Hunger in the Old Country Haunts Us Even Here

I have not unpacked my luggage and have not delivered the pasalubongs but the news jolts me just the same: "Hunger level among Filipinos at all-time high, says SWS."

SWS, of course, is that pollster that has given us the ugly and the beautiful news, the palatable and the undigestible, the certain and the less certain depending on who is getting the flak or the praise.

But then we do not have to have the "hard facts" of the survey for us to be able to see--and to see clearly.

The trouble with the construction of knowledge--its social and political construction, in particular--is that we seem to have forgotten that the modes of knowing are in the plural: modes, with that capital S given emphasis.

It is not the empirical variety of SWS alone that makes sense. The glaring reality that people in the Metropolitan Manila are in the extremes is so evident we did not have to be reminded by the numbers of the survey.

This is not to downplay the role of the pollsters in making those doubting Thomases see and see clearly that there is poverty all around.

I remember that back in the 80s, when Cory Aquino was promising us so many things but allowed the oligarchs to get back at their precints to politically force the euphoric regime to honor the rights of the rich deprived by the previous regime, I wrote about the "poverty of the Philippine poor."

That was about 20 years ago--and this poverty has remained the same.

Ramos had to parade Mang Pandoy to make us see the dephts of despair of the poor. And we believed that the Ramos regime can do something--some thing, just some thing.

Mang Pandoy said he was willing to have himself killed if someone is willing to give his family P100,000 as the cost of his life so that his children would have something to start with in life, some thing that he never had.

This is called access, the big A. Access to the country's resources, to the factors of production apart from labor which the poor have an abundance of but which, ironically they do not own because they are selling the same at the minimum wage that is not even enough to make them survive decently each day.

The rich of the country are getting richer because they alone have the access to the resources that are necessary to produce wealth, such as capital, for instance.

The poor have only their lives to pawn or sell to the willing.

But the rich have all the documents to show: land titles, bank accounts, T-bills, connection, name, honor, and more connection. Include here political debts.

This is what the country is all about--and this is one reason why all hell is breaking loose in the heat that is Manila and everywhere, where children are afflicted with dry coughs because, one, there is not much to eat despite the fact that "balanced diet" is a must, and two, the leaders continue to lie that food is abundant and that the price is within the reach of the poor.

We have to pray for a miracle here.

How can a minimum wage earner afford the cost of a balanced diet: fish, and lean meat, and fruits, and vegetables, and milk?

The leaders make us laugh the laugh of the desperate. Come one, we say, get real!

So I allow the news to hit me--and hit me hard. It says that Manila is "ravenous"--hardest hit.

But well, that is not news. It has been like that all along.

I remember that docu that I watched on Ch 2 on people from the pier area living literary under the chassis of trucks for years and years. Imagine a chassis turned into a home!

I open my bag, the tags stills dangling, reminding me of the miles and miles that I had to put in and the distance and the loneliness that I have to invest on to be able to survive the harrowing days ahead.

There is hunger here as well, this hunger in me--this need to look for means to satiate our thirst for the better things in life, for that quality life that we all deserve in the first place.

I remove the tags one by one.

I put them on a plastic bag.

These will remind me of the hunger that I have to go through in order to scratch out a life outside the home country because in there, I have to take on multiple jobs in order to send my kids to school.

But then I wanted to write as well and my dream is to buy the time to write one of the greatest Filipino novels of all time.

Please, permit me to buy that time to be able to write one of the greatest Filipino novels ever written.

This is a beautiful dream, isn't it?

A. S. Agcaoili
Torrance, CA
Saturday, May 20, 2006

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