Hangry

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo courtesy of Science Alert

When SWS came out with their last two quarterly surveys on hunger incidence, their figures clearly reflected a harsh reality. In late 2019, I had written in a very celebratory mode about the consistent drop of hunger incidence in the past few years. In fact, I believe that hunger incidence levels had at one point dropped to its lowest ever. As of early July, hunger had doubled to 20%.

Then comes Covid-19. I cannot possibly describe the many ways that the pandemic has devastated Filipinos and country, derailed it from the regularity of its favorable economic growth, and continues to wreak havoc in other fields of life. When things go well, the poor are the last to benefit in a trickle-down system. And when things go wrong, the poor are the first to be bruised. That is how they are today, bruised, and hungry.

“My almost twenty-year work with Gawad Kalinga has prepared me to encounter the saddest situations. I was able to witness the life in slums, the drugs, the prostitution of minor, the violence even among the young.”

My almost twenty-year work with Gawad Kalinga has prepared me to encounter the saddest situations. I was able to witness the life in slums, the drugs, the prostitution of minor, the violence even among the young. I was able to immerse in disaster areas from Isabela in the North to the farthest communities in Mindanao and all in between. Typhoons, floods, landslides, drought, eruptions, fires – and the aftermath of armed conflicts. Whatever the calamity, natural or man-made, there was a common pain – hunger. I have seen that, too much of it.

Now, in Metro Manila, during a quarantine that has kept me indoors for 5 and a half months, I am safe but not sound. How can we be sound? Even if we may be among the lucky ones whose jobs, businesses, and incomes are not badly hit, we know what is happening all around us. Businesses paralyzed or closed, massive job terminations and subsequent unemployment, Covid-19 infections jump to over 230,000, deaths now inching towards 4,000, and a general fear that persists despite quite angry and insistent voices against the closing down of the economy.

Can you hear the whimpers of hungry children? Can you feel the knot in the stomachs of their parents, not only from lack of food but the fear that there is not enough to feed their children? Not now, not in the foreseeable future. 20% of Filipinos residing in Metro Manila, or 3 million of 15 million – and rising. How can the hungry not increase when there is no immediate recovery in sight?

In the past, when there was a traumatized, post-disaster situation that triggered hunger in the affected area, there would be a migration to urban centers, mostly Metro Manila. That is one factor for the spikes of in-migration to the metropolis in the past several decades. Today, for those stalked by hunger in Metro Manila, where can they go?

Three million Filipinos in Metro Manila already experiencing hunger incidence, the 20% poorest, most probably all informal settlers. But with joblessness estimated at 40% today, many more will confront hunger as their savings run out.

What is most painful, and therefore, dangerous, is that hope for the hungry is fading fast. They know what is going on, they know the budgets, they see the lessening of the ayuda, and the gaps in between. They are trapped here as there is hardly hope in the provinces as well – and they have no transport to flee Metro Manila.

They see many efforts by caring people and groups, especially from the religious, their parishes and communities. Yet, they know that these efforts, combined with everything that the national and local governments have been doing, could not stop hunger from inflicting 3 million of them.

The magic of the information age is that you can look at the map of Metro Manila and identify the settlement areas of informal settlers and those just slightly better off than them. Look at Google Maps, read about where the locked down barangays are because there is a strong correlation with where poverty is deepest. Go near these areas, see the faces, hear the whimpers.

Our society has been quite polarized, almost numbed from the animosity and acrimonious noise triggered by partisanship. Even during the pandemic, I am amazed at how the anger and hate in us override the depth and beauty of our culture. Because of that, we do not automatically think of the hungry. It is as though we are not one people anymore.

“Our society has been quite polarized, almost numbed from the animosity and acrimonious noise triggered by partisanship. Even during the pandemic, I am amazed at how the anger and hate in us override the depth and beauty of our culture.”

Let me, then, start, with those whose intelligence and kindness have not yet been buried by the conflicts around us. Let me appeal to them, to you. Look at those stalked or plagued with hunger. They are Filipinos, they are human beings. Let your kindness take over.

Or look at the map, look at the settlements of informal settlers. They are 3 million and growing due to Covid-19. They are more than all our police and soldiers. They are more than all our officials and government employees. If kindness cannot drive our understanding, then let our intelligence put two and two together. We are not in a nice place. We are not in a safe place.

I just learned of a new word – hangry. When I first saw it written, I corrected it at once, assuming it was wrongly spelled. Then, someone explained to me that it is a new word, the combination of hunger and angry – hangry. And in their place, hangry is the correct term.

“Yes, only one hope left – Filipinos helping Filipinos. Only one way left – the spirit of walang iwanan.”

Government is mandated to help, but it is not as though government has been missing. But these are the statistics. If there are 3 million in Metro Manila experiencing incidents of hunger, and maybe another 3 million newly threatened who unable to help anyone beyond themselves, there are still 9 million who are not hungry. There may even be 6 million who will never be hungry. These 6 million, also in Metro Manila, are the only massive source of resources enough to mitigate the hunger.

Yes, only one hope left – Filipinos helping Filipinos. Only one way left – the spirit of walang iwanan.

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