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Government addresses virus-induced hunger

MJ Blancaflor

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The Palace on Monday said the government has not been negligent in providing aid to poor families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

This was after a recent poll suggested that a record-high 7.6 million number of Filipinos went hungry during large-scale lockdowns.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported over the weekend that hunger incidence rose to 30.7 percent in 17 to 20 September, surpassing the previous peak of 23.8 percent in March 2012.

The hunger trend has been rising since May 2020, according to SWS, which conducted the poll using mobile phone and computer-assisted telephone interviews of 1,249 adult Filipinos nationwide.

The SWS said there was an increase in the scores in all survey areas, with new record hunger rates logged in Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao.

The survey had a ±3 percent error margin, ±6 percent each for Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao, and ±5 percent for Balance Luzon.

While the poll results are saddening, presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque underscored that the government has not been remiss in its obligation to provide relief packages to Filipino families hit by the pandemic.

“We are saddened by the news and that’s why we are reopening the economy so we can lower the numbers especially those who are hungry,” Roque said.

The Palace official noted that the government has launched programs to provide livelihood to workers affected by the pandemic, as well as aid to those who reside in places under granular lockdowns.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, meanwhile, urged the government to provide aid to families affected by the COVID-19 and reopen the economy to address hunger amid the pandemic.

“It is important to gradually open the economy and continue the aid from the government,” he said.

The lawmaker pointed out that there are measures provided by the Bayanihan to Recover as One to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic. “There are programs from the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI), Agriculture (DA), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and other agencies to recover and regain our livelihoods and ensure food security in the country,” he stated.

While the country is waiting for a vaccine against coronavirus, Go reminded to maintain minimum health protocols to ensure the safety of the Filipinos.

Roque said the government has also allowed select public transportation to resume operations to address the concerns of workers who need to go to their places of work.

About 27.3 million people or nearly half of the adult workforce were out of work in July, according to a different SWS poll.

During the period, the Philippine economy contracted by 16.5 percent in the second quarter as the country plunged into a recession and saw its worst downturn in three decades.

Several senators echoed Go’s statement as they also expressed alarm on the survey.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the survey’s result should be a valid reason to include social amelioration program or ayuda in the 2021 national budget.

“I am alarmed by the worsening condition of poor Filipino families affected by the pandemic. They are hungry, most of them women and children. This validates our concerns over the lack of ayuda in the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021,” he said.

The lawmaker urged the government to put in place measures to address the increase in hunger incidence before it “spirals into a full-blown crisis.”

Drilon reiterated his position to augment the budget for the DSWD in order to help the poor cope with the effects of the pandemic to their livelihood.

He suggested to realign the P16.4 billion funds lodged in the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, P9 billion in government’s confidential and intelligence funds, and the P468 billion flagged as lump sum appropriations under the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, said that the government should devote necessary attention and resource to stop the increase in hunger incidence in the country before it gets.

She suggested reviving the budget for the feeding program under DSWD for 2021.

Hontiveros also noted that the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act will not be sufficient, emphasizing that more jobs should be opened especially in the agricultural and BPO sectors.

“Unfortunately, the budget of the Department of Agriculture has been slashed, and internet connectivity limits the extent to which the BPO industry can reconfigure towards safer working arrangements,” she said.

The lawmaker asked the government to assign a “Balik-Trabaho Czar” who will lead the reemployment and employment of more Filipinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Sonny Angara, on the other hand, said the spike in hunger incidence is expected given the status of the Philippine economy and the quarantine protocols implemented by the government.

He said that “all hands should be on deck” to ensure that this will be addressed immediately.

“School feeding programs of DepEd and DSWD should definitely continue and DA and DTI should strive to make sure there is affordable food available to the public all over the country,” he said.

Opening the economy to create jobs and trigger consumer spending is needed to address hunger in the country, Senator Francis Pangilinan said.

But unless the government addresses the main crisis, which is the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger and unemployment will continue, he explained.

with HANANEEL BORDEY

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