November 6, 2008
Hiding Behind Numbers
On the eve of a United Nation's (UN) review of Philippine efforts to improve the quality of life of its people, the country landed fifth (5th) among the world's most hungry nations with 40% or 4 out of 10 of Filipinos admitting they experienced hunger in the past year according to recent survey of Gallup International.
Despite this bad news, government delegates to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) hearing on November 11-12 in Geneva, Switzerland are most likely to say it has implemented policies and programs to satisfy social and economic rights such as access to food, employment, housing, education, and health services.
Moreover, the government in its submission to the UNCESCR painted a rosy economic picture citing reduced poverty from 45.5% in 1988 to 30.4% in 2003 and an average 3-5% growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Product (GNP) and key sectors of the economy from 2001-2004.
The official report, while acknowledging some weaknesses like lack of spending on public education, also claimed general improvements in the nutritional and health status of Filipinos based on indicators such as infant and maternal mortality rates.
However, civil society groups admonished the government not to emulate Joc-joc Bolante, a former agriculture official implicated in a P700 million fertilizer scam, who kept on evading the truth behind legal technicalities. The administration could not always hide behind statistics and jargons, glimpses of the real situation of its people would inevitably come out in the open like the results of the Gallup hunger study.
Based on the civil society report to the UNCESCR, Filipinos' enjoyment of economic and social rights was gravely compromised by certain government priorities, policies, and practices such as the Philippine Mining Act, automatic appropriations for debt servicing, corruption, and unclear population agenda.
Furthermore, issues of concern raised by the UNCESCR back in 1995 such as lack of judicial powers of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), forced evictions, vulnerable situation of children, non-completion and weaknesses of the agrarian reform program, and privatization of health services are still part of present realities.
This is not surprising since the government failed to heed most of the UNCESCR recommendations made thirteen (13) years ago including increased budget for slum upgrading and affordable housing, fast tracking of the agrarian reform program, and designating a body that would prevent forced evictions.
To put back on track its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), civil society groups call on the government to take the following steps:
a.) enact legislations on reproductive health, social pension for the elderly, anti-prostitution, patients' rights, mandatory food labelling, Food Security Act, domestic reflection of Precautionary Principles, and Magna Carta for Women;
b.) repeal or amend Mining Act, anti-terrorism law, National Building Code;
c.) prioritize basic services and agriculture development in the national budget and not debt servicing, spending for services should be aligned with internationally and locally recommended standards such as WHO prescription of 5% of GDP for health;
d.) reform mandates of the CHR and other redress mechanisms to give them appropriate powers, make them more independent and insulated from politics, and facilitate civil society participation; and
e.) Aggressively lobby foreign creditors for debt moratorium and/or cancellation / repudiation of onerous and illegitimate liabilities.
The civil society report backed by more than one hundred organizations was facilitated by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), research arm of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and the Urban Poor Associates (UPA).
Major contributors to the NGO report were the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), Homenet Southeast Asia, Philippine NGO Coalition for Food Sovereignty (PNLC), Medical Action Group (MAG), Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), and Education Network – Philippines (E-Net).
Philippine NGO-PO Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
Contact Persons: Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan Dr. PH (433-1714)
Renato Mabunga (436-2633)
Ted Añana (426-4118)
Read on - Philippine NGO Network Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social,and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights