posted December 10, 2020 at 01:50 am
AFP and Allison Jackson
Daniel Auminto lost his job and then his home when the coronavirus
pandemic sent the Philippines into lockdown. Now he and his family live
on the street, relying on food handouts to survive.
Lockdowns bite as severe hunger hits 2 million families
QUEUE FOR FOOD. In this photo taken on November 24, Catholic priest
Father Flavie Villanueva (left) helps a young street dweller queueing up
for free packed meals distributed by religious order Society of the
Divine Word (SVD) in Manila. Charities are struggling to meet the
ever-growing demand for food as millions of families go hungry across
the country where COVID-19 restrictions have crippled the economy and
thrown many out of work. AFP
Charities are struggling to meet the ever-growing demand for food as
millions of families go hungry across the country.
COVID-19 restrictions have crippled the economy and thrown many out of work.
“I’ve never seen hunger at this level before,” said Jomar Fleras,
executive director of Rise Against Hunger in the Philippines, which
works with more than 40 partners to feed the poor.
“If you go out there everybody will tell you that they’re more afraid of
dying from hunger than dying from COVID. They don’t care about Covid
The number of people going hungry has reached a record high during the
pandemic, according to pollster Social Weather Stations.
Nearly one-third of families -- or 7.6 million households -- did not
have enough food to eat at least once in the previous three months, its
September survey showed.
Among them were 2.2 million families experiencing “severe hunger” -- the
The numbers have been going up since May, two months after the country
went into a severe lockdown -- reversing a downward trend since 2012.
Virus restrictions have been eased in recent months to allow more
businesses to operate as the government seeks to revive the devastated
economy, which is expected to shrink up to 9.5 percent this year.
For the country’s legions of poor, the pandemic is just another
challenge in their lives -- and not even the most serious.
Auminto, 41, spent years sleeping on the streets and eking out a meagre
living by selling trash for recycling. His fortunes changed in 2019 when
he found stable work as a building painter.
That gave him enough money to rent a room in Manila, which he shared
with his wife and their two-year-old daughter, buy food, and even save a
little towards their dream of opening a small store.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“We lost our home, my job. We even lost our clothes which were stolen
from us,” said Auminto as he sat in a park where the family sleeps on a
flattened cardboard box at night.
Before the pandemic “I planned to work and work our way out of poverty.
It’s for my family, so I can give them a better life, send my child to
Every day they join long queues of mostly homeless people to receive a
free meal from an outdoor food pantry.
On some days, the family gets two meals from different pantries; other
days it is just one. Sometimes they have no food at all.
‘Living like pigs’
Five days a week volunteers at a centre in Manila run by the Roman
Catholic order Society of the Divine Word prepare around a thousand
meals of chicken, vegetables and rice that are packed into boxes and
given to the hungry.
Demand is constantly increasing, said Father Flavie Villanueva, who runs
“We started doing this in April and began with 250 (people lining up).
It increased to 400, and then 600, then 800. Three weeks ago, it was
1,000,” Villanueva said.
“The majority are still homeless but there’s a good number who are with
homes but are desperate because there are no jobs.”
Hunger was already a major problem in the Philippines before the
About 59 million people were “moderately or severely food insecure”
between 2017 and 2019 -- the highest in Southeast Asia -- the UN’s Food
and Agriculture Organization said in a report.
The impact of the virus on hunger has been exacerbated by a series of
typhoons that have pummeled the country in recent months, destroying
tens of thousands of homes.
Fleras said food donations have soared during the pandemic, in part
because many factories forced to suspend operations gave away their
surplus stock. But it is not enough to meet demand.
“We might reach 200,000 families this year,” he said.
Auminto said it was “painful” to have lost everything and be back on the
street where he says the police treat them “like animals”.
“They should understand our situation, not treat us like pigs,” he said.
“We’re already living like pigs.”