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COMMENTARY

Pass the right to adequate food bill now

06:15 AM October 18, 2018

The rice crisis that manifested itself recently in the rapid spike in the prices of the staple, and the long lines of people waiting their turn to buy a few kilos, would be a recurring problem if the government does not implement both short- and long-term solutions.

As early as July, the National Food Coalition and more than a dozen farmers organizations and cause-oriented groups had called on legislators and policymakers to handle “carefully and prudently” one proposed solution: the removal of quantitative restrictions (QRs) on rice imports. This call for caution was in consideration of the lack of competitiveness of many farmers against cheap imported rice. The groups also warned about the dangers of excessive reliance on imports for the country’s food self-sufficiency.

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“Lifting the QRs on rice imports is not the panacea to inflation or high rice prices, as some economic planners have persistently claimed,” said the groups’ statement. “Making sustained investments in our rice industry so that our rice farmers have a decent income and livelihood and can compete with producers in other countries, in a way that preserves the productivity of our farms, is the only sustainable solution. It is the solution that should have been done many years ago, but has now become even more urgent as we liberalize our rice market.”

The Philippines is not yet ready for a more liberalized rice sector. Rice importation as a trade tool should only serve as a temporary arrangement, in the same way that rice tariffication should not serve as a permanent policy for food self-sufficiency.

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The looming unregulated rice importations will further exacerbate the hunger and impoverishment of many of our countrymen. Small rice farmers will be beaten in the unfair competition with cheaper imported rice; that could force them to abandon rice farming altogether and result in the demise of small rice farm holdings.

Rice production sufficiency should be one of our policy goals, to move the country toward achieving the right to adequate food for all Filipinos. Importation will not provide a sustainable solution to hunger, malnutrition and impoverishment.

To address these pressing problems, legislators, especially senators, should pass the Zero Hunger Bill, or the  “Framework Act on the Right to Adequate Food,” which has been submitted for deliberation by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, its main author in the Senate.

Senate Bill No. 111 stipulates that the right to adequate food shall be realized progressively. This measure shall be implemented and supervised by a commission on the right to adequate food. Among the commission’s responsibilities is to harmonize laws, policies and programs to create a national food policy that fleshes out the right to adequate food.

It targets achieving zero hunger in 10 years by developing and implementing a national food program that will entitle all Filipinos to a minimum amount of food, and by increasing the area devoted to food production to 50 percent of all prime agricultural lands in every region. Domestic production shall be the chief means to solve the rice/food crisis. A rice roadmap will focus on making rice farmers and Philippine rice production more competitive.

Without adequate and nutritious food, large numbers of Filipinos will be malnourished — underweight, stunted and wasted — with little capacity or energy to think and act for themselves or their country, leading to an impoverished and largely incapacitated nation.

Over the decades, the development goals of the government have considered food more of a need rather than a right. Such a perspective must be changed, because it subjects food to the usual technocratic priorities and resource constraints, which, in the end, will only make food undeliverable in timely and sufficient amounts.

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The right to adequate food is no less than the right to life. Thus, this law must be passed to make food a sustained priority and a legal right, not an object of charity.

Congressional leaders must take appropriate steps to pass the bill immediately. President Duterte should certify the bill as urgent and make it his legacy.

Hunger can be eliminated in our lifetime, by making sure that “ang pagkain ay sapat dapat!”

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Aurea Miclat-Teves, president of FoodFirst Information and Action Network Philippines, is a convener of the National Food Coalition.

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TAGS: Aurea Miclat-Teves, food bill, Inquirer Commentary, National Food Coalition, Rice shortage, Rice supply
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