Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fishers and fish

Nov. 21, Friday last week, was World Fishers Day. How many people in this country, fishers included, knew that? This nation of islands floating between azure skies and azure sea is home to fishers and fish. Yet, among the poorest of the poor among us are the small fishers who subsist on their daily catch that are dwindling by the day.

Those of us who try to live a meatless life or with little meat in our diet extol the greatness of the fish. The gourmets among us know the different flavors and textures in a fish head which non-Asians miss out on because they have a horror for detached body parts.

Fishers and fish were often mentioned and given symbolic meaning in biblical times. Several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, Peter among them. Jesus sent them off to the world with the words, “I will make you fishers of men.”

There are more instances when fish, fishers and fishing were in the heart of the bible stories—the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; the coin in a fish’s mouth that Jesus said should be sufficient for tax, and which Peter went to look for as he was told; the resurrected Jesus standing on the shore asking, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”; then the casting of the nets and the drawing in of a huge catch. So many fishing scenes. Peter, the first Pope, was a fisherman.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

KFR in Zambasulta

The kidnapping for ransom (KFR) of veteran development worker Merlie “Milet” Mendoza in Basilan last Sept. 15, and her release on Nov. 14 (after ransom was paid) was the latest in a series of KFR cases in the Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi) area.

The kidnappers, believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf Group of bandits, have seized all kinds and any one they fancied. Priests and religious, tourists, media practitioners, businessmen, students, development and humanitarian aid workers. Blood has been shed, lives have been lost. It’s all for the money. Terror and cruelty are their main weapons. Worse, they even gloat about their religious beliefs.

That development workers are not spared, as in the case of Mendoza and her fellow worker Esperancita Hupida, is something not unexpected. The bandits-terrorists spare no one. Now non-government organizations (NGOs) have to think many times about sending their workers to the dangerous places where these evil elements stalk their prey.

These NGOs are focusing on poverty-stricken areas in order to improve people’s lives. Poverty breeds criminality. Addressing the roots is key. But what do well-meaning workers get in return? Mendoza, a veteran development who used to work with Assisi Foundation and Tabang Mindanaw projects, was in Basilan to look into a water project when she and Hupida were seized. Mendoza is a consultant for Mercy Malaysia and the Asian Disaster Relief Network.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going organic, better late than later

What a surprise to learn that the government has gotten serious about pushing organic fertilizers and organic food production. This is indeed a major policy shift. I heard bells ringing and farm animals rejoicing and I imagined the citrusy, earthy smell of composting matter. Yes, all that and suddenly feeling the peace of wild things that Wendell Berry, prophet of rural living, spoke about.

The skeptic may view this government move as turning the public attention away from the raging multi-million fertilizer scam which is one of toxic-est this country has ever seen. One journalist was murdered because of this and the brains have yet to be brought to justice.

Whatever its motives, the Department of Agriculture (DA) could be but right to push organic. Can it sustain the campaign? How far will it go on the long and winding road? Agriculture secretary Arthur Yap who projects himself as a non-nonsense agri-crat should better put organic fertilizer where his press pronouncements are. And we better like this guy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We’re only hungry

No, we’re not starving to death, we’re only hungry.

The Philippines is again prominent on the hunger map. We landed fifth (or among the top 10) in Gallup International’s survey results on the world’s hungriest. Released on World Food Day last month, the results didn’t hit the news until recently.

It is said that very few people die of starvation. According to Bread for the World (Brot fur die Welt or BW), a Church-related development agency that has worldwide reach including in the Philippines, only a small percentage of hunger deaths are caused by starvation. Most hunger-related deaths are the result of chronic undernutrition, which weakens the body's ability to ward off diseases prevalent in poor communities. Most hungry people have some food, but not enough food or enough of the right kinds of food.

And so when people actually starve to death—because no food is available—the cause is primarily political, not environment-related. In North Korea, BW notes, untold millions starved because of the government's unwillingness to give up on failed economic policies. In Sudan, millions are threatened with starvation because of an ongoing military conflict that devastated the country's ability to produce food and because the government restricts the flow of emergency relief.