Hunger, the enemy

Published September 13, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Gemma Cruz Araneta
Gemma Cruz Araneta



When I was a little girl, my mother would be very upset if I did not finish the food on my plate. She would frighten me with the thought of going hungry should there be   another world war.  I had lived through the last one with her and everyone else, but I was spared the  bitter memory of hunger pangs as I was breastfed for almost two years, and to supplement that diet of mother’s milk, she bartered her elegant frocks for squabs sold by  ambulant vendors from  towns nearby.

Once, during a Sunday lunch at my grandparents’ house, shortly after the war, I overheard my uncle Leoni remark that when they were starving in Bataan, he regretted all the bacalaos he missed during Semana Santa.  Maybe he did not like cod as a young man, so left a lot of it on his plate.

Should the Philippines become the battlefield of world powers once again, I am afraid we will be totally unprepared simply because we have not been attending to our food security. Due to globalization, we have been led to believe that it is cheaper to import even our staple foods and basic necessities.  In the agricultural sector, there are many cooperatives that have converted farmers into importers instead of producers of food; land conversion has transformed our most fertile rice lands into unproductive subdivisions and commercial estates.

You have probably wondered what the Katipuneros did for food, or if the Philippine Revolutionary Army had to march on an empty stomach, that was why we lost the Philippine-American War. We have learned that after the mass tearing of cedulas at Pugad Lawin (or was it Balintawak?), the motherly Tandang Sora spent her personal funds to feed thousands of Katipuneros.  From various sources, I read that throughout the anti-colonial revolution against Spain, Chinese shopkeepers offered food, cigarettes, and other supplies to the revolutionary fighters; many hacenderos in the Visayas joined the revolution with their own troops and food supply. However, there were also disquieting reports that only 3 months after the fighting broke out in Cavite, the Magdalo leaders were already aware of an impending food shortage. As ploughshares were transformed into weapons of war and work animals herded to the hinterlands (or slaughtered for sustenance), hunger became the worst enemy on the Cavite-Batangas front.

According to Dr. Reynaldo Ileto, “The revolution was greeted with enthusiasm in Cavite and Batangas during the months of August and September, 1896. Governments were formed; villagers were recruited into the rebel army. Many peasants fled from the large haciendas either to be free or simply to avoid being caught in between the warring forces.”  However, when the Spanish counter-attacked in full force at the start of 1897, it was impossible to sow and plant, so food supplies and reserves were soon depleted. Dr. Ileto said.” It is not surprising that the defeated Magdalo forces led by Aguinaldo needed to get the Bonifacio-led Magdiwang wing out of the way in April. Power or ideological struggle it may have been, resulting in Bonifacio’s execution in May, but it is equally significant that the Magdiwang, by then, controlled the last remaining rice granaries in Cavite.” Hunger was the enemy and the reason the Pact of Biak na Bato was signed.

As we all know, Emilio Aguinaldo returned aboard an American ship, which took him to Cavite; the revolution was not on hold  in his absence; it was in full swing. In July, 1898, a month after Independence was declared in Kawit, Vicente Lukban sent Aguinaldo a report about a food crisis in Balayan, Tuy, Lian, and Nasugbu. Francisco Martinez, a wealthy resident of Balayan,  also wrote to Aguinaldo in October 1898, lamenting that his reputed wealth had withered and that he could no longer contribute to his beloved country. (Ileto, 1998).

Today, we are not at war with any foreign state; we live in relative peace though not completely untroubled. However, it is alarming how complacent we are,   we have not given importance to food security. Should a war suddenly break out, we will surely find ourselves in the same predicament as our forbears who fought Spain and then the United States of America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hunger will be our worst enemy, and if we do not shape up, hunger will be the cause of our defeat and enslavement.

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