The past month has not been particularly kind to many of our kababayan.
The Department of Trade and Industry kicked off December by publishing a post about a P500 Noche Buena meal that looked hardly enough to feed one person, let alone a family of four.
It was seen by some as government washing its hands of its responsibilities for tamping down high prices and curbing rampant inflation, now at 8 percent as of last month—the highest since November 2008.
The annual average from 2019 to 2021 was 3.22 percent.
The pitiful-looking meal DTI came up with further rubbed salt into the wounds of Filipinos who wonder why a kilo of onions—an integral component of Filipino cuisine—now cost more than a kilo of meat.
Faced with backlash, DTI took down its post.
Well, which is what usually happens when tone-deaf officials miss the mark and have to get dragged down from their high horse by the common folk.
Like when Sen. Cynthia Villar said she “could live without onions,” witty netizens retorted, “We can live without Cynthia Villar!” “Shallot sa lipunan,” another said.
Also in the first week of December, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta floated the idea of food pills to feed hungry Filipinos.
“I’m thinking aloud na kung sakali pong makaimbento tayo nung kinakain nila (astronauts), ibibigay ko po sa mga mahihirap na kababayan natin. Even for months hindi sila kakain, hindi sila mamatay,”
Marcoleta said. He asked if Filipino scientists could invent something like food energy pills.
They can save themselves the trouble. There already is something in the market that staves off hunger and has a long shelf life.
It’s high in fat that provides energy and keeps fresh for months in a container. It’s called dog food. Shades of Soylent Green!
But wait, that’s not all.
After they foist off an absurd Noche Buena on us, forcing us to make ‘diskarte’ or ‘tiis’ instead of expeditiously addressing food security and supply chain issues; after they tell us to do without onions (which is indispensable in the Holy Trinity of pang-gisa along with garlic and tomatoes); after they muse about feeding Filipinos what is essentially food pellets; we are faced with a rising number of COVID cases in four cases due to Omicron subvariant BF.7.
Health expert Tony Leachon said the new subvariant is a cause for concern.
Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. President Dr. Jose Rene de Grano said it is possible the new variant is more transmissible.
Other researchers have said the variant may have immune-evading properties. Infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said daily COVID infections may reach 5,000 next month due to people gathering over the holidays.
Any solutions on government’s part? Last week, Sen. Joel Villanueva filed a resolution asking for a legislative inquiry into the Philippine food security status.
“Despite efforts made by the government agencies at the forefront of achieving food security in the Philippines, particularly the Department of Agriculture, hunger incidence and the rising food prices in the country are still on alarming levels,” he wrote in his proposed Senate Resolution 385.
“Alarming” is right.
I hope this inquiry goes further than mere poking and prodding at the problem’s carcass.
What the country needs are concrete solutions to bring down inflation, assure our kababayan of an adequate and affordable supply of basic food commodities, and make sure that public health protocols versus COVID are still being observed.
We haven’t even discussed some of the other perennial problems such as the awfulness and hellish state of public transportation (which is why a great many employees prefer to work from home); the high cost of electricity, one of the highest in Asia; and poor internet coverage in remote areas (hoping the government’s Broadband ng Masa will truly reach underserved areas, and not just peter out after installing a few here and there).
These are what we want for Christmas, along with a responsible and ethical government that doesn’t think of shady schemes such as a sovereign wealth fund that was supposed to have dipped into government social security funds, if the people didn’t cause a ruckus that made officials backtrack.
Basic needs met and served, and improvements to our way of life and living standards—these have been a long time coming.
When is change going to come?
Hoping that your Christmas was merry and bright in the arms of your loved ones, and that the New Year will bring us better things, all the good things we deserve.
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* * * Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO