Survey says more Filipinos going hungry
Inquirer News Service
AS THE country followed the "Hello Garci" scandal, the impeachment debates, the series of hefty oil price increases, and lately the news of Imelda Marcos' jewels finally going into auction, an alarming number of Filipinos saw all these go by on empty stomachs.
A survey by the private polling firm Social Weather Stations from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 showed that 15.5 percent of households nationwide considered themselves as having "experienced hunger" or had nothing to eat at least once in the past three months.
It was the second highest figure since SWS began its quarterly surveys on hunger in July 1998, the start of the Joseph Estrada administration. A record high of 16.1 percent was set in March 2001, two months after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency following the EDSA II people power uprising.
From the first quarterly survey to the last, hunger has been felt by 10.4 percent of the population on the average. Around this time last year, the SWS poll showed that hunger spells were reported by 15.1 percent of Filipinos.
Malacañang, mainly through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, then responded by launching rice subsidy and food-for-work programs targeting schoolchildren and the unemployed in the country's poorest provinces.
Another mass feeding program for grade school pupils, this time offering vitamin-enriched noodles, is planned for implementation starting next year.
In a statement yesterday, the SWS said the latest numbers -- 15.5 percent -- indicate that the "people's current economic situation continues to be very serious." That figure, it said, represented an estimated 2.6 million families.
It was also higher than the previous quarterly survey conducted in May, when the hungry constituted 12 percent of all households.
In a parallel survey, however, SWS reported a decrease in the number of Filipinos who considered themselves "poor."
"The proportion of household heads reporting themselves as 'mahirap' (poor) went down to 49 percent in August 2005, from 57 percent in May 2005," it said. SWS called this indicator "self-rated poverty."
Still, the monthly family budget, which the self-rated poor said they would need to escape poverty went up from P10,000 in May to P12,000 in August among Metro Manila respondents, according to SWS.
Lowering living standards
The polling group noted that what the respondents believed to be the "poverty threshold" budget had not really increased in the past five years despite the rise in the cost of living each year.
"The failure of the thresholds to increase despite so much inflation is a sign that the poor are actually lowering their real living standards," it said.
By area of respondents, the hunger level was 16.7 percent in Metro Manila, 18 percent in the rest of Luzon, 13.3 percent in the Visayas, and 12 percent in Mindanao.
To come up with the nationwide figure of 15.5 percent, SWS actually added up the answers of two types of "hungry" respondents: Those who felt "severe hunger" by missing meals "often or always" in the last three months, and those who endured "moderate hunger" or had nothing to eat "once or a few times" in the same period.
The "severe hunger" bracket in the August poll made up 2.6 percent -- translating to about 400,000 families -- compared with 2.9 in the May poll.
The "moderate hunger" grouping grew to 12.9 percent in August -- about 2.1 million families -- from 9.2 percent in May.
Compared with May, severe hunger rose in Metro Manila, while moderate hunger rose across the country, SWS noted.
SWS conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,200 randomly selected household heads -- 300 each in Metro Manila, the rest of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for national percentages and plus or minus 6 percentage points for area percentages. Volt Contreras