I was so stunned by Senator Grace Poe giving a privileged speech about the hunger and malnutrition stalking 15 million children in the Philippines. Privileged speeches are nothing new. Nor is the hunger and malnutrition that the senator mentioned. What is new is that a senator mentioned it at all. The hungry might have just gotten lucky, for once.
Everybody wants to talk about so many things, especially the petty ones. But that which has long begged for attention is not usually the topic of great debates, even by the most noisy and holier-than-thou in social media. In fact, only SWS with its regular quarterly surveys on hunger incidence and the self-rated poverty of Filipinos have kept such grave issues barely alive. I cannot say enough about what SWS has done. By doing the surveys and sharing the results with the country, it will end up be the biggest hero against hunger and poverty – simply by keeping the issue alive.
The latest report of 55 percent of Filipino families rating themselves as poor is not the worst, not the best. For decades, there has been a range that, somehow, all administrations cannot seem to get out of. I remember once that it hit 61 percent, and also 49 percent. Most of the time, it stays in between. For decades. But who cared? Who cares? Who cares enough to understand that this is not only a matter of statistics but a national shame, a curse that stains our collective soul?
By the sound and fury directed towards hunger and poverty, no one cares. Government says that it does. And it does. But not enough, not anywhere enough. At least, not enough to rethink its policies of decades that have not mitigated hunger incidence and self-rated poverty outside of lucky and unexplainable surges. Yes, I have seen hunger incidence at 21 percent, and also at 15 percent. But when the numbers drop, no one can explain it. And no one can explain it when the numbers go up again. You know why? Because no one cared enough.
That is why I was so pleasantly amazed that Senator Poe, like a grace of graces, stood up and gave the issue of hunger and poverty among our people the top billing in her privileged speech. It took a neophyte national official to see what everybody else in government seems to be blind to – that the whole effort against hunger doesn’t work, has never worked. It took her to question the recurring failure that everybody took for granted as normal. Why? Maybe, this amateur politician simply cares.
But because she is Grace Poe, her speech carried a special sting to it, reminding me of a great insight so popularly taught in communications a long time ago – that the medium is the message. So one privileged speech by her quickly merited an assurance by government that it is ready to work with her on the issue. I think, though, there was a misunderstanding somewhere. I don’t think the senator said she knew the answers, that, in fact, she knew of none. And why the speech? So those who are responsible for addressing, mitigating and eliminating hunger especially, can for once admit that they don’t have the answers, that they don’t have the policies, that they don’t have the programs that work.
But government has the resources, not for everything, but more than enough to ease hunger incidence if it wants. Maybe, Senator Poe should have questioned why a consistent failure has never been questioned, opened to public debate and cause enough to invite public participation in its resolution. Let me share a little about what I learned from school. When no one questions, it is usually because no one cares enough about the subject matter.
Maybe, the culture of mediocrity has simply taken over public service. Worse, those who can help have developed a comfortable level of apathy. I believe it is both. I believe that government has failed because it never cared enough, and I believe Filipinos have failed each other, because the more fortunate never cared enough for the less fortunate. Not government, not the Church, not civil society. And this is why a curse is upon us, this is why our progress as a people and a nation will always have serious interruptions. Life, or God, cannot bless us with success when we don’t care enough.
We don’t know who is in charge of addressing hunger among our people. We don’t even know if there is a specific program against hunger. Does anyone know? Does anyone ever remember that a national program, or a national group, was established and mandated to fight hunger? If there was, excuse me, it must have been a well-kept secret.
On the other hand, I believe government has failed because the people have failed their own. If the PDAF and the DAP were dismantled by the sheer power of passion, then it points out clearly, and sadly, that those who cared enough about the PDAF and the DAP did not care enough about the hunger of millions. And maybe government had to fail so we, the people, will not, so we, the people, can take matters into our own hands to feed the hungry among us. And if the moral challenge has been launched to stop our tolerance of corruption and to each be the prime example of the honest, why not the more urgent and humane obligation to stop our tolerance of hunger, and feed our hungry?
It may be best if Senator Grace Poe can reach out to the people instead. Maybe, government is not going to wake up from failure and find the answers by itself. It has become too defensive, has spent too much money, yet has not mitigated hunger. But the people have not tried, and they should. The people, after all, are the country, are the first government. The people must also be the first to care.
I read this recently, from concerned citizens, a beautiful saying. “Hunger stops when caring begins.”