list – by simply not breathing a word about it. Neither do we see or hear the captains of industry set it as an emergency. They, too, have kept mum about it.

“NGOs, civil society, civic organizations, and corporations are a little better. Some of them are involved in raising funds so that food can reach some of the hungry.”

I know there are very few masses that allow physical presence, but daily masses online are aplenty. Prayers for COVID to go away are constant, but prayers for the hungry – and more suffer hunger than COVID – are missing except as part of our collective trial in a pandemic.

NGOs, civil society, civic organizations, and corporations are a little better. Some of them are involved in raising funds so that food can reach some of the hungry. Some of them for some of the hungry. The operative word is some.

The contrast of “some” is the population of those experiencing hunger. Maybe “few” is more appropriate than “some,” because hunger at 31% means 31 million Filipinos. In the Visayas, it’s 40%. In Metro Manila, it is 28%. In other words, because some of us, some of the national agencies, some of the local governments, and some of the rest of the private sector are actively involved in mitigating runaway hunger, only some of the 31 million hunger-affected Filipinos are receiving assistance.

The contrast of “some” is the population of those experiencing hunger. Maybe “few” is more appropriate than “some,” because hunger at 31% means 31 million Filipinos. In the Visayas, it’s 40%. In Metro Manila, it is 28%”

A friend called me up the other night. He said that a high-ranking government official pointed to allowing mass transportation as the answer to hunger. I think I have a small sense of what he must have meant, just a small sense. I do not have the genius to absorb how riding a bus or a train or a plane solves hunger. What do the hungry eat – the ticket or the seat?

That government official must have meant that opening mass transportation allows the hungry to earn money, and therefore, have the means to buy food for his or her family. While SWS surveys may not be 100% accurate, and SWS does claim a small margin of error is possible, their latest surveys say that 900,000 families are affected by hunger in Metro Manila. Does the opening of mass transport equate to 900,000 bread earners suddenly finding jobs and getting wages? Really?

There is, otherwise, an eerie silence about a most grave and pitiful situation – the hunger stalking 31 million Filipinos. It is as though speaking about hunger is bad news, depressing to business, and discomforting to governance. Yet, I know that senior leaders in the business world are quite aware of the creeping hunger from less than 10% to now 31% of the population. That is not creeping anymore, that is an explosion. The least that leaders from both the public and the private sectors can do is raise the alarm. Putting hunger at the top of the list in our national conversation is giving value to the well-being of Filipino citizens, poor they may be.

Thankfully, there are conglomerates whose owners are very aware and now organizing their own initiatives to mitigate hunger. In fact, they include in their plans not only immediate assistance to the hungry but way beyond – to be enablers of those who are determined to rebuild their lives, jobs, and small enterprises. I can only hope they will be powerful catalysts to their peers.

The Walang Iwanan Alliance sees very clearly that the power of traditional players, traditionally unable to defeat hunger in the first place, must be complemented by an even greater power. The only untapped force of great potential points squarely to Filipino citizens themselves, the ranks of the not hungry who outnumber the hungry. The challenge is how to activate that huge and younger segment of that population, 18-44 years old, who comprise 75%.

We in the Alliance believe that a sustained campaign, preferably high-profile and dominant in social media, can target the young adult population in the upper 45% of the economic pie. This sector earns enough to afford P25 pesos a meal a day to feed a hungry counterpart and keep on feeding every day for as long as it takes. That is fresh power just waiting to be unleashed.

The power from traditional players in the public and private sectors augmented by a fresh, untapped power is more than enough to defeat hunger. We only must believe in ourselves as our own saviors and not abdicate our responsibility towards one another and our country. Kung hindi gutom, kayang tumulong.

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