Politicizing hunger

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Camaligan community pantry | Photo by Kunokuno via Wikimedia Commons

Filipinos helping Filipinos is cultural to its roots. It has been the most effective and consistent way; Filipino communities have survived calamity after calamity throughout recorded Philippine history. From this native perspective and practice, great Filipino words have emerged that now become part of how Filipinos are described. Bayan, Bayanihan, Bayani – our most noble terms for our most noble Filipino traits.

Therefore, it seemed appropriate that the national government named its massive assistance package in these pandemic times as Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2. I realize that many other countries had their own version of aid to cushion the painful impact. Still, I found that our Bayanihan 1 & 2 reflected much of that cultural consciousness embedded in our spirit.

We have also been monitoring since last year the process of securing an anti-COVID vaccine supply. I know that some details are controversial, on their own merits, and often for lack of transparency in their initial stages. It is most unfortunate because the essence of securing the vaccines, which is to immunize Filipinos against COVID-19 effectively, has been buried under discussions and debates on brands and costs.

“Very few noble deeds and programs are left untouched by destructive partisanship, and most of these thankfully are activities of our young entrepreneurs and advocates in special fields of interest.”

Because we politicize everything, it is understandable that government actions are colored or discolored by citizens who have been indoctrinated by partisanship. And not only the government’s moves but those who also oppose the administration, which includes those of private sector personalities or groups. Very few noble deeds and programs are left untouched by destructive partisanship, and most of these thankfully are activities of our young entrepreneurs and advocates in special fields of interest. Government agencies engage many young role models in successful, productive pursuits to promote meritorious programs.

We have enough evidence in our societal lives to condemn the evil of partisanship and its attendant bias and prejudice. Not only has it blurred the truth itself, but it also gave birth to fake news, trolls, and everything counter-culture to bayan, bayanihan. and bayani. Partisanship has long been our worst enemy. It is not only its own evil but more its capacity to outlive the worst villains. The personalities we were programmed to hate may have long died but our hate remains alive, waiting to attach itself to new ones.

The 15-month chokehold on the world and the Philippines by the global pandemic have been like a pressure cooker. During traditional calamities, our culture naturally prods us to help one another. We saw this sentiment when medical frontliners were the most in need of help. Sympathy flowed and overflowed, and I still have red ribbons tied to the windows of our house facing the street. Because it was not politicized, red ribbons were not red-tagged, taken as an expression of sympathy towards doctors, nurses, and other health workers.

The food packages distributed from the Bayanihan 1 and cash releases in Bayanihan 2 were not politicized either. It was greed and corruption, not partisanship, that made some town or barangay officials pocket some money. In fact, the national government did its own initiatives to punish them. Other complaints lodged by some residents about not getting their share were not driven by partisanship but were cries of discrimination by those deprived.

“The food packages distributed from the Bayanihan 1 and cash releases in Bayanihan 2 were not politicized either. It was greed and corruption, not partisanship, that made some town or barangay officials pocket some money. In fact, the national government did its own initiatives to punish them.”

Then, the community pantry phenomenon burst into the scene. That it became an instant success was never because of partisanship, it was because of hunger. If hunger or its imminent threat had not been present, the community pantry in Maginhawa could not have gained such powerful impact enough to spark thousands more to follow suit. However, it was publicly red-tagged, and that gave it a color of partisanship. To the public in general, however, it was not a political issue but a deeply cultural one – Filipino helping Filipino.

We are entering another contentious political period because of the presidential and national elections in May 2022. The administration may be seeing politics, especially oppositionist at that, in everything because many are involved not just in governance but in the elections ahead. The opposition, too, will try to exploit anything that will weaken the Duterte administration. That is par for the course. The public and especially the hungry, did not ask for that. Partisanship is entirely the nature of political dynamics in the Philippines. Innocent Filipinos should not be faulted for something that politicians are guilty of.

Before, during, and after elections, for decades and decades, natural calamities have brought Filipinos together, not apart. Hunger is a calamity, urgent for some, long-playing for others, but all in all affecting tens of millions of poor Filipinos. That is not a partisan reality, and it is an objective one. Before the pandemic, the Duterte administration had brought down hunger incidences to their lowest historical level since surveys on hunger were begun. But the economic consequence of the pandemic has been more than the government’s response to it, and obviously not for lack of trying. Simply put, Covid-19 caught everyone unprepared, including health officials.

“Whether community pantries, food pack distribution, or soup kitchens, let us all go the extra mile to contribute our share. The government remains the largest contributor, materially and via official assistance.”

I implore the national government to extend its fullest cooperation in all efforts to mitigate hunger in the pandemic season, which will extend to at least next year. Even if government budgets are limited, private sector efforts can substantially augment government assistance to the hungry. That is not partisanship; that is all of us working together for those who need our help. Whether community pantries, food pack distribution, or soup kitchens, let us all go the extra mile to contribute our share. The government remains the largest contributor, materially and via official assistance. May I ask the government, then, from Malacañang to the barangay officialdom, to extend their utmost assistance to the hungry and all who would like to help fight hunger as well?

All efforts to politicize hunger must be neutralized by more generous and committed initiatives to not leave our hungry Filipino brothers and sisters behind. Against hunger, let us set aside the partisanship that cheapens us all.

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1 comment

Roberto M Reyes /AKA Bobby M. Reyes June 27, 2021 - 11:10 am

Hi, Boy Montelibano. Perhaps you may like to discuss further what we, OFWs and Overseas Filipinos, have suggested to the Filipino national policy-and-decision makers about radical, but necessary, means to address the pandemic and other ills of our nation. I suggested in “The Straphanger” column the imposition of a “wealth tax” to generate more resources to eliminate hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness (especially when it comes to lack of healthcare and opportunities). This columnist also suggested that the Executive Department should stop the Philippine Congress’s pork-barrel funds and the DAP of the Office of the President, so that the half-a-trillion pesos (equivalent to U.S.$16.5-billion) be used immediately for vaccination and for funding farmers’s co-ops to raise cash crops. In fact, as early as August 2018, I sent a suggestion to the Office of the President (as sent to the OP through the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, CA) how to solve the shortages of rice, pork and beef by simply adopting the Pacific-Islander diet of our ancestors. But the OP never even bothered to send an acknowledgment of receipt of it. Perhaps, other columnists in the PDM should come up with position papers that can improve the socioeconomic-and-governmental platforms that a coalition spearheaded by OFWs and Overseas-Filipino community leaders will submit for the 2022 presidential, congressional and local elections. We are running a series of articles about the “ReVOTElution of H.O.P.E.” Since OFWs and Overseas Filipinos do not have a monopoly of patriotism and bright ideas, perhaps we, columnists, can contribute more positive steps on how to solve the pressing problems of the Philippines. Thank you and move power to your op-ed pieces.

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