PH Zero hunger bill takes center stage

Fritzie Rodriguez

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'I’m confident that we can pass this before the 16th Congress ends,' says Akbayan Party-list Representative Barry Gutierrez, one of the bill's authors

ZERO HUNGER. The House Committee on Human Rights pledges to make the Zero Hunger bill a priority during the 16th Congress. Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez/

MANILA, Philippines — The Zero Hunger Bill will be prioritized by the House Committee on Human Rights during the 16th Congress, House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte said on Monday, October 20.

“I’m certain that we can pass this bill. I can’t think of anyone opposing this in the House or the Senate,” Belmonte said during the launch of “Kagutuman wakasan, Karapatan sa sapat na pagkain isabatas.” (End hunger, legislate the right to food sufficiency.)

“Hunger has been a problem of both present and previous administrations. But this bill is doable.”

Representatives from the House Committee on Human Rights, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and non-governmental organizations (NGO) Foodfirst Information and Action Network-Philippines (FIAN), and the National Food Coalition (NFC) came together to reintroduce the “Zero Hunger Bill,” stressing the urgent need to address the country’s hunger, food insecurity, and agriculture problems.

The House Committee hearing on HB 3795 was first held on May 2014, while the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food is expected to hold its own hearing on SB 2137. 

“We have to pull our resources together to come up with an institutionalized solution,” said Representative Guillermo Romarate Jr, committee chairperson.

Topping the list of the UN Millennium Development Goals is halving the world’s hungry. The Philippines, however, is unlikely to achieve this by 2015. Malnutrition among Filipino children has had little progress in the past decade, the latest National Nutrition Survey revealed. 

What worsens the situation, advocates argue, is the lack of legislation ensuring one’s right to food.

The bill requires all government branches to participate in realizing that the right to adequate food is “not a matter of charity, but a human right for all and a legal duty of the State.”

Zero hunger? 

“We have a legal entitlement,” said Akbayan Party-list Representative Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez III, one of the bill’s authors.

Gutierrez acknowledged that the government has been trying to address hunger through existing agriculture policies and supplementary feeding programs. “The government, however, is yet to come up with a coherent and broad solution,” he added. 

At the core of the bill is its desire to change our view of hunger. “The bill adopts a human rights based approach,” said Representative Karlo Nograles, head of the bill’s technical working group.

The right to adequate food means that everyone should have physical and economic access to their dietary needs at all times. To achieve this, the bill will harmonize existing yet “scattered” relevant laws, such as those related to agrarian reform, agriculture and fisheries, food prices, and nutrition. 

The bill requires the State to improve the following over time:

  • Rural population’s access to productive resources
  • Areas devoted to food production in every region
  • Budget for programs creating access to productive resources
  • Budget for agri-research, irrigation, training, technology, credits, and rural development
  • Rural female-headed households, rural women with legal title to agricultural lands
  • Budget and coverage for social transfer and public nutrition programs for the disadvantaged 
  • Coverage of school feeding programs
  • Public awareness on food and nutrition programs

A Commission on the Right to Adequate Food will be mandated to monitor its implementation. Those whose right to adequate food are violated may file complaints, and the Commission will investigate and refer such cases to the Ombudsman. It will serve as an attached agency of the Commission on Human Rights. 

The public

The most common images of hunger portrayed by the media are perhaps those of urban poor families living in the Metro. Some would think that rural families have better access to food since they are closer to nature; however, this is not always true.

Nakararanas din kami ng kakulangan ng pagkain. Sinisira ang kalikasan na siyang pinagkukunan namin ng kabuhayan,” said Danilo Salonga, President of BUKAL, an organization representing indigenous peoples (IPs). (We also experience food scarcity. Nature, from where we get our livelihood, is being destroyed.)

He expressed the need for better access to social services, land, and even climate change adaptation tactics. “Dahil sa climate change, ‘di na kami makapagtanim nang maayos,” he added. (Because of climate change, we could no longer plant properly.)

Ang mga katutubo’y nagkakawatak-watak dahil pinapasok ang aming lupain ng mga minahan,” said Elsa Novo, president of farmer’s organization PASAMAKA-Luzon. “Sana itigil ang mga proyekto na ‘di tugma sa mga katutubo” (Indigenous people are being broken up. Our lands are invaded by mining industries. I hope projects not matched with IPs are stopped.)

Meanwhile, Ria Miclat-Teves, president of FIAN and convener of NFC, stressed the need to change the country’s “export-oriented” agriculture. “We choose the crops we plant not based on what our country needs, but what other countries like China needs.”

Teves also stressed the need to conduct more public consultations when coming up with ways of addressing the specific needs of each sector.

“There’s a lot to be done to achieve genuine inclusive growth,” Belmonte added.

Future of hunger

Many Filipinos, when hearing the “Zero Hunger Bill” for the first time, tend to be doubtful. Is it possible to end hunger?

The bill aims to progressively reduce hunger in the Philippines, and in 10 years, it hopes to see a country completely free from hunger. 

The government is expected to take the lead, with NGOs, civil society organizations, and people’s organizations as partners.

Hunger, however, is just one of the country’s many problems.

It might be difficult to comprehend how the Philippines can successfully fight hunger, despite repeatedly failing in its other battles — such as corruption and pollution — but advocates are asking Filipinos to stay optimistic.

“I’m confident that we can pass this before the 16th Congress ends,” Gutierrez said. “For now we are taking this issue at the forefront of Congress.” —

What kinds of policies or programs do we need to help solve hunger, its causes, and effects? Send your stories and ideas to Be part of the #HungerProject.

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