It literally translates to “dead hungry”, but perhaps, “starving to death” is the closest meaning. In the Philippines, the poorest of the poor, are often labeled as such by their compatriots who look down upon them.
Despite the supposedly predominant christian belief of the country, economic status is valued more than anything else. In combination with a strong sense of self/pride, using this term to refer to someone back home is a sure way to win enemies. Thus if you call Juan across the street a patay gutom, even if he is indeed starving to death, he will go berserk and will perhaps hunt you and your relatives down to extinction. Of course, I’m just kidding. He will most probably spare your relatives. That is how derogatory is the term. Simply put, if racial discrimination has the N-word, economic discrimination in Phili has the PG-word.
I was seven or so when I heard this for the first time. It was hurled upon me by an überclass spoiled kid who used to come to school with his “yaya” (private baby sitter) in tow. This boy, who is the only one in the whole elementary school who comes to school wearing shoes (all the rest wear flipflops, some even barefooted), is your typical mobster. Being the only child, he basically thinks that the whole world revolves around him. When I went home that day, I told my mother that this kid called me a patay gutom. I never saw my mother so angry. She went berserk and hunted down the boy and his family. LOL, just kidding. Anyways, the next morning she went to the school principal’s office and demanded a meeting with the boy’s parents. I only have a vague memory of the meet up but I remember very well that they were profusely apologetic.
It came to my knowledge that these days, some people use this term without knowing how hurtful it can be. The problem it seems is plain ignorance about its real meaning. But indeed, ignorance is not an excuse. You don’t go to Moscow and start cussing people in russian and then apologize later that you are not aware that you are actually being profane. So before uttering/using a potentially loaded term, make sure that you do understand its meaning. It might save your life one day. LOL!