Inquirer Headlines: Nation

A World with Extreme Poverty is a World of Insecurity.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Palace exec counters study on Cordillera hunger

by Vincent Cabreza
Philippine Daily Inquirer-North Luzon
Last updated 02:04am (Mla time) 07/21/2007

BAGUIO CITY—A Malacañang official on Thursday said the conventional definition of poverty that the government was using may describe key Cordillera provinces as “food poor,” but the reality is “no one starves in any Igorot community.”

Speaking before a regional development council assembly, former Sagada Mayor Thomas Killip, presidential assistant for Cordillera affairs, countered a recent health and nutrition report that the region is “hungry.”

“To us in the Cordillera, even the thought of chronic hunger or starvation is not part of our vocabulary. In our values, to allow a family to starve is not only a disgrace, it is a crime,” he said.

Government health and nutrition experts announced in a Wednesday press conference that they had detected high incidences of malnutrition and hunger in the Mt. Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao, and Abra.

These provinces make up the Cordillera Administrative Region. Only Benguet, Metro Manila’s main source of salad vegetables, was excluded from a government nutrition project scheduled this year to correct this nutrition anomaly.

Sagada is a tourist-drawing town of Mt. Province, which displaced Ifugao from a list of the country’s poorest provinces last year.

During the Wednesday news briefing, Michaela de Fiesta, Cordillera coordinator of the National Nutrition Council (NNC), referred to the 2005-2006 Social Weather Stations’ hunger survey and a 2003 nutrition survey which detected the region’s malnutrition crisis.

De Fiesta said one oddity about Cordillera consumption patterns is the fact that indigenous Filipinos here still preferred to consume meat than the vegetables they produce.

Juan Ngalob, Cordillera director of the National Economic and Development Authority, said most vegetable farms in Benguet and Mt. Province are dedicated to consumers who spend up to P2 billion on salad vegetables shipped to Metro Manila each day.

The Cordillera’s gross regional domestic product in 2006 grew to 3.7 percent from the 0.7 percent rate posted in 2005, largely due to high farm yield, according to a statement released by Benjamin Navarro, Cordillera director of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

A major hybrid rice producer, Kalinga produced 66,000 metric tons of palay in 2006.

Most farmers have a substantial farm surplus which families consume, Ngalob said.

Killip made no reference to the SWS hunger survey when he countered reports about Cordillera hunger.

“Cordillerans in their whole history do not have accounts of starvation even in the worst of times,” he said. “Even while Spanish conquistadores [like] Guillermo Galvey conducted punitive expeditions to pacify Igorots and take control of the gold resources in these areas by burning entire villages and fields to starve communities, there were never any accounts of starvation,” he said.