Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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REALITY CHECK: Poverty, hunger push more Filipinos to risk their lives and limbs

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By Paul Anthony A. Isla

NOTWITHSTANDING the Philippine government’s optimism and thrust to unite everyone towards a vision of a robust and inclusive economy, many still contend with poverty and hunger even as the Covid-19 health crisis nears becoming endemic. 

The World Bank, albeit with a slight improvement, projected the Philippines’ poverty incidence to stand at 17.1 percent of the population in 2022 from 18.1 percent in 2021. 

But despite the renewed optimism and the reopening of the economy, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) still noted that five percent or 2.5 million Filipinos remain unemployed as of September this year. Hence, a far improvement from the 17.6 percent unemployment rate registered in April 2020 and even compared to the annual average of 10.4 percent in 2020. 

With their backs against the wall, some Filipino breadwinners risked and may even think of risking their lives and limbs just to put food on the table for their families. With no permanent employment, some have clung to the adage that desperate times call for desperate measures to earn a living to afford the barest and basic necessity – food.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) recently reported that 11.3 percent of Filipino families, or 2.9 million Filipinos, experience “involuntary hunger” moving into the third quarter of 2022.

The need for the quick buck has lured some to illegally cut, steal, and fence the materials, particularly the copper found inside these power and telecommunication cables. A kilo of copper could fetch around Php300 to Php400 when sold in a nearby or community junk shop – which is not proportionate to the value of one’s life.

Even with enough regulations or laws in place to protect utilities and discourage perpetrators from stealing and fencing power cables, in Metro Manila alone, 457 recorded power cable theft cases have occurred from 2020 to October this year. Of the total, 106 have resulted in service interruptions, and eight (8) led to injury or death.

On an annual basis, Engr. Efren V. Olpindo, Meralco senior assistant vice president and head of Operations Services Management, shares that there has been an increase from 137 power cable theft cases in 2020 to 173 and 147 in 2021 and as of October 2022, respectively.

In various radio interviews, Engr. Olpindo called on Meralco customers to observe electrical safety and to be vigilant against power cable theft that could lead to power service interruptions and, worse, endanger the lives of the perpetrators and even the public. Customers can report these theft incidents and exposed or damaged power cables through Meralco’s 24/7 16211 hotline and social media pages.  

Similarly, PLDT has also recorded a 422 percent increase in apprehensions related to theft between January to July 2021 and January to July 2022. This rate exceeded the 59 percent increase in loss incidents for the same period. 

For PLDT, incidents of theft were not limited to telecommunication cables but also included batteries and other network equipment. These incidents have resulted in telephone and internet service interruptions, thus affecting productivity for office- and home-based workers and even online learners. 

PLDT has also activated its 164 hotline where citizens nationwide can report cable theft, cable breakage and other related incidents, which often lead to service disruption. 

Power and telecommunication industry stakeholders recently formed a coalition and signed a manifesto condemning the illegal cutting, stealing, and fencing of power and telecom cables. “This unlawful act robs customers of the steady power supply, internet, and cable TV service they need for entertainment and access to information. It also disrupts connectivity and productivity required for work and even distance learning. 

Officials from PLDT, Smart, Globe Telecom, Inc., Metroworks ICT Construction, Inc., Radius Telecoms, Inc., Streamtech Systems Technologies, Inc., Philippine Cable and Telecommunications Association, Inc., and Sky Cable Corp. signed the manifesto. Power utilities Meralco and National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) have also joined the coalition and expressed support for “Oplan Kontra Putol.”

However, these small steps – the creation of a coalition and the active and constant reminders by stakeholders through quad media – would continue to be inutile unless government and law enforcement agencies enforce the relative regulations and laws aimed to curtail, if not eradicate, these illegal acts.  

The pandemic may have shown the resilience of Filipinos amid uncertain times. Still, these recorded incidents (of power and telecom cable theft) may also be a REALITY CHECK when government leaders introspect how they managed the country’s Covid-19 response program and address the country’s current poverty and hunger incidences.  

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