Friday, November 09, 2007

Additional P1-B fund for hunger

President Arroyo ordered the release of P1 billion more for anti-hunger measures as part of the government’s stepped up fight this year versus poverty. She ordered Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to immediately release the amount during the Anti-Hunger Task Force meeting that she convened November 7, 2007 at the Manila Hotel.

The additional appropriation would be distributed to government agencies directly involved in the implementation of the government’s hunger mitigation program which seeks to address the unavailability or insufficiency of food as well as the lack of financial resources to purchase food items.

On the supply side, the measures include increasing food production through productivity programs of livestock, crops, mangrove and coastal fishery development, farm and irrigation, and enhancing the delivery efficiency of food items to consumers through the development of more farm-to-market roads, full utilization of the Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) ports and terminals, the construction of more Barangay Food Terminals and Tindahan Natin stores and the strengthening of school feeding programs.

On the demand side, mitigating measures include providing income to the poor through aggressive micro-financing programs, more employment opportunities, livelihood and training seminars and the development of other value-adding products such as coconut coir and virgin coconut oil; promoting good nutrition through social marketing information seminars; and managing the population through responsible parenthood.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Department of Social Welfare and Development, said that under the Food for School Program, one kilo of rice is issued daily for 120 days to families who suffer from severe hunger and whose children are in pre-school and Grades one to six.

Global Call to Action against Poverty-Philippines (GCAP) disputed the economic growth trumpeted by the government does not trickle down but stays put with those who already have plenty. Despite the government’s trite rhetoric that eradicating poverty is its overarching goal, poverty continues to grow amidst the trumpeted economic growth.

“The government’s response to the calamity of poverty and hunger in the country is mere palliative to the root causes of the problem. Billions of pesos are put into these poverty and hunger mitigation programs that are ineffective and a waste of resources as evident in the government’s recently concluded 6-month war on hunger, which by the end of its duration witnessed the record rise in hunger incidence, with one out of four Filipinos experiencing hunger, and now one out of two Filipinos who see themselves as poor,” The Third Quarter 2007 SWS survey showed that “self-rated poverty” rose in all areas, except in the Visayas.

GCAP-Philippines cited the results of the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, which showed that the income of the richest 10 percent was still 20 times the income of the poorest 10 percent. The group pointed out that the net worth of the nation’s 10 richest individuals and families in 2006 was equivalent to the combined income of the country’s poorest 9.8 million households.

The administration refuses to admit that population growth is a key factor in the trickle-down effect -- economic growth below 7% is not enough to meet the demands of a booming population. The secretary of health admitted that family planning is not a priority of the administration

To be sure, government faces a formidable obstacle in mitigating poverty and hunger. For a start, managing the population through responsible parenthood faces strong opposition from the Catholic Church. For the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the natural family planning method is the only morally acceptable way to practice responsible parenthood and has called on legislators to spend on projects that would alleviate poverty and provide free education to poor children, instead of spending P1 billion for the purchase of contraceptives, CBCP president and Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said in a statement.

“We hope it is not true that Congress plans to appropriate P1 billion for the purchase of condoms, birth control pills and other ‘reproductive health’ products to control population growth. It if is true, we categorically object to it and instead strongly recommend that the one billion pesos be directly appropriated for hunger and poverty alleviation projects, as well as for free education of extremely poor children.” He said using abortion and contraceptive pills are against nature and God’s teachings. The Church teaches that using these items is wrong because they destroy the fruitfulness of human reproductive capacities.

President Arroyo ordered the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) to draw up solid programs to benefit the poor and to keep a tight watch on the implementation of anti-poverty projects at the grassroots, an obvious ploy since the NAPC is supposed to have been doing this all along. The President wants to blunt criticism that the benefits of economic growth are not trickling down to the masses, but even the President’s economic managers concede that amid the glowing growth figures touted by the administration, the absence of the trickle-down effect is glaring.

The other factor blocking the trickle-down effect is corruption and incompetence in all levels of government, depriving basic services and projects that could ease poverty and boost development. So the rich get richer and the poor gets poorer. But wait, Secretary Yap wants to hog the entire 1 Billion for his Department of Agriculture which includes the Black Hole known as the National Foods Authority.

One billion pesos is seemingly a huge sum that can feed many hungry mouths for weeks and alleviate poverty. But given the record of this administration for corruption and incompetence, we can expect a few more children despondent over poverty to end the misery by suicide.

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