Of poverty and politicians

The report of SWS that millions of Filipinos are experiencing hunger once every month is indeed a disturbing one. But it is not a surprising disclosure. In a country where more than 30 percent of the families are classified as poor, it is inevitable that food insufficiency is a problem with these families. Three meals a day is the standard requisite for every person in order to live a normal life. By this is meant that every meal is fully constituted in terms of calories and nutrients. A meal may be satiating, but if it is wanting in basic nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats, plus vitamins and minerals) the hunger problem is not yet solved.

Yet the SWS respondents must have reported only the occasional absence of satisfying food on their table - not the absence of nutritious food itself. If they did, the incidence would have been more shocking. Nonetheless, the fact that a good number of Filipinos go hungry now and then should stab the conscience of our economic planners and political leaders.

Hunger results from poverty and poverty results from want of a decent livelihood. If every breadwinner is gainfully employed nobody in his household would go hungry - unless he dissipates what he earns. How much should a family of five earn monthly to keep itself above the poverty threshold? NSCB sets the figure at P5,111.25 in 2003 or an annual income of P61,335.00. These figures suggest the minimum expense for basic necessities - food, clothing and shelter. Education, health and leisure are not included.

The concept of poverty threshold is related to poverty incidence (the ratio between poor families to the total number of families). Presently the country''s poverty incidence is approximately 30 percent, which means that 30 families out of every 100 are considered poor. How does poverty incidence relate to poverty threshold? Since both concepts have to do with to the earning power of a family, the higher the poverty incidence the more families there are who cannot not earn enough to foot the bills of their basic needs. With regard to hunger incidence, the more families fall below the poverty line the more hungry individuals there are.

These concepts are brought out here to show that the much publicized hunger incidence in this country is related to our socio-economic development. The more developed a country is the more jobs are available, hence the more income earners there are. But for one reason or another our socio-economic development has not caught up with the demands of our burgeoning population.

Every klatch of politicians who settle at the Pasig office always claims progress in the country''s socio-economic thrust. With their armchair experts they cite achievements in the areas of industrialization, agriculture, service industry, tourism and what have you. To make their claims credible they even present statistics on Gross Domestic Product (allegedly 5.4 percent last year) and other development indicators.

But the sad fact is that the average Filipino remains a poor fellow. He blunders through the years barely earning enough to keep the hunger wolf at bay. His kids can go through high school only, college study being beyond the family''s reach. So the cycle of poverty goes on - he is poorly paid for want of training, wanting in training because he can''t afford it. The poor guy is in a bind and doesn''t know where to go. At election season politicians promise him a lot of goodies, but after the roadshow all is quite in the kitchen front. His patience, however, is an enduring thing. He lets the trapos do their thing, even applauding their antics now and then although he knows he cannot put his trust in them. And so he seeks passage to other climes where hunger is not a problem.

Is the Filipino''s hunger the outcome of too much politicking and poor leadership? Because he tolerates the greed and graft of those who command, is he too a factor of his hunger? It takes two to tango. He and his political padrino are dancing their way to a ruined nationhood. When will he wake up and quit his romance with politicians? When will he come to his senses and help pull this country from the rut it has fallen into?
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