Let’s recover from worst economic slump via agriculture: Pangilinan

THE worst slump for the Philippine economy since World War 2 means hunger for more Filipinos, said Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan Thursday, proposing that a people-centered agriculture be the centerpiece of the economic recovery.

Pangilinan is reacting to the Philippine Statistics Authority report that the Philippine economy posted a minus-8.3-percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2020, with a total of minus-9.5-percent growth for the whole of 2020. Data since 1947 indicate that this is the worst contraction in Philippine post-war history, with all sectors posting negative growth.

“These numbers confirm what the average Filipino already knows. Sobrang pahirap na ito para sa mga minimum wage earners na kumikita ng mga 500 pesos sa isang araw. Mas pahirap pa sa mga nawalan ng trabaho at nag-s-sideline na lang mag tricycle driver o mag-ayos ng bubong o mangalakal (maghanap ng mga recyclable para mabenta sa mga junk shop),” Pangilinan said.

“Hindi lang ito numbers, ito ang buhay ng karaniwang Pilipino. Alam ng mga nanay kung gaano kataas ang bilihin sa palengke. Alam nila kung gaano kagaang ang basket na inuuwi nila. Ramdam nila at ng mga anak nila ang sakit ng gutóm na sikmura,” he added.

Pangilinan said agriculture can be the engine of economic growth, given that everyone needs to eat.

“We are a largely agricultural country. Let us strive to be a powerhouse in food production and distribution. Kailangan lang tutukan ang buong food supply system, starting with the farmers and the fisherfolk,” he said.

On Monday, February 1, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food will discuss the pressing issue of skyrocketing food prices following Pangilinan’s privilege speech and Senate Resolution 618 which aims to look into solutions on how to stabilize food prices and allow access to adequate and affordable food.

In his privilege speech delivered last January 20, the former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization stressed that government must exert all effort to bring down the prices of food.

“Ano ang dapat gawin ng pamahalaan? Dapat siguraduhin ang mababang presyo ng pagkain. Dapat buong focus sa food supply. Buong focus sa health. Kailangan makontrol na ang Covid. If we need to recover, we need to recover healthy. Ibig sabihin, kumakain, nakakapagtrabaho,” the senator said.

Pangilinan pointed out another set of numbers that links hunger to lack of food: A survey of SWS, last September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, showed that families who experienced involuntary hunger or hunger due to lack of food reached a new record-high of 30.7 percent, or an estimated 7.6 million households.

“Mas lalala pa itong mga numbers na ito. Dahil habang tumataas ang presyo ng pagkain, lalo pang dadami ang magugutom,” he said.

Pangilinan stressed that prolonged hunger has a long-term effect on the health of Filipino children, citing Unicef data which indicate that one in three children in the Philippines is stunted.

“Kapag ganito ang ating mga kabataan, na siyang kinabukasan ng bayan. Saan tayo pupulutin?” he asked.

Pangilinan said that the pandemic has made it clear that all of government and all of society must focus on health. He said food and nutrition are an integral factor in health.

“Malinaw kung ano ang dapat ginagawa. Malinaw kung saan dapat ang pokus — kung sino ang dapat bigyan ng pansin,” he said.

“Kailangan nating alalayan ang karaniwang Pilipino para may makain at hindi magutom, at para maka-recover tayong lahat sa bangungot ng Covid at ng absence pa rin ng malinaw na game plan ukol dito,” he added.