When I was in my elementary school days, I remember being asked about what are the basic needs of man. I recall being required to look for photos to be pasted on my notebook of these so-called “man’s basic needs.” Of course, these include FOOD, CLOTHING, and SHELTER. Obviously, man needs food to give him the energy to survive daily toil. Man needs clothing and a roof over his head to secure him from the harsh changes in the environment. So basic are these needs that it becomes a question of humanity when some are deprived of them, be it in times of crisis or during so-called “days of certainty.”

When Luzon was put on enhanced community quarantine for one month from March 16, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, people are prohibited from going out of their homes, save for our medical frontliners and sectors tasked to ensure the provision of basic services, who deserve our utmost gratitude and high respects for selflessly serving and taking care of us. However, families, particularly those living below the poverty line, are baffled at how to ensure that adequate food reaches their tables. With quite a number of families barely surviving on meager daily earnings from work and livelihood outside of their homes and all too familiar with “no work, no pay” policy, making both ends meet amidst the crisis becomes quite an insurmountable everyday challenge. Where will they get food for the next meal remains unanswered and unfortunately, uncertain. But what makes things more depressing is reading reports on social media of people going hungry as they are not allegedly receiving sufficient aid amidst this crisis, prompting them to speak up against this tragedy but sadly meeting iron fists, blind eyes and deaf ears.

The right to an adequate standard of living, which includes access to adequate food and freedom from hunger is a basic human right recognized under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Specifically, Article 25 of the UDHR upholds the right of everyone to a standard of living that adequately ensures their health and well-being, and this includes access to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, among others. Meanwhile, Article 11 of the ICESCR echoed and reiterated Article 25 of the UDHR, while stressing recognition of people’s right to “freedom from hunger.”

The Philippines is a State party to the ICESCR and ratified it on June 7, 1974. As such, the Philippines became bound to recognize and uphold the rights enshrined therein. Expounding on the right to adequate food under CECSR General Comment No. 12 adopted on May 12, 1999, it is said that the right includes the availability and accessibility of “food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals, free from adverse substances, and acceptable within a given culture.” The accessibility of food refers to the concept of “economic accessibility” wherein people can afford to purchase adequate and nutritious food without compromising the satisfaction of their other basic needs. Clearly, the right to adequate food is intertwined with one’s right to work and living wages. It becomes next to impossible to satisfy one’s basic needs without receiving living wages to meet them. Moreover, the recognition and protection of these rights are part and parcel of ensuring human dignity. When one goes hungry, he becomes vulnerable to gripping at the knife’s edge and eventually, loss of his dignity.

It must further be underscored that it is the obligation of every State “to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger.” In other words, it is the State which has the duty to make certain that no one goes hungry at all times. Neither is it indicated in these international instruments on human rights that this State obligation may be overlooked nor may be suspended under whatever circumstances. Therefore, it becomes more defined and elaborate for the State to ensure that essential and nutritionally adequate food reaches the table of every household during times of crisis, such as the health crisis we are all battling today caused by the COVID-19 virus.

Without undermining the fact that the spread and transmission of the dreaded COVID-19 virus and the increasing number of fatalities that resulted from it is very much alarming and something that should not be taken lightly, which the enhanced community quarantine now nearing its fourth week of implementation hopes to address, a hungry stomach is also a cause for fear and anxiety. It must be stressed that these are both paramount concerns which must be addressed efficiently and quickly. They are neither conflicting nor tangential issues but are very much interrelated for a person’s survival. Therefore, they both deserve concrete plans to be resolved without compromising one for the other.(davaotoday.com)

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