PHILIPPINES: Starvation in all parts of Philippines requires immediate government action

Farmers in parts of Mindanao, southern Philippines, have for the last three years suffered terrible crop losses due to drought and rats. Deep poverty, severe hunger and starvation have followed.

Although there are many avenues available for the authorities to intervene and assist the farmers, it was not until this year that they began to pay some attention. A state of calamity was declared in the provinces of North Cotabato and South Cotabato, freeing up some five per cent of municipal government funds for relief work in accordance with chapter 2, section 16 of the local government code, Republic Act 7169. Food-for-work programs have also been initiated. Although people in those provinces may still be awaiting government assistance, there is evidence that the scale of the problem is now being taken seriously by officials there.

Strangely, the authorities in the neighbouring province of Sultan Kudarat, where farmers in the Kulaman Valley are facing similarly disastrous conditions, have not yet taken the same steps. The provincial council is yet to declare a state of calamity there. As a result, local governments have been unable to offer emergency assistance to starving villagers. Worse still, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Food Authority began a six-month food-for-work program in the province on March 21, but distributed rice and basic goods only once before halting the operation, purportedly for lack of funds. As most of the victims of hunger in the region belong to indigenous groups, they should also be getting special priority as a disadvantaged group under section 3(b) of Republic Act 8425, the social reform and poverty alleviation program; however, there is no recognition of their rights under this legislation either.

All of these schemes exist for the purpose of providing some relief to people who need it most in the shortest possible time. So what has gone wrong? Why has the council of Sultan Kudarat not taken the step of declaring the province as being in a state of calamity? Why did the central government agencies really stop the food-for-work program? What is it that they could hope to achieve from a single distribution of a few grains of rice, other than to make a mockery out of a tragedy? Does the government of the Philippines not take seriously its commitments to protect the food security of its people?

The Philippines is a party to the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Under that covenant, it has undertaken to use its resources to realise the right to food to the “maximum of its available resources”. It is hard to imagine that between them the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Food Authority and the provincial government don’t have the resources to offer relief to the villagers of the Kulaman Valley. It is a sad indictment on the national authorities that they would shut down a six-month program to give a handful of rice, oil and canned goods to some hungry villagers on the nonsensical pretext of ‘lack of funds’. This indeed falls far short of the standards envisaged by the covenant to which the government of the Philippines has committed itself to implement. The people of the Philippines, and certainly those of Sultan Kudarat, deserve better; the Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the government there to do better.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-85-2005
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Right to food,