ONE of the great sins of President BS Aquino and his people is their neglect of the agricultural sector.
Like so many promises he made to the people during the time when he was campaigning for the presidency in 2010 and in the first months of his presidency, this mendacious president broke his promise to make Agriculture “always a top priority” of his Administration.
In December 2011, BSAquino said in Tagalog at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall where he and Agricultural Secretary Proceso Alcala gave the Gawad Saka awards to deluded farmers and fisherfolks, “Mananatili pong prayoridad ng gobyerno ang pagpapalakas ng agrikultura na alam nating manganganak naman ng pagsulong ng kalakhang ekonomiya sa kanayunan.” [It will always be a priority of the government to boost (or enhance, or strengthen) agriculture which we know will in turn bear the fruit of progress of the larger general economy of the countryside.]
Secretary Alcala in Febaruary 2015 crowed about Philippine agricultural growth continuing throughout the year and beyond. He said his department would “vigorously pursue rural infrastructure and technology build-up that will further develop and modernize the agricultural economy.” All of this has turned out to be nothing more than the good secretary breaking wind.
Recently, the Philippine Statistics Authority released figures showing that while growth in the services sector (BPOs and call centers) slowed in 2015, the Agriculture sector contracted.
Angry farmers speak out
This development validates the complaints on the ground by farmers throughout the country. An example of angry and bitter farmers are the members of the Samahan ng Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag). They have berated BS Aquino for not fulfilling the promises he made to the agricultural sector in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2010. They angrily noted that Agriculture was not even discussed in the 2015 SONA.
Sinag chairman Rosendo So was reported to have asked, “Nasaan na ang sinasabing rice self-sufficiency, food security, agricultural modernization and anti-smuggling efforts ng previous SONAs of the President? (Where are the so-called rice self-sufficiency, food security, agricultural modernization and anti-smuggling efforts in the previous SONAS?]. Ngayon, tila nakalimutan na ang mga magbubukid sa tinaguriang daang matuwid ng Pangulo. (It seems that now the so-called Straight Path of the President has forgotten us farmers.)”
The people of the agriculture sector, Rosendo So said, were hoping that the President would stopped “the wanton importation and the worsening smuggling of agricultural commodities that deprived the national government of almost P9 billion in lost revenues.”
The Sinag leader said “instead of pushing for increased rice productivity and food self-sufficiency, the Aquino Administration even seemingly gave its tacit approval for smuggling to continue. “Government’s own statistics should have sounded the alarm bells for this administration. From an employment figure of 12.04 million people for the sector at the end of 2009, agriculture is now (2015) employing only 11.480 million,” said Sinag Chairman So.
If farmers are being killed by smuggling, they will be massacred by the Asean Economic Community that was born on New Year’s Eve, December 31.
Comprehensive package of support
We laud Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. for calling for a “comprehensive package to help farmers cope with the effects of AEC.”
He correctly urged the government to provide a comprehensive program to help the country’s agricultural sector and farmers vulnerable to the influx of duty-free commodities into the country.
Marcos made the call because, as we stated earlier, the Asean Economic Community (AEC) formally came into force on December 31. Among other consequences of the birth of AEC, import duties have been removed across the borders of the 10-member countries of Asean– Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
“We have seen the effects of unbridled importation and the smuggling of agriculture products such as rice, onions and garlic on our farmers. With the removal of tariff barriers our farmers may suffer more unless the government gets its act together to provide a comprehensive package of support,” Marcos warned.
Senator Marcos acknowledged that big farms producing export-oriented agriculture products may fare well with the AEC. But he warns the small farmers will be vulnerable particularly with the continuing decline of the entire agriculture sector.
He noted that the Philippine Statistics Authority has reported that agriculture declined by 0.1 percent in the third quarter of the year, mainly caused by poor palay, corn and sugarcane production which declined 15.7 percent, 1.7 percent and 41.5 percent respectively.
Senator Marcos said for the sake of the farmers, the government must pursue strategic infrastructure and technological programs to improve our transportation network, roads, ensure a reliable and cheaper supply of electricity and upgrade the country’s irrigation systems.
He had earlier called for free irrigation service to Filipino farmers as he also urged the National Irrigation Administration to condone the existing P12 billion debt of the farmers and irrigators’ groups.
Senator Marcos has also been lobbying for farmers to have better access to cheaper credit facilities, crop insurance coverage and technical support.