Hunger and poverty: Personal troubles or public issues?

PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero-Ballescas (The Freeman) - October 15, 2020 - 12:00am

If one of three Filipinos reports that he experienced involuntary hunger due to lack of food to eat at least once in the past three months, it is understandable if many think that this is the personal trouble of the hungry person.

If however 7.6 million Filipino households reported that they too experienced going hungry because of lack of food to eat at least once in the past three months, then  hunger is no longer just a personal trouble but a serious public issue!

Why are there so many millions of households that are hungry?

Consider these recent statements of those who explain that it is the fault of Filipinos themselves if they are hungry and poor. .

“If they were not lazy, they will not be hungry and poor.”

“They are poor and hungry because it is their choice, it is their option.”

“If they had only budgeted well the ayuda given to them by government, they would have had more to eat and for other needs.”

How many of our people really think the poor and hungry are such because of their laziness, their choice, their inability to budget well?

How many of Filipinos know how hard our farmers, fisherfolks, drivers, vendors, others have been working their whole life?

How many know that many food producers were plunged into deeper poverty because there were no coherent government safety nets, before and during the pandemic, to get their produce distributed and sold?

Do Filipinos realize how fellow Filipinos who had jobs before are now among the hungry, not because they are lazy, incapable of budgeting but because they have no choice, because of lingering government neglect and budget prioritization for unnecessary infrastructure projects?

Drivers, vendors, many others in the informal sector have for months been sidelined, disallowed to ply their route and do their trade because, again, government failed, before and during the pandemic, to seriously prioritize policies for food security, employment, livelihood and welfare.

How many fellow Filipinos who had paid with borrowed money for their fare to work abroad got stranded and went hungry?

Did these displaced Filipinos become hungry and poor because they were lazy or because they chose to be hungry and poor?

Oh, if they had better managed the ayuda given them, they would have had food to eat. Really? Was the ayuda given by the government sustainably sufficient for the beneficiaries? Also, were all the hungry and poor throughout the country given ayuda?

May God grace with His wisdom, compassion, and generosity the callous and uninformed who lamely, condescendingly, erroneously and narrow-mindedly think the poor and hungry are so because they are lazy, because they choose to be or because they are not good ayuda managers.

Defining hunger and poverty as personal troubles experienced and caused by the poor themselves absolves others, especially government, from collectively resolving these urgent public issues.

A trouble is a private matter “caused by individual factors and can just be solved with the desire of individual to change.”

However, public issues are public matters, usually caused by the structure of society or the failure of one or more of society’s institutions.

Only by “associating ‘personal troubles’ and ‘public issues’ will the individual see that ‘others also share these troubles, and that the solution is not to struggle individually, but to join forces with those who also share his experiences.” (C.W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959).:

May more Filipinos recognize that the hunger and poverty of millions of Filipinos are not personal troubles but public issues needing collective mindful, compassionate action of all, especially those in government, to immediately and sustainably respond to and resolve.

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