Video by: Sid Balatan
“The number one thing we need to address is hunger because if you address hunger, poverty will follow,” Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said in a briefing during the celebration of World Food Day in Olongapo City on Oct. 16, 2017.
He said people who are “food-poor” would “grip the knife by the blade,” a Filipino expression to describe people who would do anything in their desperation.
“That is what we don’t want to happen to our fellow Filipinos. The more people that we help, that we pull out of poverty, the more we will help keep them away from illegal activities, including drugs,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte launched a tough anti-drug campaign last year that has resulted in over 5,000 deaths, more than a third of them by the police during anti-narcotics operations. The high death toll has triggered criticisms against the campaign from human rights advocates who believe there is impunity and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Nograles, a staunch supporter of President Duterte, heads the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives. He is the main author of the Zero Hunger Bill, or the Right to Adequate Food Framework Bill, that regards the right to food as a human right and sets a 10-year period to eliminate hunger in the Philippines after the bill is signed into law.
The bill (House Bill No. 61) has been approved by the House committee on human rights chaired by Zambales 2nd District Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla in September and by Nograles’ committee early in October.
The Zero Hunger Bill states that food is not a matter of charity but a legal entitlement that should be backed by a comprehensive food program to be pursued with a “whole-of-government approach.”
It directs the government to set policy targets to end hunger in the Philippines within 10 years. This effort will be led by a presidential commission.
The National Food Coalition and the FIAN Philippines, the local section of a FIAN International, a group advocating the right to adequate food in cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, are the main supporters of the bill and are cooperating with Nograles, Deloso-Montalla and other lawmakers in pushing passage of the proposed law.
More than 1,000 Aytas, Igorots and farmers from various areas in Central Luzon, march on Monday on Olongapo’s main streets to a multipurpose hall in the city’s Rizal Triangle Park to show support for the bill. The march was also an early commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, which would be formally celebrated late next week.
Addressing the marchers and government employees assembled at the auditorium, Ria Miclat-Teves, President of FIAN Philippines, said the right to food is “our right to live.”
“We are not talking about food per se but adequate food,” she said. “If we do not have the right to adequate food, our indigenous peoples, our farmers and fisherfolks, our communities, our nation will be trapped in hunger and poverty.”
“In various interviews, some of those who peddle drugs say they were doing this because of hunger and poverty. They earn about 300 to 500 pesos to feed their families,” she said, citing the link between the drug problem and poverty.
In his message to the gathering at the auditorium, including host Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Chito Gascon said he also supports the bill.
In a speech read for him by Atty IV CHR Region III, Atty. Lalaine Arorong, Gascon said the bill would make “wholesome and healthy food readily available and accessible” and protect the country’s food systems from “environmental challenges and other external threats – including threats arising from political instability or economic crises.”
He asked lawmakers to “include the wide participation of all stakeholders,” particularly the country’s food producers – farmers, fishermen – and also members of indigenous communities in the discussions on the bill.
“The right to adequate food is one of our most basic human rights, and the fact that there are whole communities of Filipinos who are unable to enjoy this right is alarming,” Gascon said. “We must take every measure available to us to ensure that this right is enjoyed by all.”
Nograles said at the briefing that hunger and poverty are still widespread in the country despite the steady growth of the economy.
“We have to do something. We have to have a system change,” he said. “If we don’t start with that premise [food is a human right] that [hunger] will persist.”
He said the “most drastic thing” to do to deal with hunger is to declare the right to adequate food a human right.
“All our countrymen should have access to adequate food as a human right,” he said.
Nograles said that once the bill is passed into law, it will force the government to address that need for food because it would then be declared a human right.
Brazil has a right to adequate food law and the South American nation has since made significant gains in reducing both hunger and poverty, Nograles said.
“We want to duplicate the same here in the Philippines,” he said.