Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo today said that the results of the latest survey on Hunger in Families conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS) are not surprising, but they affirm the urgency of the need to address issues of poverty in the country and its root causes.
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%) claiming to have gone hungry in the last three months. It was a 6% rise from 13% (658,000) in December.
Sec. Taguiwalo said that El Nino 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 El Nino.
North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of February 17 listed 36,915 corn, rice, rubber and coconut farmers to have been affected by the drought. The province was placed under a State of Calamity on January 19.
“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. 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. We have to reverse the neoliberal economic policies that undermine the Philippines’ food security and as the source of raw materials and cheap labor for other countries,” she said.
Sec. Taguiwalo stated that unemployment also contributes to high hunger statistics.
She said that the Philippines remains as the country with the worst unemployment statistics in Asia. She cited the latest labor force survey (LFS) 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%).
In the meantime, the number of underemployed and discouraged workers continues to increase. The latest January LFS data show that the number of employed 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 show that the number of underemployed Filipinos, or those working but looking for additional work and income, grew by 847,000. The figure is now pegged at 7.7 million in January 2016 from the same period in the year before. 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 families 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, and landlessness are all factors that force many Filipinos to cut their food intake or forego meals altogether,” Sec. Taguiwalo continued.
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 emphasized that President 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.