Maharlika is food-poor

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Brijesh Nirmal on Unsplash

After all is said and done, Filipinos remain food-poor. Not just embarrassing but actually pitiful. To think that Filipino officials are gallivanting worldwide, presumably to promote the Philippine economy and business opportunities. I wonder if they have the humility and courage to show the grim reality of most Filipinos still stuck in finding and not affording food.

39% of Filipino families consider themselves food-poor. Another 35% consider themselves borderline food-poor. That makes 74% of Filipino families not have enough food to eat and do not have the confidence at any time that they will have food security. With so many official foreign trips done and still happening, how much food security are Filipino families being blessed with?

I am sure superior popularity and approval ratings have become a proud topic on the sidelines. With such high ratings, how can governance be bad? Such impeccable logic yet adds one more facet to the Filipino psyche – a born masochist.

Or a born beggar. Just months ago, in the last quarter of 2022, reports said that half of Filipino families received aid from the government. I remember around this time in 2020, during the pandemic, the government budgeted food assistance for 80% of Filipino families. With government subsidy to the majority of Filipino families comes high popularity and approval ratings. And also, outstanding debt incurred to be paid for by the next two generations of Filipino families.

It is funny that government statistics show less than 20% of Filipinos below the poverty line. Last August 2022, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that 18.1% lived below the poverty line. Yet, government aid keeps targeting half of the Filipino families. I am no longer surprised that most Filipinos do not complain about hunger, food poverty, or unbelievable poverty statistics. Anyway, the aid keeps coming, and the national debt keeps climbing.

The running total of our national debt when the Duterte administration began its regime, stood at 6 trillion pesos. When the Duterte administration turned over the reins to Marcos, Jr., the running total shot up to 13 trillion pesos, or more than doubled in 6 years. The aid to most Filipinos continued, as did the popularity and approval ratings. This is a neat combination – keep borrowing, let the next generations pay, and keep subsidies going to keep the ratings up.

The Philippines will never be an industrial nation, never. A food-poor people never build an industrial nation. There was a time in the 60s when Singapore had vestiges of being a poor country, having hardly any natural resources except one – the Singaporean people and the Singaporean leadership. Singaporeans were determined to lead simple lives and worked hard to follow their vision. Lee Kuan Yew had the vision and the character to lead without succumbing to greed along the way.

I propose a Food Investment Fund, a simple medium-term vision to eliminate hunger and food poverty, and five years to bring down food poverty to below 5%. This Food Investment Fund will spark and fund all sorts of food production programs by the people themselves, separate from traditional DA programs.

Singapore imports more than 90% of its food but only a minimal percentage experience food poverty, and never for long. Only 1% of its land is dedicated to agriculture. The Philippines is an agricultural country. Yet, our poverty, food and otherwise, is enduring and stagnant – meaning its victims are born into poverty, die there, then leave it as a legacy to their descendants. No vision, no leadership, no role models to lead the people.

Our leaders are proud to initiate the Maharlika Investment Fund as though we are Maharlikans. We are not the traditional lower warrior class because we have a majority mendicant class, nor what twisted romantics try to portray as the royalty or nobility class. We are food-poor, food-threatened people. Our investment should be centered on food until there is no more food poverty or fear of hunger.

I propose a Food Investment Fund, a simple medium-term vision to eliminate hunger and food poverty, and five years to bring down food poverty to below 5%. This Food Investment Fund will spark and fund all sorts of food production programs by the people themselves, separate from traditional DA programs. Then, let us think of a Maharlika Investment Fund when we deserve to be a proud nation that cares for its food-poor people.

The exception, or what might be the imaginary royal or nobility class in the Philippines, cannot dictate any longer what progress looks like. We cannot continue to plan for the exception, and that is the minority, 26%, who are not concerned about their food needs. Not that they are incapable of lofty visions, but they are incapable of caring for the majority poor in the one Filipino family we belong to.

Progress must take the first definition for the majority of Filipinos, and that definition is food-secure. Any people whose first and foremost concern remains food for the family cannot think further than their supply in the kitchen – or their brief escapist moments with entertainment, drama, and personalities.

The Filipino rich and powerful, the royals and elite of Philippine society, have had enough time to nurture, develop, and empower the majority. They have failed. Perhaps, they never wanted to. Kindlier, perhaps, they do not know how to stoop to where there is little or no food.

The government is supposed to be the big brother for the weak and the majority, the big brother in heart and mind, the big brother in plans and programs, big brother in operations and protection. The government is supposed to draw the more vital part of society to pull up the rest because nearly all the wealth is in the hands of the wealthy minority.

It is not enough for the rich to pay their share. Not paying their share is a crime. It is their duty, instead, to lend their advanced resources, knowledge, and global networks to work for those left behind. After all, they made their billions off the people and the land.

Even Spiderman knew enough to understand that with great power comes great responsibility. Hear, dear government; Spiderman was speaking to you, too.

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