What is freedom without food, justice without jobs?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - June 13, 2021 - 12:00am

Yesterday, we celebrated Freedom Day, and many Filipino people asked themselves whether they are really free. Nelson Mandela once said: Freedom is meaningless if millions of people do not have food on their tables, do not have shelter over their heads, do not have access to health and education and are endlessly being oppressed by ignorance, disease, poverty and injustice. All over the world, more than a billion human beings are not truly free. In the Philippines more than 50 million are not really free.

If you ask a poor man where he would prefer to be, in prison where there is assurance of food daily on the one hand, or to be free from prison bars but with food insecurity on the other hand. Most probably, he would choose to be behind bars with assurance of food every day. The freedom that people enjoy outside the penitentiary is farcical if he and his family are starving and are suffering from extreme poverty. This is even made more problematic at the time of this pandemic, where millions have lost their jobs and thousands of small and micro enterprises have closed. In this country of 111 million people, more than 15 million are living below the poverty line, more than 25 million are extremely poor, and 50 million are poor. We have a middle class of less than 15 million and an upper middle class of five million. The rest are rich, super rich, and scandalously rich.

The global figures are even worse. According to the reports of the International Labor Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Food and Agricultural Development, and the World Health Organization, the financial, economic, social, and political disruptions caused by the pandemic are devastating tens of millions of people, placing them at risk of falling into extreme poverty. The number of malnourished and undernourished people in the whole world which already numbered 132 million before the COVID-19 pandemic has ballooned to 180 million by the end of December 2020. Today, it is estimated at 238 million worldwide. Approximately half of the global workforce of 3.3 billion were projected to have been at risk of losing their jobs by the start of 2021. As of today, more than one billion workers are already jobless.

And so, what is the meaning of freedom to them? According to UN and World Bank figures, there are people who live in 33 low-income countries who earn per day per person, a mere $1.91. This category includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Somalia, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, among others. The Philippines belong to the lower middle income countries, which include India, Angola, Argentina, Bhutan, Egypt, Indonesia, Egypt, Jamaica, Laos, Myanmar, Morocco, and Cambodia. The poor people here earn only a daily income of $3.21 per person.

If the poor Filipino’s income each day is only equivalent to P154.08, how can he afford food, shelter, basic clothing, medicines, and basic education? The UN and FAO define absolute poverty as a condition where a person cannot afford the minimum nutrition, clothing, and shelter. Multidimensional poverty is measured not only on the basis of income but also on the basis of presence or absence of clean drinking water, safe, humane and decent dwelling, healthy foods, sanitary toilets, basic medicines, and access to at least six years of education. If you visit an urban poor colony in Metro Manila, Cebu, and other urban centers, you will find families of 10 to 12 human beings, overcrowding small shacks with foul-smelling surroundings full of garbage, rats, and human and animal waste.

Is there freedom in this kind of existence?


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