The Philippines is an agricultural country and rich in natural resources but its population has been suffering from poverty and hunger for decades now . . . nvoluntary hunger was experienced in varying degrees from 1996-2008 with latest data stating that in December 2008, 4.3 million or 23.7% of families went hungry during the period studied. Government study revealed that 49 provinces (63.6%) were experiencing food insecurity in varying degrees.
The government’s anti-hunger mitigation program (AHMP) that provides rice to schoolchildren and low-cost food items to consumers was palliative, inconsistent, and was perceived to be more of a publicity stunt of the previous administration.
Why Filipinos are hungry?
- Agrarian reform has been implemented for almost 20 years but as of December 2007, 1.023 million hectares of agricultural lands were yet to be distributed to small farmers.
- Worse, a farmers’ NGO revealed that since 2001, it documented 415 cases of agrarian-related human rights violations.
- Government allocation for agriculture and fisheries modernization did not reach the mandated P20B with the highest reaching P16B in 2000 and the lowest at P9B in 2004.
- Lack of local job opportunities. According to the government, in early 2010, the unemployment rate in the country is 7.3% or 4.38 million out of 37.8 million labor force.
- However, NGOs put the real unemployment rate at 11.2% while the independent research group, Social Weather Station, stated a higher figure of 34.2% or 14 million in 2009.
- The minimum wage in the country, which is currently pegged at P345-382 (6.16 – 6.82 euro) a day, is not enough to sustain the living cost of a family of six which is currently pegged at P871.00 (15.55 euro) per day.
The government, eager to raise revenues and invite foreign investors especially foreign mining companies, is all too willing to sacrifice the country’s natural and food resources. In areas targetted for large-scale mining, the government also ignores the desire of the people to develop agriculture and increase production.
- In urbanizing areas, the rapidly increasing conversion of agricultural lands into subdivisions, shopping malls and other commercial uses continue to pose danger to the country’s food security.
- Likewise, government promotion of cash crops and bio-fuel plants like jethropa further reduce the size of lands devoted to food production.
- The entry of highly-subsidized agricultural products like rice and vegetable from other countries due to trade liberalization commitments of the government has dramatically affected the income of local farmers.
- In fisheries, depletion of resources, encroachment of commercial fishing vessels into municipal waters, and unfair competition with imported fish products are the leading factors behind the poverty of 53% of small fishers in the country.
Filipinos are poor and hungry because . . .
- Food and other socio-economic entitlements are not respected much less implemented as rights.
- The already limited public resources for socio-economic services and infrastructure are further reduced due to widespread corruption.
- The country’s economic strategy and policies follow the neo-liberal framework of privatization and trade liberalization.
- Political power is in the hands of a minority elite that also owns large tracts of lands and big businesses in the country.
- How right to food and other socio-economic rights could be recognized, protected and fulfilled in the Philippines?
- How to motivate people to be vigilant and initiate actions to defend and claim their rights.
Civil society actions
Build movement on the right to food
- Philippine NGO Coalition for Food Sovereignty and Fair Trade (PNLC).
- Mainstreaming of rights-based approach among civil society organizations.
Research on the right to food
- baseline data from communities
- review laws and policies
- identify indicators for monitoring
a)Three full meals a day
b)Two to three hectares of land per farmer
c)Amount of government support to farmers and fisherfolk
Awareness-raising on the right to food targeting the general population and government officials and staff.
Production of popular materials such as comics, posters, etc.
- training for civil society actors
- training for community leaders
Monitoring and documentation
- forming local human rights defenders teams
- monitoring the national situation
- preparation of right to food reports
Networking / Dialogue
- with the Commission on Human Rights
- with government institutions
- enact laws such as Food Security Act
- repeal of contradicting laws like the 1995 Mining Act
- oversight function / investigation of violations
- food security planning (pilot)
- engagement with local government
- enactment and implementation of local policies and programs
- backyard and urban gardening
- drafting and submission of alternative reports
- campaigns in mother companies of transnational companies
- invite UN special rapporteur on the right to food
- regional and global solidarity
Bernardo D. Larin Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)