WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Feed the hungry now

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 December) — Teachers know that the best instruction would not serve its intended purpose when the student’s stomach is grumbling.

Mental health practitioners know that it would be ineffective to talk to someone if his basic needs are yet compromised.

In our daily interactions, basic courtesy requires that we see to someone else’s comfort, and especially when the other person is in need, injured, grieving, or all of the above.

The Filipino, ordinarily a very courteous person, socialized to put someone else’s need above his own, recognizes this rule as a matter of everyday conventions.

The first thing we ask when someone knocks on or door is, “Kumain ka na ba?”

Things changed a bit when the colonial masters came to these islands to rule. They coined the term patay gutom to mean that someone subject to natural human physiological functioning is contemptible.

Scions of colonizers carry that habit of holding in contempt people who are hungry.

They use other people’s hunger to make them come and listen to their speeches.

They line up trucks and trucks of tempting food packs for the day; put them on display just a little out of reach: “All yours, but first, behave and listen to me talk.”

Hunger distorts reception of auditory input. Hunger impairs intellectual efficiency. Starving people barely understand what the man who came down from the sky say. They just want him to give them that meager ration. That, definitely, is better than nothing at all, yes.

Men and women from the chopper who wish to speak backdropped by political party banners, the decent thing to do when you encounter a starving person is to first feed him. Then you can talk. Maybe.

Hunger does not wait forever. One can forget about it for a bit, and then you really have to eat. A man can probably suspend hunger for a day, but not a week.

We pray, “Lord, give us our DAILY bread,” because that is the way the Lord designed the human body.

We can’t say, “Lord, give us our WEEKLY bread.” We’d be dead by then.

A week is what it has been for many people in Cateel and Baganga.

In the last four days, they’ve seen choppers and boats and truckloads of food items coming their way to be dropped at their municipal DRRM centers.

They know this foodstuff is for them.

Many among them don’t get any.

Generous hearts in Davao City and elsewhere scramble to donate mountains and mountains of relief goods for our storm-stricken brothers and sisters in Davao Oriental.

We are consoled to see these mountains of food. We feel relieved to see them rolling out by truck, ships, and probably airlift to Baganga and Cateel.

We feel good because we helped put it together. It’s the least we can do. Now, our brothers and sisters there can eat.

Well, it’s not getting to those we intend it for, as municipal DRRM centers do not have the capacity to distribute this directly to the people who need them.

Those food packs wait for hours at the municipal DRRM centers. The barangay captains are supposed to come and bring them to their barangays. When they do, dispatch personnel log the supply as released for that barangay. Check mark on this barangay. Goods released; ergo the people there received.

We see the report on paper and we heave a sigh of relief. We think help is getting to people in need.

From what we from the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services have seen on the ground, the people remain hungry.

In Cateel on the 7th, Fr. Nestor Morata is pleading for duty bearers to get their act together.

In Baganga on the 9th, Fr. PerfectoUrbuda said it more succinctly: “First, feed the people.”

Outside on the streets, a very irate Baganga resident had this to say for Hadji’s video:  “Inday Sara, ang imong pack ni-repack pa gud sang munisipyo. Wala kami gihapon nakuha.”

She had taken to yelling at the passing trucks carrying loads of relief, “Walang hinabang!

She had seen so much food coming by, and none getting to her hungry neighbors. Deny the starving some more and they get mad. Deny that further and they go crazy.

This is a microcosm of the problem in the Philippines. We have much resource, and none getting to those who are really in need. And yes, the problems are, among others, distribution and misleading assumptions on official reports.

Davao City Mayor Inday Sara sent out loads and loads of family packs, precisely to cut down on work and time for repacking at the municipal DRRM centers in these beneficiary towns. In DPWH Panacan, the multi-agency donation drop center is setting its volunteers to repack also with the same intention of getting the relief items there ready for immediate distribution. Still, upon receipt, municipal DRRMC are delaying the distribution by unpacking and repacking some more.

They don’t really have to do this anymore because more help is coming their way. They don’t seem to reckon that the measure of their efficiency now is not how much relief rations they have in store. It is actually about how fast they can move it out to make room for more.

Those in authority there seem to think that hunger is something people can suspend for a week while they repack the supplies.

They do so to avoid “duplication” of relief delivery. They’d rather not give until they are sure they haven’t given already. And they probably go by their dispatch records as indicator of the “duplication”.

They conveniently deny the natural human physiological rule that if we are fed now, in about five hours’ time, the stomach will be hungry again. You can’t just feed people once. They go hungry again in about five hours’ time.

It has taken many LGUs a week already since Typhoon Pablo, and they are yet to work out a system to assure themselves against “duplication” in their distribution. They store the supply and repack them as fast as they could. The mode of thinking is to stretch what is there to maximize the number of packs they can make. Contents divided, what is already a meager pack is made more so.

Nabigyan naman,” they tell you when you ask. More to assure themselves than to convince you really.

Nabigyan nga po. Isang sardines at isang kilong bigas.

How much is that and how long would that go when the family hasn’t eaten in days?

The gatekeepers of the food packs have suspended basic rules of courtesy. They are beginning to view so much widespread hunger as a contemptible state of patay gutom. They seem oblivious to the fact that they are part of what is maintaining persistent widespread hunger.

This is an emergency situation for Cateel and Baganga.

Feed the hungry.  Feed them now. Feed them again, and yet again… because it would take more than just eating once to normalize one’s physiological functioning after having been battered black and blue by Typhoon Pablo and rendered sleepless, tired, and afraid in the last week with no end in sight. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail Ilagan heads the Psychology Department and the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University.)