By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
Additional research by Jannela Paladin
MANILA – For a mother of seven, putting food on the table is a daily struggle.
“As a mother, it really hurts me when I can’t even feed my own children,” Creamie Paran, a widow and resident of a relocation site in Camarin, North Caloocan told Bulatlat in a phone interview.
Since her husband’s passing in 2018, her family has been surviving on a $154 monthly pension. With the rising prices of food, this is not enough to feed them, and without any contingencies in case they get sick.
A decent meal would have cost them $4, as chicken retails at $3.50 per kilo. As such, they live mostly on eggs, instant noodles, and tofu. “We consider ourselves lucky if we can have fish for dinner.”
Paran, however, is still lucky.
Government data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology reveal that 62 percent of Filipinos suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity.
The data from the Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey conducted from November to December 2020 covered a total of 5,717 households with 7,240 individuals, with mothers or caregivers as respondents on behalf of their young children.
Food insecurity, as described by the Global Forum on Food Security, is the state in which people are at risk or actually suffering from inadequate consumption to meet nutritional requirements. It is a result of the physical unavailability of food, people’s lack of social or economic access to adequate food, and/or inadequate food utilization.
This peaked between April and May 2020 when the enhanced community quarantine was imposed. Families coped using different strategies, including purchasing food on credit, borrowing food from relatives or neighbors, while some adults reported that they limited their food intake in favor of children.
In the last 10 years, there has been no significant improvement in the nation’s food security.
Data from the National Nutrition Surveys and Expanded National Nutrition Survey indicated that from 69.3 percent in 2011, 62 percent of Filipino households still experience food insecurity in 2021.
Anakpawis Partylist attributes what they refer to as a “worsening state of hunger” among the Filipino poor to liberalization policies that were pushed under the Duterte administration. This, they said, has led to a 12-percent increase in food prices in 2020, compared to 2017.
While the DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute recorded that 54 percent of households were food insecure in 2018, it increased in 2019 and 2020 as the country reeled from the impacts of Duterte’s tax reforms, the liberalization of the rice industry, the poor response to the African Swine Fever that devastated the hog industry, to name a few.
Anakpawis found it anomalous that the consumer price index for rice increased by 3.16 percent in the Central Luzon region, considered as the country’s rice granary.
Food is out of reach for the poor
For Paran, food remains out of reach, too, for many urban poor families. She has tried to find work on the side to make ends meet but found it too difficult with two small children she still breastfeeds.
“Even half a kilo of galunggong (round scad) is too pricey for us,” she said, adding that when they really cannot afford to buy fresh ingredients, the family of eight resorts to two packs of instant noodles.
They also borrow from their neighbor’s store and pay it off as soon as she receives her pension.
Their situation was exacerbated when the lockdown was imposed last year when the pandemic broke in the country. Paran said they received five or six packs of food from the local government but these were not enough.
“I know deep down that I do not depend solely on the government. But even then, they should be able to provide cash aid for all. We are all Filipinos. That is enough of a reason,” she said.
Food producers are hungry
With prices of food incessantly increasing, former Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said food producers themselves are experiencing pangs of hunger.
As early as 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority already estimated that farmers, fisherfolk, and individuals residing in rural areas have the highest percentage of poverty incidence among the basic sectors.Their conditions worsened, especially now amid a still raging pandemic.
Casilao noted that Central Luzon had the highest meat prices increases, pegged at more than 36 percent, despite being the second in hog production in the country. He said that vegetable prices have also increased in regions considered as major producers including the Cordillera (30 percent), Cagayan Valley (67 percent), Central Luzon (49 percent), Ilocos (47 percent), and Bicol (42 percent)
Fish prices, he added, also increased most in regions where families mostly earn on fishing. These include Calabarzon (39 percent), Mimaropa and Western Visayas (34 percent), and Caraga (31 percent).
In May, the Department of Agriculture held a National Food Security Summit to discuss concerns affecting the sector.
Dubbed as “Food for Today and Beyond: Transforming Philippine Agriculture,” the government hoped to discuss “new normal” directions and introduce different interventions, programs, and projects implemented to address issues in the agriculture sector.
However, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said it was anything but a genuine food security summit as it was swamped with big businessmen, investors, financial managers, real estate developers, and bureaucrats.
“It’s a ‘food security summit’ without the food security frontliners. There is not one farmer present, no fisherfolk, no farm worker, no food producers,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman emeritus and former Agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano said.
As it stands, the local agriculture industry has already suffered a staggering 3.3 percent decline in the first quarter of 2021 alone, while the livestock sector had the worst contraction at 23.2 percent. Still, demands of agricultural workers for aid, including a $307 production subsidy, were not heard.
Enough of Duterte’s policies
Among the most affected in the ongoing crisis with regard to food access are individuals who belong to families with income below the poverty threshold.
Despite creating an inter-agency task force in early 2020 to address hunger, President Duterte admitted that eradicating hunger and malnutrition while discussing development programs for barangays was difficult.
During a visit to Tacloban City, Leyte on March 28, Duterte said in Filipino, “Go ahead, try to feed them. Easier said than done.”
“Instead of focusing on boosting local food production and aiding farmers and fishers, the DA, along with economic managers, pressed for higher importation and tariff reduction,” said Mariano.
Duterte is set to deliver his last State of the Nation Address this month. He, however, has made clear his intent of perpetuating himself in power beyond 2022, telling the media to consider him a vice presidential candidate to bring “equilibrium” to the elections.
Casilao said that Duterte’s recent announcement is “an iteration of ‘Mahirap kayo? Putang ina, magtiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam,’ and Filipinos, particularly the broad poor sectors, are sane enough to see through this attempt of mass deception.”
(Are you poor? Mother fucker, go ahead and go hungry, I don’t care)
Meanwhile, the likes of Paran continue to hope for a brighter future.