"…Pagkain para sa masa ang ipagmamalaki ko nang higit sa lahat."
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, SONA, 2001
MORE FILIPINOS WENT HUNGRY DURING
THE ARROYO YEARS – CHIZ
Instead of ensuring food on every Filipino family's table, hunger rose to record highs among millions of the country's poorest households during the Arroyo presidency, opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero said yesterday.
"There is now a new term to describe an environment where a growing number of Filipinos can afford to eat only one meal a day – hunger climate," he said in his SANA (Sana Napatupad ni Arroyo) message.
"This is deadlier than climate change for its effects are immediate and devastating to millions of families who have no other recourse but to beg, steal, or borrow, as the song goes, because they cannot turn to government for help," Escudero said.
The 39-year old lawmaker from Sorsogon was referring to the description used by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in explaining the results of its surveys on hunger incidence which it started to undertake in 1998.
Escudero said that the SWS polls show that while the incidence of hunger fell to a certain extent from 1998 to 2003, the number of Filipinos experiencing hunger began to rise from 2005.
"There was as the SWS chief Mahar Mangahas says an unfavorable change in the hunger climate which requires radical changes in the policy and governance environment which this administration has failed to undertake," he said.
Escudero noted that Mangahas pointedly suggested that the rice importation program was the "least effective hunger program" and "four times as costly" as the conditional cash subsidies implemented by the government.
He said the next administration must launch key reforms in the agriculture sector to eliminate hunger, ensure food security, and break the cycle of grinding poverty in the country.
"The fight against poverty will be won in the countryside. We need to focus on programs that will transform our depressed rural communities into growth centers. Then development will radiate from the countryside to our cities," Escudero said.
He said the government must focus on expanding irrigation, build more post-harvest facilities, extend financial and technical support for farmers, and gather data to determine what crops to plant and when and where they should be planted to maximize the use of the country's rich agricultural lands.
Escudero pointed out that while Vietnam and Thailand had expanded the number of irrigated lands to as much as 9 to 11 million hectares, the country's irrigated lands had declined to 1.38 million this year from the 1.4 million hectares in 1986.
"Our population almost doubled since 1986, but instead of expanding the number of irrigated lands for rice, we experienced instead a contraction and became one of the world's biggest importers of an essential staple," he said.
"After winning the peace, the next administration must focus on agriculture from day one so our country and people will overcome the challenges that lie ahead," Escudero said.
SANA (Sana Naipatupad ni Arroyo) Totoo Series
(In time for the ninth SONA of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, opposition Sen. Francis Joseph "Chiz" G. Escudero presents his take on her performance in realizing her administration's avowed core agenda – food security, good governance, jobs, and education. In the SANA-TOTOO series of articles (video), Sen. Escudero contends that President Arroyo failed to deliver on her promise in all four key areas.)