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Human rights group: To end hunger, PHL needs comprehensive food policy

October 12, 2012 10:00am
As World Food Day on October 16 approaches, a human rights organization said the Philippines needs a comprehensive national food policy to end its high incidence of hunger.
 
FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) Philippines said recent survey results showing hunger now stalks 21 percent of families is unacceptable.
 
"The result of the latest survey on hunger incidence is unacceptable and alarming. We urge the President to declare as urgent the crafting of a national food policy that will rectify incoherent, non-complementary and conflicting legal mechanisms," FIAN Philippines president Aurea Teves said.

World Food Day is celebrated every October 16 in honor of the founding date of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945.
 
In its survey conducted from August 24 to 27, Social Weather Stations had said 21 percent or 4.3 million families experience involuntary hunger at least once the last three months.
 
The SWS survey showed moderate hunger at 18 percent and severe hunger at 3 percent.
 
"In a country with a total population of almost 100 million, one percent is too many, 21% is too much," said FIAN Philippines vice president Ricardo Reyes.
 
Reyes added that even during the Japanese occupation, hunger did not become a problem because the country is blessed with fertile land and plenty of water and sunshine.
 
“We want the President to give the Filipino people a reason to celebrate the forthcoming World Food Day by declaring as urgent the crafting of a national food policy,” he added. 

According to Teves, the food policy should involve all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable to hunger.
 
The policy should also be along the recommendations by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).
 
Food availability 
 
FIAN cited a study by Virgilio de los Reyes and Maria Socorro Diokno, “The Filipinos’ Right to Food: An Assessment of the Philippine Legal Framework Governing the Right to Food” and published by the Right to Food and Nutrition (RTFN) Watch this year, that showed current laws do not ensure availability, accessibility and safety of food for all.
 
FIAN noted that present food availability laws relate to agrarian reform, agricultural policy, and trade measures to determine access to land, agricultural productivity, and food supply.  
 
Teves noted Republic Act 8178, the Agricultural Tariffication Act, repealed laws that restricted the importation of agricultural products such as onions, potatoes, garlic, coffee, livestock, seeds, and tobacco. 
 
“This law removed the protection granted to small farmers from importation of agricultural products that are produced in sufficient quantity in the country,” she said.
 
The study also showed that there were no safeguards to cushion the negative effects of food price volatility.
 
Laws like the Biofuels Act may affect the obligation to respect the right to adequate food, the study said.

The study also showed that physical accessibility laws are so far limited to mobility such as ramps for persons with disabilities and do not focus on enhancing people's physical access to land to grow their own food.
 
It also found out that existing laws on economic accessibility do not have sufficient impact as they do not make food affordable for everyone.
 
"Laws on prices just refer to the requirement of price tags, while price regulation or price control is only used during calamities or emergency situations. Laws on wages and income are insufficient and to some extent have negative effects like the one-year ban on wage hikes. Credit laws do not address easy access to loans for small holders but enumerate rigid requirements and guidelines. Worse, most existing laws are not properly or fully implemented," the group said.
 
"Unfinished" agrarian reform
 
Teves also lamented the agrarian reform program in the country is still unfinished.
 
“Access to land by farmers tilling or working on private agricultural land remains unreachable to around 1.4 million supposed beneficiaries working on 1.8 million hectares of land,” she said.
 
Teves noted there are special laws for the most vulnerable, such as one that requires day care centers to provide a feeding program, nutritional monitoring and supplementary feeding as it considers that food deprivation is a form of child abuse.
 
She also cited the Senior Citizens Law that provides discounts for elderly people, "especially on basic food items.”
 
“However, the right to food of people with disabilities or people living with HIV and the specific obstacles they face are not legally recognized nor subject to particular attention,” she said.
 
Conditional cash transfer
 
Meanwhile, Teves criticized the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which she said "remains very inadequate and is conditioned on performing other obligations whereas the right to food, which is a basic human right, is unconditional."
 
"In addition, the supply of conditioned services like school facilities and medicines and doctors and nurses in health centers has been far behind the demand for these services. The CCT program is not part of a coherent food policy,” she said.
 
The group also urged the Philippine government to rationalize the legal framework governing food.
 
Teves suggested synchronizing laws, addressing contradictions in policy objectives, correcting flaws and ambiguities, repealing laws that obstruct the realization of the right to adequate food, aligning the national budget to the national food policy, enhancing the mandates of the national human rights institutions, and improving the process of law-making.
 
“Most important is to use the right-based approach in adopting a national food policy and rationalizing its legal framework,” she said. - VVP, GMA News