The Filipino farmers, especially peasants who do not own their land, never had a good break in this country ruled by the oligarchs. Why is hunger an important issue? I’ve written an article, “Kumakalam na Sikmura” in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, which appeared last Fall 2015 issue. Let me share with you some of my reflections on hunger:
Issues of hunger can be compelling for a national vision. The 1987 Philippine Constitution explicitly urges the government to promote a just and dynamic social order that ensures the prosperity and independence of the nation. This social order must also free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment and a rising standard of living, and ensure an improved quality of life for all. This quality of life is characterized by the absence of complications such as hunger.
It is unimaginable to some that in a world where food abounds, so many are hungry.
Hunger affected at least 4.8 million Filipinos families in the third quarter of 2014, an upsurge from the previous year, according to a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS). The September 26-29, 2014, poll found the proportion of families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months to be 22 percent. Considering that the average family has six members, this means that around 27 million Filipinos, or 15 percent of the country’s total population, experience hunger. Meanwhile, 4.7 percent (970,000 families) regard themselves as being severely hungry, experiencing it “all the time” or “always.” The same survey also reveals that 55 percent of the respondents
considered themselves to be poor; 43 percent or an estimated 9.3 million households considered themselves to be food poor. .Filipino economist. JC Punongbayan claims
that in many developing countries like the Philippines, hunger remains a daily battle for survival. According to official data, the food poor are those people whose incomes fall below the cost of basic food and nutritional requirements. While the share of the population who are food poor decreased from 2006 to 2012, the absolute number of food-poor people has increased, mainly due to population growth.
Hunger has always been regarded as an economic issue because food touches everything and is the foundation of every economy. In the Philippines, economic indicators are built around the rise and fall of the price of rice, the country’s major food staple. Foods such as rice and fish (and in recent times, noodles) are subject to political strategies of states and households. Food sharing creates solidarity, while food scarcity damages the human community and the human spirit.
Kumakalam na Sikmura as Body in Pain
In everyday life, we are not usually very aware of our bodies. Only in pain does
the body intrude into the consciousness, thereby making its presence felt. The experience of hunger as physiological pain—insistent, clawing, and gnawing—demonstrates the interaction of bodies and the environment. Nancy Scheper-Hughes captures this occurrence best when she declares that a phenomenology of hunger reveals a “horrible human affliction.” It is interesting to note that the Filipino phrase kumakalam na sikmura—literally translated as the “gnawing of the stomach”— refers both to the physiological aspect of hunger as well as the state whenthe stomach “communicates” its needs to the person. When people are chronically hungry, their stomachs are always “crying,” “demanding,” and “insistent.” Kumakalam na sikmura explicitly draws attention to the relationship between the body its owner, and the social and cultural worlds it is part of. To grasp the meaning of pain, it is not enough to look at the body’s presence or absence in the individual’s consciousness. Understanding the language of the body in general and the hungry stomach in particular is only possible if the body is positioned firmly within the cultural symbolism and the context of the social groups it is a part of. Due to its insistence and demand, hunger is the best example of a phenomenon that can demonstrate how the body is real and tangible, but lends itself to symbols and meanings.
History has also shown that masses of individual, hungry bodies, when they recognize the roots of their suffering and organize among themselves, have become catalysts of change. Tragically, they are more often aroused in anger and indignation to fight wars of revolution or liberation against other members of economic/political/cultural bodies within smaller geopolitical zones in the world. Furthermore, Philippine history has shown how these events have resulted in the reorganization of political, economic, and cultural bodies, which
may identify intermediate solutions to address issues of chronic hunger. As mentioned earlier, traditional responses to hunger have revolved around resource allocation. However, while structural changes in political and economic spheres may indeed result in more efficient management systems (political bodies) and economic production systems (economic bodies), they can further cultivate more material consumption, heavily affecting the biogeosphere or environment. These tremendous changes may lead to more competition for scarce resources at the planetary level, as nation-states or regional blocs
emerge. Neocolonial forms of domination may likewise rise from these social systems, which fail to address other causes of human hunger at different levels.This cyclic competition for resources to address hunger at different levels of human existence may intensify further, unless a permanent revolution in the cultural body occurs that proposes to cultivate a state of mental satisfaction with basic ecological necessities for human survival.