Statement of Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the Senate proposal to provide cash grant to farmers and fishermen amid Covid-19 pandemic

Statement of Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the Senate proposal to provide cash grant to farmers and fishermen amid Covid-19 pandemic

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) lauds and echoes the push for Senate Bill No. 2100 that seeks “to provide direct cash assistance to small-scale farmers and municipal fisherfolk whose livelihoods have been most severely impacted by the prolonged lockdowns and economic recession brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

While the crisis is primarily a public health concern, the measures enacted to contain the spread of the virus, especially the restrictions placed on the movement of people and goods, significantly impacted the agricultural sector and market chain on all levels.

Apart from facing risks every day as they leave their homes either to fish, to farm, or to find markets for their products, small-scale food producers, such as farmers and fisherfolks, experience the economic burden of the pandemic.

Workers in the agricultural sector incur massive losses in sales due to spoilage and reduced sales prices. This is partly because of some logistic concerns, such as long-wait hours in checkpoint queues, no access to ice due to closure of ice plants, and restricted access to markets. Not only have there been problems plaguing them in the short term but there have also been long-standing structural issues affecting the sector, including land rights; low income of producers; poor infrastructures; and high cost of nutritious products among others.

The CHR stresses that farmers and fisherfolks are considered to be essential workers who deserve immediate financial and social support. They are our frontliners in ensuring food security in the country. Hence, they must also be given equal protection and priority in the Covid-19 vaccination program.

While we recognise the Philippine government’s provision of aid to agricultural workers who lost their incomes due to the pandemic, there are still farmer and fisherfolk groups who were not able to receive assistance as some of them did not qualify as beneficiaries according to the guidelines set by the implementing agencies. Such administrative hiccups need to be reviewed to ensure that no farmer and fisherfolk is being left behind in our Covid-19 response.

The Commission urges national line agencies to ensure that our food security frontliners are not being driven into deeper poverty. With or without the pandemic, we must strive to uphold standards provided in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, that would eventually pave the way in achieving sustainable development goals (SDG), particularly the goals of ending poverty (SGD 1) and hunger (SDG 2). We reiterate our full support to enacting pieces of legislations that advocate for the same principles.

As the Philippine national human rights institution, we are all for the genuine agrarian reform and full protection of the constitutionally-enshrined rights of the people to economic rights, food security, and quality life. ###