27 February 2015
Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,
I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official visit to the Philippines, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 20 to 27 February 2015. My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the realisation of the right adequate food in the country as recognised in international law. The following statement outlines my preliminary findings and recommendations based on the information gathered during my visit. My final report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2016.
Firstly I would like to thank the Government of the Philippines for the invitation to visit the country and for its excellent cooperation during my visit. I very much appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the authorities. During my stay I met with various Government representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Food Authority and the National Nutrition Council. I also met with the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives along with Chairs of the Committees on Food Security, Agrarian Reform, Human Rights, Natural Resources, Labour and Employment and Vice Chair of the Committee on Reforestation, as well as the Chairs of the Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights and on Food Security. In addition, I met with the Chair of the Commission for Human Rights and staff as well as representatives from international organizations, academia, development agencies and a range of civil society actors and organizations. During the visit I also visited a number of projects in Nueva Ecija, Luzon and interacted with communities living in Visayas, Tacloban as well as urban poor living in various locations in Metro Manila.
I am also very grateful to the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator for its invaluable support both before and during the visit and for its assistance in coordinating these meetings. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me, particularly those who shared their personal experiences, as their contributions have been vital to the success of my visit.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In recent years the Philippines has rapidly risen to a lower middle income country ranking as the 39th largest economy in the world (World Bank 2013). Recovery in exports and investment generated gross domestic product (GDP) has led to a growth of 6% in the first half of 2014 (Asian Development Bank), with slightly stronger economic growth anticipated for 2015.
Despite the unprecedented growth rates over the last few years lamentably the Philippines ranks 29th in terms of hunger incidence (2014 Human Development Index) with an estimated 3.8 million households having suffered from involuntary hunger at least once during the last quarter of 2014 (Social Weather Stations).
Accessing adequate and nutritious food continues to be a challenge across most of the country both in terms of under and over nutrition, with women and children faring worst. While there has been a minimal decrease in the number of underweight children from (20.7% in 2007 to 20.2% in 2011), wasting has increased between 2003 and 2011 from 6% to 7.3%. It is estimated that 7.36 million children in the country are malnourished (8th National Nutrition Survey). I was alarmed to learn that some 4 million children in the country suffer from stunted growth ranking the Philippines 9th in the world in this regard (UNICEF). The effects of under-nutrition are irreversible, and lack of access to adequate and nutritious food is having a detrimental effect on future generations and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Pregnant women with children less than 5 years are also particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, with close to 12% of lactating mothers underweight (Food Nutrition Research Institute). Poor nutrition of mothers, both before and during pregnancy, has a direct impact on child development.
An annual growth rate of 2% a year (one of the highest in the world) combined with the steady decline of agricultural productivity and further food production in the last three years contributes to the persistent hunger and food insecurity problem in the country. While in principle the Government policy of encouraging rice self-sufficiency is commendable, in reality the country does not provide enough food to satisfy all the caloric demands and as a result considerable amounts of rice are being imported. In order to keep pace with the growing population the country would have to significantly increase its rice production. Moreover it would be more effective if the self-sufficiency programme were to focus not only on rice but also to include a diverse range of other staple foods. It would also be beneficial if the budget allocated to encouraging rice self-sufficiency were diverted to other necessary sectors such as fishers and coconut farmers who are the most vulnerable.
Those working in the agricultural sector are particularly prone to hunger due to low rural incomes, whether as farmers or farm workers. Lack of access to productive resources such as land, seeds, water and capital and the vulnerability of the sector to climate change as well as armed conflict in some areas of the country has had a significant impact on their ability to earn a living. Coconut farmers are particularly vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather events and are among the poorest. Additionally transport infrastructure as well as lack of access to irrigation facilities hampers productivity. In particular small holder farmers, who benefit from government programmes, are challenged with limited transport and storage facilities, as well as handling and marketing their produce. The existence of monopolies and large traders presents an additional challenge as well lack of support services and post-harvest facilities.
Similarly the issue of land conversion has also had an impact on food production with large land owners selling off land for commercial use. In order to protect prime agricultural land necessary legal steps should be taken. Such practices, including mega mining projects in some areas of the country, have had a devastating effect on local communities, particularly on those from indigenous groups who have been forced to leave their ancestral lands. In some areas land is also being used for the production of sugar cane for use in Biofuels. Aerial spraying as a means of controlling pests is having a detrimental impact on the health of communities living within these areas and must be addressed as a matter of priority.
Access to adequate and nutritious food is hampered by poverty and low income levels. While the country has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade it has not been inclusive. I have observed significant disparities in Manila with many seemingly benefitting from all the comforts of modern life while others are forced to live in extremely precarious conditions. Some 45% of the urban poor rely on the informal economy (Dept. of Labour and Employment) for employment. Without a stable and sufficient income, these households struggle to provide their children with nutritious and adequate food, often resorting to processed and junk food as an alternative. Unable to produce their own food they are vulnerable to food price hikes and any money they have is spent on the little food they can afford, with nothing left over to cover other basic necessities such as access to health care, medication or to cover the cost of basic school materials. I was impressed by some of the pilot projects that have been introduced by the Government to empower women living in urban poor areas in Metro Manila to earn additional income through waste management and I would encourage the dissemination of similar projects to all urban areas including the promotion of community gardens and peri-urban agriculture.
Fishers are among the poorest in society with low incomes exacerbated by the expansion of aquaculture which is having a negative environmental and social impact on coastal communities. The rising sea levels as well a particular vulnerability to climate change and changing ecosystems is preventing small scale fishers from fishing local waters. Additionally a lack of appropriate equipment prevents them from venturing further out to sea. Their livelihoods are further at risk from mega projects at sea, as well as competition from large scale fishing vessels.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension with Reforms (CARPER) seeks the redistribution of land exceeding five hectares to landless farmers and farm workers who cultivate them. The legislative objective is laudable however implementation of the law is hindered by various roadblocks. It has been pending for 25 years with huge tracts of land remaining in the possession of few, while those farmers who have tilled and worked the land are allegedly being harassed and criminalised. The notice of coverage which under law puts the land up for re-distribution, is often ignored by landowners. These farmers and farm workers are losing their means and source of subsistence. This is a key element to ensuring food security and preventing social unrest in the Philippines and I would encourage the Government to do all it can to ensure that this legislation is passed as soon as possible. Technical and financial support are also essential in addition to land entitlement.
As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and other relevant international instruments, the Philippines has committed itself to undertake the appropriate steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food (art. 2(1) and art. 11 (1). I have found that, for the most part, the Philippines has a wide range of well formulated and well-intended policies and strategies to realise the right to food. However, legislation does not always translate into reality for many in the country. There are severe implementation gaps in almost all policies related to the right to food with a lack of coordination among relevant agencies to ensure implementation. Many of the existing laws are also conflicting and overlap.
A clear and comprehensive policy that promotes the right to adequate food is essential and I was encouraged by the support expressed by both Government representatives and civil society for such a framework. Indeed steps have already been taken in this regard with a number of Bills aimed at reducing hunger currently pending The Government of the Philippines has declared its commitment to developing a national framework for ensuring the right to adequate food and I commend the efforts made to date to develop policies to ensure food security.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Government of the Philippines has declared its commitment to developing a national framework for ensuring the right to adequate food and I commend the efforts made to date to develop policies to ensure food security.
While much more could be said on a range of issues, including commending positive Government policies and programmes, let me finish with some preliminary remarks that will be addressed in more detail in the report.
In order to fully meet its human rights obligations with regards to the right to food the Philippines must:
- Devise and adopt a national strategy on the right to adequate food. Such a strategy must establish time-bound benchmarks and effective implementation plans for each region. It should also include the necessary budgetary and fiscal measures to ensure sustainability in the long term. It should clearly designate the authorities and agencies responsible for implementation and establish appropriate monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure authorities comply with their mandates. A national strategy on the right to food must be implemented with a strong cross-sectorial coordination and be led by a ministry or an agency with the capacity to convene and coordinate all ministries and relevant stakeholders. The full and active participation of all actors concerned should be ensured, including the most vulnerable to hunger.
- Pass pending legislation that address hunger, including the Right to Adequate Food Bill, the National Land Use and Management Act, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Extension Law as well as all other pending bills in relation to the right to adequate food and nutrition. In particular and in the short term, I call on the Government to expedite the Right to Adequate Food Bill and to allocate the necessary budgetary and human resources for its effective implementation.
- Consider establishing a national commission to monitor child nutrition, with particular emphasis on child stunting.
- Ensure women’s participation in the crafting of a food security plan with state support for women to access sustainable agriculture and community based coastal resource management and implement laws on women such as Magna Carta of Women with Section 20 Food Security and Productive Resources.
- Ensure the establishment of a comprehensive social protection system. I welcome the commitments made by the government to improve and depoliticize the social assistance schemes. While the Government is seeking to better target the schemes, I would urge the authorities to ensure that the poorest of the poor are reached as a matter of priority without discrimination.
- Consider undertaking a comprehensive budget analysis to facilitate the assessment of the impact on the right to food on government budgets and to ensure the implementation and realization of the right to food.
- Comply with its duty to protect individuals and communities against human rights abuses in the context of economic activities and to ensure access to effective remedy for victims, particularly within the extractive industries. In addition efforts should be made to ensure development of a range of strategies that enhance the country’s ability to conserve and protect its environment and to empower local communities.
- Establish a programme to mitigate hunger and increase household incomes such as sustainable livelihood programmes for food producers such as small holder agriculture and fisheries in the country within the framework of sustainability.
- Prioritise vulnerability assessments, adaptation and mitigation financing and support to urban poor, small farmers and coastal communities who are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
I also call on the international community to continue its cooperation with the Philippines, including through financial and technical support. Despite the fact that in terms of economic growth the Philippines now enjoys the status of a middle income country, the high level of inequality combined with acute vulnerability to climate change impact necessitates continued support from the international community.
I believe that with the necessary political will and if the Government gives priority to designing and implementing effective policies with the participation of all relevant stakeholders aimed at ensuring the right to adequate food, I am convinced that the Philippines could reverse the current situation and make impressive strides in attaining food and nutrition security for everyone in the future.
Finally, I wish to reiterate my commitment to continue the dialogue initiated during this visit. I look forward to working with the Government in a spirit of cooperation on the implementation of my recommendations.