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COMMENTARY

Food security as constitutional right

12:06 AM May 01, 2017

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identified food security as an urgent global priority. But this matter is particularly more critical for the Philippines because its population will reach 105 million by yearend.

Such a huge population clearly presents many difficulties in ensuring food security. And the recent hullabaloo at the National Food Authority does not inspire confidence in our government’s resolve to meet this daunting task. Factoring in the challenges brought by climate change, food scarcity is truly a distinct and frightening prospect.

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The Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform is mandated to, among others, review the economic policies prescribed in the 1987 Constitution. Obviously, President Duterte expects recommendations that will drastically improve the economic regime governing national development. Ensuring food security certainly falls within this purview.

Curiously, the Constitution does not recognize food security as a constitutional right, in stark contrast to many modern constitutions that prominently feature prescriptions against hunger. For instance, Nepal in its constitution of 2015 unequivocally states: “1. Each citizen shall have the right to food.
2. Every citizen shall have the right to be protected from a state of starvation, resulting from lack of food stuffs. 3. Every citizen shall have the right to food sovereignty as provided for in law.” (See No. 36, Part 3: Fundamental Rights and Duties)

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OPINION

Accordingly, the Con-Com should consider revising Article II, Section 5 as follows: “The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, THE PRESERVATION OF FOOD SECURITY and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.”

The Con-Com can even go further by making sure food security does not end up as a dead letter prescription. First, it can rewrite Article XII, Section 1 to read thus: “The goals of the national economy are FOOD SECURITY, a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth;…”

Second, it can reconfigure the mandate of the National Economic and Development Authority by amending Section 9 as follows: “The Congress may establish an independent economic and planning agency headed by the President, which shall, … implement continuing integrated and coordinated programs and policies for FOOD SECURITY AND national development.”

Expert constitutional writers can do a far better job expressing these constitutional changes. But it is worth emphasizing that food security must be enshrined as a constitutional right because it underpins an intergenerational responsibility. Furthermore, this groundbreaking political innovation can lead to significant changes in policy-making.

Food security as a constitutional right can provide the proper focus for economic development planners, thus enabling the government to channel significant resources toward food production. It can likewise empower the government to streamline the food production bureaucracy, with special attention to agencies that are underperforming and graft-ridden. When this happens, the people can reasonably expect a more effective delivery of this particular public service.

More critically, the constitutional recognition of food security puts in the proper context the call for a more aggressive and bolder defense of our national territory. The waters surrounding the country, including where Benham Rise is situated, are an abundant source of food. With a young and still growing population, a more forceful stance against usurpers and intruders is warranted.

It is worth recalling that the President’s historic win was brought about by 16 million voters who believed in his promise of change. While a couple of promises have been “adjusted” to be more consistent with current conditions, many of the President’s followers would surely be disappointed with the absence of food security prescriptions in the Con-Com’s draft charter.

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Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.

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TAGS: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, food
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