More poverty in the Philippines?
by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Times
LAST week, the World Bank released a study which shows that approximately an additional 44 million people from developing countries such as the Philippines may be driven into poverty due to the continuing rise in basic commodities such as wheat, sugar and oil. Just this week, oil prices have already reached a two-year high as mass demonstrations continue to take place in the oil-rich Middle East region particularly in Bahrain and Libya.
According to the report, if the prices continue to rise, many more people will be more vulnerable to malnutrition and then other forms of diseases since they will be forced to consume low cost but less nutritious food. In fact, we can already see this in our country where there is now a high incidence of kidney diseases especially among the poor due to the fact that many of them now rely on instant noodles for their main staple.
These instant noodles are very high in sodium content. That is why more and more Filipinos are now lining up for dialysis treatment. Sadly, a family earning less than P200 a day would not be able to afford a regular dialysis treatment which would often cost at least P1,500 per visit. This is why many poor Filipinos often die without even having the opportunity to be treated properly at a health facility.
Other victims of poverty are our children, some of whom are exposed to many evil vices of society as they are forced to work early at a very young age. I read in a column in another daily that there are now girls as young as 12 years old who sell their bodies for sex to truck drivers in Manila just for P300. According to the columnist, these girls usually have 3 to 4 customers per night and they often perform sexual intercourse at the back of a dirty dump truck.
If the cost of basic commodities continues to rise, we can also expect criminality to rise given that many people will now resort to desperate means just to be able to put food on the table for their families. We can clearly see this in the recent cases of Filipino “drug mules” who work for drug syndicates to bring in illegal drugs into countries like China, Thailand and Indonesia. As former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada always says, a hungry stomach knows no law.
We are an agricultural country. One of the things that our government ought to do is to ensure that proper land reform is implemented. If you drive through the countryside, you will easily see so many idle agricultural lands, which if used properly can easily help ensure our self-sufficiency especially in rice, corn and sugar. By being self-sufficient, we would no longer have to be at the mercy of the rising world prices of these basic goods.
Yet awarding land titles to our farmers is not enough. Our government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform would also need to help by providing our farmers easy access to capital so that they no longer have to be beholden to middlemen who usually end up earning more than the farmers themselves.
Aside from this, proper drying facilities for palay should be set up by our government. These are very much needed to increase the productivity of our farmers. There is so much wastage when the palay is dried on the road as we can see in Nueva Ecija and Tarlac.
Another problem our agricultural sector is the exodus from the farms of many farmers who seek better opportunities to elsewhere. Farming no longer provides them the income that they need to support their families. Not many people know this but many of our farmers earn less than P 1,000 a month because much of their income goes to paying off their loans while they sell their produce at a very low price to middlemen who are the ones who have access to transportation and facilities to bring the goods to the market Thus, it would also be good if our government would be able to develop more facilities and infrastructure such as roads and trading centers that would allow farmers to directly sell their goods to the market instead of passing through the middlemen. By doing this, more farmers would be encouraged to continue farming because they would be earning better income for their families.
Talking about agriculture, in our country the efforts of Senator Kiko Pangilinan and Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala to bring together different stakeholders in the agricultural sector is definitely laudable. A few weeks ago, they gathered almost 200 of these stakeholders in Antipolo to dialogue with each other and come up with a common vision and framework toward improving the productivity of our agricultural industry by the year 2025. We need more public leaders like them who are not all talk. Pangilinan and Alcala are showing that if the public and the private sector can continue to synergize efforts, it won’t be long before our country can defeat poverty through agricultural self-sufficiency.
* * *
Thank you very much to Miriam College, St. Scholastica’s College, Colegio de San Juan de Letran and Malayan Colleges Laguna for inviting our Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance to their schools. We hope to be able to visit more academic institutions in the coming months.
For those who want to support our efforts in the promotion of good governance and ethical leadership, we are now selling Kaya Natin! Movement T-Shirts at only P 200 each. To order, you can contact Kai Pastores at (02) 434-1458 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.