Activists demand Filipino poll candidates put poor first

Philippines marks World Food Day with plea to prospective politicians to make sure people's basic needs are kept
Activists demand Filipino poll candidates put poor first

Activists stage a march in Manila on Oct. 16 to urge candidates in next year's elections to include food security and land rights in their campaign platforms. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Food security and land rights activists marched in Manila on Oct. 16 to urge candidates in next year's mid-term elections to make sure basic issues that affect the poor are included in their campaign platforms.

The march was part of a World Food Day observance by farmers, workers, and advocacy groups under the #Vote4FoodSecurity campaign.

Maria Rosario Felizco, country director of international charity group Oxfam, said Filipinos need to elect people who will serve the interest of the "poor and the marginalized."

A joint statement released by 13 organizations under the campaign said next year's election is "like a search for the best candidate to be hired by people."

"Candidates possessing any of the 'worst' qualifications need not apply," read the group's statement.

The list of "worst" qualifications included conflicts of interest and supporting businesses that destroy the environment and agricultural lands.

"Far too many Filipino farmers, fishers, and workers suffer from hunger and unjust working conditions.... This is not right; it has to stop," said Felizco.

"Ripe for Change," Oxfam's global campaign report released in June 2018, noted that banana farmers in Mindanao are "food insecure" and "locked into grossly unfair contracts."

The report was based on surveys conducted in 2017 that found that 75 percent of surveyed workers on banana plantations were "food insecure" while 38 percent were "severely food insecure."

A survey by pollster Social Weather Stations early this year revealed that 13.3 percent or some 3.1 million Filipino families had experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months. 

Sister Elenita Belardo, national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, said a food crisis in the country could have been resolved if the government only implemented "genuine agrarian reform."

"Let the farmers till the land. Give the land to hands that can grow and harvest the food that can feed the country," said the Good Shepherd nun.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization launched this year a "Zero Hunger" campaign that aims to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by the year 2030. 

The campaign encourages nations to work together to ensure food security and urges governments to create opportunities for greater private sector investments in agriculture. 

As of Oct. 16, at least 104 individuals had registered for the senatorial election next year, including a man who claimed to be "Jesus Christ, another a king, and a Catholic charismatic movement leader.

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Rizalito David, a 56-year-old Catholic charismatic preacher, said he is running in the May 2019 midterm elections because he is on "a mission ... to give hope to our people, to bring in love."

David ran for president in 2016 and for senator in 2013 but was declared a "nuisance candidate" by the poll body because he had "no bonafide intention to run for office."

He vowed that if he wins, "we will bring our faith, belief as Catholics in crafting laws and in teaching our countrymen."

Mark Saludes contributed to this report.

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