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The longest Christmas season in the world culminates today in the Philippines where families and friends set aside differences and gather for the traditional celebrations marked by feasts, merriment, and gift-giving. But for many Filipinos who are struggling to put food on their table every day, there might be very little to celebrate.

In this season of giving, the government must do better to improve the lives of those who have little in life and who, on a special day like today, could barely afford even a P500 “noche buena” to share with their families.

Last month, the social welfare department put the number of Filipino families living in poverty at 5.6 million—or an estimated 30 million individuals. This is about 27 percent, or almost one-third, of the 111 million population, and just one million short of the number of votes that President Marcos Jr. received in the elections last May.

In his first State of the Nation Address, Mr. Marcos promised to slash the poverty rate to single digit by the end of his six-year term. It will not be easy to achieve this goal, especially when the economy is still coming out from the lingering effects of the pandemic, and a global recession is seen next year due to geopolitical, energy, and economic factors.

The World Bank forecasts the country’s poverty level to ease to 17.1 percent this year from 18.1 percent last year. Already, 49 percent of Filipino families rated themselves poor in the self-rated poverty survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations last October. This should prod the government to be more sensitive and responsive to their predicament. It would be a better Christmas gift to the people if the government, instead of devoting energy to the passage of a wealth fund, refocuses its attention to urgent economic and social issues.

Top priority should be support for the most neglected agriculture and fisheries sectors, which left Filipino farmers and fishermen among the poorest. Despite being a resource-rich country with an abundance of land and water resources, the country remains poor, and food security continues to threaten the population. This year alone, there was a shortage of supply of sugar, salt (an irony for an archipelagic country that had to resort to salt importation), onion, and garlic. That the Batanes governor had to beg the public last September to help buy 20 tons of garlic from her province because the agriculture department bought less of the product from the region—while there was a garlic shortage in the market—only shows how broken the system is and how farmers are left to their own devices. The same can be said about Filipino fishermen, many of them chased by Chinese fishermen and military out of their traditional fishing grounds in the disputed West Philippine Sea. Worse, the country had to import galunggong, fished from its own exclusive economic zone, from China.

Think also of those in the education and health care sectors who are not better off either—low pay and toxic work conditions have spurred teachers and health care workers to seek greener pastures overseas, worsening the local learning and health care crises. Based on a commissioned Pulse Asia survey conducted last June, 50 percent of public school teachers are underpaid—entry-level teachers here are paid P25,439, compared to those in Indonesia who get more than P66,000. Likewise, Filipino nurses are the lowest paid in the region, earning only around P40,381 monthly, while their Southeast Asian counterparts earn at least P63,000. It is incredible that public officials are more preoccupied with earmarking billions for a wealth fund or intelligence funds than facilitating the release, for example, of the billions owed health care workers in COVID allowances and benefits.

Then there is the labor sector—workers have been demanding a wage hike as inflation has eroded their earnings. But the labor department said a wage hike next year remains uncertain, since several regional wage boards have already granted pay hikes ranging from P30 to P110 this year, and any increase will impact especially small businesses. An International Labour Organization report last month said the inflationary crisis has reduced the purchasing power of the middle classes and hit low-income households particularly hard. Low-wage earners, it said, are the ones who suffer the most from inflation because they spend most of their disposable income on essential goods and services.

These are the sectors that the government should be prioritizing, and any policy or law that it should be enacting should bear meaningful and impactful changes on them. These are the people who woke up this morning to an otherwise ordinary day, with neither gifts nor holiday food to look forward to. And it is for those who have so little in life that the government should be doing more in this season of giving and beyond.

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Giving to those who have little – Vigour Times

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