Giving priority to the poor

Published November 17, 2020, 6:00 AM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

(PART 2)

Since over 50 percent of the meager income of the poorest of the poor is spent on food, it is only logical that whatever short-term program will be devised to help them survive during the pandemic is to give them access to sufficient food, especially for their children who are the ones most harmed by inadequate or unhealthy nutrition.  Part of the 4-P program could be given in kind, especially in the form of rice and milk.  Since government resources are always never enough for these emergency solutions, civil society and the business sector must think of creative solutions to the problem of hunger among the poorest of the poor.  NGOs, with the help of the business sector, must try to replicate the experiences of the Philippine Food Bank Foundation ( , which in the last four years has benefited close to four million poor Filipinos, especially children, by recycling soon-to-expire (SOTEX) processed food products from food processing companies like Alaska, Nutriasia, Century Can, and Del Monte, as well as restaurants like Jollibee2,  Max’s Group, Starbuck, Mary Grace, and Krispy Kreme – these food products are distributed through the appropriate logistics to orphanages, prisons, schools where the children  of the poor study, feeding clinics, and other institutions  where the poorest of the poor are given shelter.  The foundation has been also successful in approaching social clubs as the Makati Sports Club to share their surplus food resulting from banquets and other celebrations so that they can be distributed to families of informal settlers and especially orphanages run by religious organizations.

Since hunger will continue to be a serious problem during the pandemic, I encourage many middle and high-income families to replicate at a smaller scale the model of the Philippine Food Bank Foundation.  Especially now that there are a good number of  households where some of the members have been using their culinary skills to come out with all types of dishes and confectionaries, some enterprising millennials and centennials  living in the gated subdivisions where these households are can use their logistical expertise to gather surplus or soon-to-expire food items that can then be distributed to nearby informal settlers.  It is rare to find subdivisions of well-to-do families in the National Capital Region that are not close to communities of informal  settlers, whether they be in Makati, Pasig, Quezon City, Taguig, or elsewhere.  Collecting these surplus products or soon-to-expire dishes and distributing them to needy families would be a very appropriate way of developing experience and skills in this most important sector of supply chain management.  The vehicles used need not be more sophisticated than what drivers of Grab or similar delivery services utilize.  These smaller-scale replications of the Philippine Food Bank Foundation and similar large food distribution foundations can be started in other metropolitan areas such as  Metro Pampanga, Metro Cebu, Metro Davao, Metro Iloilo,  and Metro Cagayan de Oro.

Another model that can be followed is that described by former Undersecretary of Agriculture and of Trade and Industry  Ernie Ordonez, in his regular column in another paper. He presents an even more dire set of statistics about the hunger rate in the Philippines.  According to him, the rate increased from 9 percent last December, 2019, to 31 percent in September, 2020.  He confirms the view that no matter how determined the government is to address the dire consequence of the pandemic, these efforts are never enough.  The private sector will have to fill in the gaps.   He cited the laudable efforts of Mr. Jose Ma. Montelibano , special projects head of Gawad Kalinga and chair of Ateneo de Manila University 616569 Foundation, who  has been involved in feeding programs for both organizations for  the last ten years.  Montelibano led the organization of the Walang Iwanan Alliance (WIA) whose main mission is to increase awareness of the hunger issue. He developed a platform that will fund donations to credible organizations with a successful track record in high priority hunger areas.  WIA can handle donations as small as P100, which can provide one meal for one day to four hungry people.  Its battlecry is “Kung hindi gutom, kayang tumulong” (if one is not hungry, he can help).  WIA keeps a platform that has a database of where the hungry are and which private sector groups are already helping in those areas.  The WIA operating in Metro Manila is supported by people like former Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro, president of the Philippine Business for Social Progress.  Another private sector group very active in hunger alleviation is led by Vicky Wienecke, president of Kabisig ng Kalahi which has a multi awarded 20-year track record.  Globe Telecom studied WIA and officially announced a Globe Rewards program for WIA (Website:, phone 0916-533-3311, 0908-688-3300).

There should be similar initiatives in addressing the health and wellness needs of the poorest of the poor.  Efforts of the Department of Health and other public agencies are also never enough, especially considering  the unfortunate corrupt practices that have been uncovered in the implementation of public health programs.  An equivalent foundation to the Philippine Food Bank Foundation should be organized to distribute soon-to-expire medicine from the local and multinational pharmaceutical firms.  People in the medical and nursing profession who are not in the front line of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic should be organizing numerous medical missions to the poorest rural districts where medical attention is either scarce or non-existent.  Private hospitals, within bounds of financial stability, should be encouraged to provide free medical attention to the most marginalized households in their districts.  Potential beneficiaries can be taken from the list of 4P program of the government, especially for  pre-natal and post-partum and post-natal care.  The model of the foreign organization Medicins Sans Frontieres should be replicated by Filipino doctors within the Archipelago, especially in the most far flung areas.

The third sector in which there should be civil society  initiative in helping the poorest of the poor is education.  We should make it possible for  their children  to acquire an adequate education at the basic education level in the public schools.  With all the challenges being faced by most families in addressing the shift to blended education for their children, there should a special attention to what the children of poor households need in terms of digital devices and services.  Community centers should be  set up by private foundations in depressed areas where public school children would be provided adequate space and  facilities for “home learning” since their own homes would be completely inadequate for this purpose.  This community center should serve as “study centers” where families of the well-to-do can donate their second-hand smart phones, I-pads and laptops so that they can be used by the pupils for the necessary online learning (although most of them would still be using printed teaching modules).  It is difficult to predict when face-to-face classroom instruction will be widely permitted.  We cannot allow a whole generation of children to be left behind because of their lack of access to the necessary blended learning that is now being implemented in schools at all levels.  These are only preliminary ideas about what those who are better off in life can do now to make sure the poorest of the poor are not left behind. 

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