This week we heard about a court of appeals in Italy that overturned the judgment on a 30-year-old man who had been convicted for stealing 4.07 euros worth of sausage and cheese from a supermarket. This does not now allow hungry people to steal when they feel hungry—the ruling is not a precedent. But the court acknowledged that the food “had been taken out of an immediate and vital need for nourishment.”
A less popular case was decided last year in the UK, where a couple was discharged after being caught stealing food. Sickness, unemployment and the loss of a welfare check had fanned their desperation.
These, however, are more exception rather than rule.
Here at home, it is more common to see punishment meted out on those acting out of desolation than on those driven by greed to acquire more, even as they already have a lot. Local jails are crammed with petty thieves, and a staggering majority cannot afford to post bail as their cases remain pending, often for years.
While stealing can never be justified, the poignancy of the circumstances driving people to extreme measures should serve as a constant reminder that many fundamental things remain awry in this country. We need only to recall the plight of the farmers in Kidapawan City who blockaded the road as they pleaded for rice. The El Niño phenomenon had deepened their misery and their families had been going hungry for months, on top of their inability to produce rice to sustain their livelihood.
To our utter shame, the farmers were dispersed, and violently. They were accused of being organized by leftists out to embarrass the government. The same group of policemen who had shot at least two of the farmers were given medals of recognition.
The election noise will soon quiet down, the winners will be proclaimed and, barring a national emergency, a new administration will take over at the end of next month. The woes of the hungry—he rumbling of their empty stomachs— will, however, not stop.
The next leaders will aim for economic growth, better infrastructure, higher income, more jobs and rosier credit ratings. All these are good and desirable. But these will amount to nothing if there remain millions of Filipinos who resort to desperate measures or expose themselves to risk just to respond to their hunger, and to be assured they will still have something for the next meal or the succeeding days.
Physical nourishment is, as the Italian court said, an immediate and vital need. It is critical to one’s dignity. Consider only the candidates who recognize this basic requirement and commit to addressing food security over the long term.