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A scandal of nothing amidst plenty

MANILA (UCAN): The poor amidst plenty syndrome of The Philippines is a national disgrace for a country which prides itself in being Catholic.

The problem is especially amplified during Christmas, a time of year marked with feasting and professing faith in the God of the poor.

The desperate poverty incidence among Filipinos now sits at more than 25 per cent of the population, despite the promise of the government to bring it down to 18 per cent by this year.

A volunteer at the parish of Santa Cruz where poor people usually line up for the food distribution programme, which caters for about 300 people a day, said at Christmas, “We don’t have enough to feed everyone.”

On Christmas Eve, most families gather for the noche buena, a tradition of feasting that started in the 1500s when The Philippines was a Spanish colony.

For the poor street dwellers, however, there was no noche buena feast. None of the many volunteer-run food distribution programmes in Manila offer noche buena to the hungry.

The Minor Basilica of San Sebastian Recoletos suspended its programme, which it has been running for over 20 years and catering for some 300 street dwellers on a regular basis, until January 8.

The Friday porridge at St. Joseph’s in Quiapo also did not operate over Christmas.

The incidence of hunger in the country has worsened in recent months with a survey carried out in September last year showing that the situation worsened to 15.7 per cent—or an estimated 3.5 million families that had experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months.

The estimate in June was 12.7 per cent or 2.8 million families.

About 14.1 per cent of the respondents to a survey conducted by Social Weather Stations said they experienced moderate hunger (only once or a few times), up by 3.3 percentage points from the 10.8 per cent recorded in June.

Some 1.6 per cent said they suffered severe hunger (often or always hungry).

The government has vowed to address poverty and hunger. Presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said the government continues to implement social intervention or poverty alleviation programmes.

But a street dweller said, “Let us eat and eat while there is food,” as he gulped a bowl of steaming porridge. “Let’s eat,” he invited a passerby.

It is customary for Filipinos to offer food to visitors, or even strangers, even if they don’t have enough for themselves.

This spirit of sharing is also the reason behind the feeding programme run by John Kawi Guiagui, the police commander of Quiapo district. He has been distributing food since he assumed his post in August.

Police officers under Guiagui’s command become cooks and waiters. The police precinct looks like a stockroom with sacks of rice piled in the corner. There was a noche buena feast at the police station for street children and elderly people, although it was held on Christmas Eve.

“We don’t have anything for noche buena,” Abigail Briones, a 27-year old single mother of four, said.

In the past five years, Briones and her children have been going to the nearby Quiapo Church on Fridays for the porridge, but this year, Christmas fell on a Friday and she was left with nothing to eat.

“I hope somebody will offer us something for Christmas,” she said.


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