ILOILO City – Social welfare development secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo today said that the results of the latest Social Weather Station (SWS) Hunger in Families survey are not surprising, but affirms the urgency of the need to address issues of poverty in the country and its root causes.
In a statement sent to Panay Today, Sec. Taguiwalo said the fact that many Filipino families continue to experience hunger is not surprising because of so many factors that undermine their efforts to build productive lives free from poverty, disease, and hunger.
She added that urgent reforms are needed in our government’s economic policies and programs so we can make real headway in the fight against hunger and poverty.
The solution, she proposed, is to reverse the neoliberal economic policies that undermine the country’s food security and the Philippines a source of raw materials and cheap labor for other countries.
Sharp increase in Mindanao
According to the survey, 13.7% or an estimated 3.1 million families experienced involuntary hunger during the first quarter of the year. This is slightly above the 11.7% (estimated 2.6 million families) recorded in December 2015.
The SWS noted a sharp increase in Mindanao, with 978,000 families (19 percent) claiming to have gone hungry in the last three months. It was a six-percent rise from 13 percent (658,000) in December.
Sec. Taguiwalo said that the impact of El Niño hit Mindanao regions the hardest in the last months of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.
“In March, some 5,000 farmers and their families from all over Northern Mindanao – Makilala, Mlang, Tulunan, Magpet, Roxas, Antipas, Arakan and Kidapawan City – staged protests and demanded 15,000 sacks of rice as well as agricultural supplies because they were all but wiped out by the El Niño,” she said.
North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of February 17 listed 36,915 farmers affected by the drought, mostly corn, rice, rubber and coconut farmers. The province was placed under a state of calamity on January 19.
Unemployment equals hunger
Sec. Taguiwalo also said that unemployment also contributes to high hunger statistics.
The latest January LFS data shows that employment increased from 38.4 million in January 2015 to 39.2 million in January 2016 while the number of unemployed supposedly fell from 2.7 million to 2.4 million in the same period. At the same time, however, the same data shows that the number of underemployed Filipinos, or those working but looking for additional work and income, grew by 847,000.
She said that the Philippines remains the country with the worst unemployment statistics in Asia and cited the latest labor force (LFS) survey data which pegged the country’s official unemployment figures at 5.8% in January 2016.
“This is much higher than the unemployment levels in China (4.0%), Vietnam (2.3%), Indonesia (5.5%), Malaysia (3.5%), and Thailand (1.0%),” she added.
The figure is now pegged at 7.7 million in January 2016. The underemployment rate correspondingly grew to 19.7% in January 2016 from 17.9% last year.
“It cannot be denied that many Filipinos and their family experience hunger because their main breadwinners or income-earners are unemployed or underemployed. In the meantime, wages and salaries of those who are employed are also tied to the floor and far from enough to cover the basic necessities of a normal Filipino family,” she said.
“Unemployment, underemployment, low wages, landlessness – these are all factors that force many Filipinos to cut their food intake or forego meals altogether,” Sec. Taguiwalo said.
Jobs and social services
The secretary said that to address hunger in the Philippines, Filipinos must be provided with sustainable jobs, support to ensure that they get immediate access to basic social services, as well as just wages and salaries.
“It is also crucial to implement a genuine and thorough-going land reform program for all farmers who comprise the largest percentage of the Filipino population,” she said.
Sec. Taguiwalo said that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to address the poverty suffered by majority of the Filipino people, and that he has begun to study proposals that will lead to this end./PT