APRIL 9, 2007 (STAR) Coming from a spiritual retreat over the Holy Week in Baguio City last week, President Arroyo ordered government agencies to pool and intensify their efforts and seek the cooperation of the private sector to wipe out hunger in the country, officials said yesterday.

The order was the latest in the slew of directives Mrs. Arroyo has been making over the last two weeks – including her order that an anti-hunger task force be formed and for the release of P5 billion for the effort – after successive Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys showed that hunger remained at record highs.

National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) chairman Domingo Panganiban said he received specific instructions from Mrs. Arroyo by phone on Maundy Thursday to coordinate with other government agencies to forge a "broad alliance" that will ensure that services are delivered swiftly and adequately to the people.

"The instruction of the President was very clear," Panganiban said. "She wanted all agencies to cooperate in order to ensure unhampered, uninterrupted, continuous, and constant delivery of services at all time whether (it is the) political season or not."

He said that even agencies indirectly related to hunger-mitigation efforts – such as the Luzon Urban Beltway and the Subic-Clark Alliance for Development Council (LUB-SCADC) – were tapped for the effort, since the incidence of hunger is high in Luzon.

LUB-SCADC head Secretary Edgardo Pamintuan said Mrs. Arroyo explicitly told Cabinet officials during last week’s retreat to "focus more on the poor and ensure greater access to food and basic services."

"It was like her ‘sermon on the mount’ to us, to concentrate more on poverty and hunger mitigation now that the economy has greatly improved," he said.

Panganiban said he was tasked to try to enlist the help of non-government organizations and business groups to pitch in the drive against hunger in poor communities, particularly in Metro Manila.

However, he said that, this early, the government was able to enlist the cooperation of the private sector in its war on hunger. He said the Philippine Confederation of Grains Association donated 12.5 tons of iron-fortified rice to Smokey Mountain residents in Tondo, Manila.

The offices Mrs. Arroyo wanted to have working closely with the NAPC-LUB tandem are the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Labor and Employment (DOLE), Agriculture (DA), Health (DOH), Agrarian Reform (DAR), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the National Food Authority (NFA), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), among others, he said.

Panganiban said that, after holding an anti-poverty summit in January, the NAPC-LUB tandem has been visiting urban poor communities in Metro Manila to check on the delivery of government services.

Last week, the NAPC-LUB team enabled the restoration of water services to the Smokey Mountain community in Tondo, Manila, which has been waterless since April 2006, he said.

Panganiban said the NAPC-LUB team has identified the 10 priority communities in Metro Manila as Parola, Baseco, Payatas, Soldiers Resettlement Housing in Taguig City, Bagong Silang and areas in Pasay City, Pasig City, Navotas, Malabon and Smokey Mountain.

He said the "hunger mitigation" program is also targeting the 10 poorest provinces – Zamboanga del Norte, Masbate, Maguindanao, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Mountain Province, Lanao del Norte, Camarines Norte, Sarangani and Zamboanga Sibugay. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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