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MANILA, Philippines – Many bills attempting to address the state of hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines have been brought before Congress, but precious few have been enacted into law.
However, initiatives addressing hunger and malnutrition have been slightly more numerous among government agencies.
Malnutrition, especially undernutrition, has been a perennial problem in the Philippines. Indeed, improvement along all forms of malnutrition seems to have slowed down in recent years. (READ: PH ‘not performing well’ in fight vs different forms of malnutrition)
In the Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s 2015 Food Security Survey, it found that 21.9% of Filipino households were “severely food insecure”.
Facing the broadness of the issue, civil society groups like Rise Against Hunger, The National Food Coalition, and Gawad Kalinga have tried to help mitigate the issue in various ways (READ: How groups are bringing the fight against hunger to schools).
What, however, are the concrete steps the government has taken to address the persistent issue of malnutrition?
An Ecosystem of Laws
Aside from the Zero Hunger Bill, several existing laws have been flagged as helping fight malnutrition.
However, many of them are disparate in terms of focus, and some do not enjoy full or effective implementation. Mentioned bills include:
EO 51: Milk Code
The Milk Code prohibits the promotion of breastmilk substitutes by the healthcare system, and aims to encourage breastfeeding for newly born infants
According to the World Health Organization, “breastfeeding reduces child mortality, and has health benefits that extend into adulthood”.
RA 6657: Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL)
Signed in 1988, RA 6657 formed the basis of CARP, a land redistribution program for the benefit of landless farmers. CARP has faced much difficulty in its implementation, and has yet to be fully realized.
According to the 2015 FNRI Food Security Survey, “households […] involved in agricultural, forestry, and fisheries were the least food secure”. In addition, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), “farmers, fishermen, and children posted the highest poverty incidence among basic sectors.”
RA 7607: Magna Carta for Small Farmers
The 1992 Magna Carta for Small Farmers aimed to promote the socio-economic development of small farmers.
The law established the use of government resources in infrastructure and development projects meant to assist small farmers, including the building of farm-to-road markets, and the acquisition of modern farm equipment.
RA 8172: Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN)
The law was crafted to address the problem of iodine deficient diets, requiring the fortification of locally produced salt with iodine. (READ: 20 years after: ASIN Law and its challenges)
RA 8178: Agricultural Tariffication Act
RA 8178, enacted in 1996, adopted the use of tariffs on many agricultural imports, as opposed to import quotas and restrictions which were practiced previously. By imposing tariffs, the law wanted to protect local agricultural producers and to keep them competitive, in the wake of the Philippines’ entry into the World Trade Organization.
Currently, there is a push to amend RA 8178, which preserved the import quotas on rice. The quantitative restrictions on rice imports has been blamed as among the reasons for the steady rise of inflation this year.
RA 8435: Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA)
AFMA instituted government aid for those employed in agriculture and fisheries. Its objectives include the protection of a stable national supply of food, and the use of state resources to enhance the income of said workers through agro-industrialization.
Currently, AFMA provided for subsidized rural lending, through the creation of the Agricultural Modernization Credit and Financing Program.
RA 8550: Philippine Fisheries Code
First signed in 1998, RA 8550 was amended in 2015 to expand its powers. The law and its amendment provided guidelines meant to make fishing more sustainable and environment-friendly.
Through this, the law and its amendment hoped to preserve the income of small fishermen, who have faced challenges over the years. The fisheries code aimed to preserve food security in the country.
RA 8976: Philippine Food Fortification Act of 2000
The law mandated fortifying with essential micronutrients staple food items like rice, flour, oil, and sugar.
To this end, RA 8976 established the Rice Fortification Program and the Cooking/Edible Oil Fortification.
Nutrition under the Duterte Administration
The problems outlined in the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition 2017-2022 reflect the entrenchment of nutritional problems in the Philippines.
PPAN 2017-2022 is the current proposed strategy of the National Nutrition Council to address the festering problem of malnutrition. Flagged issues in PPAN included micronutrient deficiency, food insecurity, growing rates of adult obesity, and malnutrition among poor infants and young children. Embedded in the last issue is the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of a child’s life.
In tackling these issues, several laws and initiatives have been undertaken by the Duterte Administration.
RA 11037: Masustansyang Pagkain Para sa Batang Pilipino Act
The recently signed law calls on various government agencies to implement national feeding programs, mitigating both caloric and micronutrient deficiencies. The law hopes to feed children currently in school or in day care.
The law also created a National Nutrition Information System to allow for more data-based policy-making in relation to nutrition. (READ: Duterte signs law on national feeding programs)
Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion
As found by the FNRI’s National Nutrition Survey, adult obesity has seen an upward trend. To address this, TRAIN imposes an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to discourage consumption. (Read: How the tax reform law affects Filipino consumers)
Additionally, President Rodrigo Duterte hopes to impose a new requirement for sugar-sweetened beverages to have labels warning about their sugar content. – Rappler.com
Cesar E. Garcia is a Rappler intern. He studies Political Science at the University of British Columbia.