Human security is closer to home than we think

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

It has been exactly two years since the first COVID-19 lockdowns were enforced. Since then, the issue of human security has become more pronounced. The lives of millions of Filipinos have been disrupted, socially and economically.

Curiously, the current administration has milked the crisis and used—rather, misused—human security to undermine democratic institutions and processes.

But what exactly is human security?

According to the United Nations Development Program, human security refers to safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease, and repression, as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in the patterns of daily life—whether in homes, jobs, or communities. Human security consists of economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security.

But in its Human Development Report of 1994, the UNDP said that the concept of human security had been restrictively understood within the confines of security of territory from external aggression. The people factor had been significantly, if not totally, been excluded.

Earlier this year, António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, expressed appreciation of the UNDP’s “Special Report on New Threats to Human Security in the Anthropocene: Demanding Greater Solidarity.” The report highlights the strong association between declining levels of trust and increased feelings of insecurity.

How Filipinos can relate to that!

Here at home, the association of human security with military and defense narratives is pervasive. When we hear the word security, what comes to mind are images of guns, men in uniform, military equipment, conflict.

In reality, the pandemic facilitated an increased recognition of a broader and deeper understanding of the many and multifaceted risks and challenges confronting Filipinos in their everyday life.

There is an emerging consensus and a growing awareness of this overarching understanding of human security. For example, in her 2022 study “Non-Traditional Security Threats to Peace and Security in the Indo-Pacific,” Dr. Mely Caballero-Anthony highlights the nontraditional security challenges that are non-military in nature.

She suggests that the government set out key policy priorities and perform a regular comprehensive risk assessment and management strategy in dealing with this security threat. Foremost among these are climate change, pandemics, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity threatening food and energy security.

Dr. Toby Melissa C. Monsod also considers climate change a primary security challenge. Her study, “Accelerating Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation: Strengthening the Philippines’ Contribution to Limit Global Warming and Cope with its Impacts,” proposes that climate action and ambition can be accelerated and strengthened by organizing actions around the demand for resilience and sustainable development.

For Monsod, a robust community ownership of climate action and a leveraging of opportunities based on their own comparative advantages will achieve more in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eleanor A. Jara and her colleagues, in their study entitled “Beyond Health Measures: Towards a Genuine People’s Health Agenda,” argue that health measures should be anchored on a people-centered health agenda.

The authors say that to make health care affordable, we need grassroots mobilization on the community and workplace levels. This should be complemented by policy advocacy with positive outputs from legislative measures.

We will soon publish the findings and policy recommendations of these studies to bring this issue to the fore of people’s consciousness and public discussion.

Human security covers many areas that directly affect the lives and prospects of Filipinos. We the people should be more aware of its scope, and we should demand that the candidates vying for our votes should clearly reveal how they plan to attain human security if they get elected.

Security comes in many forms. Our best bet is a leader who understands the depth, breadth, and complexity and how human security will be guaranteed for all Filipinos.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer commentary.

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