COMMENTARY: For the Con-Com: food security must be a constitutional right!

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MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/17 March) — The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identified food security as an extremely urgent global priority. But truth be told, this matter is particularly more critical for the Philippines.

It was just a year ago, when farmers from North Cotabato left their drought-ridden farms to protest the government’s failure to help alleviate the disastrous effects of El Niño. Driven by extreme hunger, they barricaded the national highway in Kidapawan City for days having no other recourse for their grievances. A desperate act that led to tragic results.

In 2015 the Philippines had a Global Hunger Index of 20.1 on a scale between one and 100. While this represents a significant decrease from its 1990 level of 30.7, this classification means that hunger is still considered a ‘serious’ problem by many Filipinos.

Food security should indeed be the foremost concern of every Filipino because our population will reach 105 million at the end of the year. Currently, we are the 12th most populous nation in the world. Obviously, such a mammoth population presents many challenges for the country’s development. But food scarcity is by far the most distinct and frightening prospect we face.

It is worth recalling that President Rodrigo Duterte’s historic win was brought about by the 16 million voters who believed in his promise of change. And the responsibility of delivering on this commitment now falls on the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform.

Notably, one of the mandates given to the Con-Com is to review the economic policies prescribed in the 1987 Constitution. Obviously, President Duterte expects recommendations that will drastically improve the economic regime governing the country’s development. Ensuring food security certainly falls within this purview.

Curiously, the 1987 Constitution does not actually recognize food security as a constitutional right. In stark contrast to many modern constitutions which feature prescriptions against hunger. For instance, Nepal in their Constitution of 2015 unequivocally states: “1. Each citizen shall have the right to food. 2. Every citizen shall have the right to be protected from a state of starvation, resulting from lack of food stuffs. 3. Every citizen shall have the right to food sovereignty as provided for in law.” (See Number 36, Part 3: Fundamental Rights and Duties)

Accordingly, the Con-Com should consider revising Article II, Section 5 as follows: “The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, THE PRESERVATION OF FOOD SECURITY and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.

The Con-Com can even go further by making sure food security does not end up as a dead letter prescription. First, they can re-write Article XII, Section 1 to read as such: “The goals of the national economy are FOOD SECURITY, a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income, and wealth;..”

Second, the Con-Com can re-configure the mandate of the National Economic and Development Authority by amending Section 9 as follows: “The Congress may establish an independent economic and planning agency headed by the President, which shall,…implement continuing integrated and coordinated programs and policies for FOOD SECURITY AND national development.”

Needless to say, incorporating food security as a constitutional right in the new charter can be better expressed by expert constitutional writers. It is worth emphasizing however, that this innovation can indeed lead to significant changes in the country’s political economy.

At the community level, it can encourage more Filipinos to be respectful and supportive of compatriots toiling in the agriculture sector. Moreover, it can drastically increase the number of citizens who are sensitive to the fragility of Mother Nature. Ultimately, it can foster a culture of conservation and healthy-living in the country.

In the context of policy-making, food security as a constitutional right will provide the proper focus for economic development planners. It can then enable government to channel significant resources towards food production. It can likewise empower the government to streamline the food production bureaucracy, with special attention to agencies who are underperforming and graft-ridden. When this eventuates, the people can reasonably expect a more effective delivery of this particular public service. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”)

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