FARMERS TO PRESIDENTIAL BETS

‘Take stand on tobacco excise tax’

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BAGUIO CITY: An allied group of tobacco growers challenged presidential candidates to break their silence and take a stand on the alleged corruption and misuse of billions of funds for tobacco farmers.

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Zaldy Alfiler, secretary general of the KMP-allied farmers’ organization Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) said, “not a single presidential candidate has aired concrete steps on how farmers, especially the poor and landless tobacco farmers can directly benefit from the local government’s share from the tobacco excise tax.”

“Is their silence a means of courting the support of political dynasties and warlords in Ilocos?” tobacco farmer Alfiler asked.

According to the farmers’ group which has 10,000 members from Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra, more than two decades have passed since Republic Act (RA) 7171 and RA 8240, and billions of pesos have been given to local government units, “tobacco farmers continue to suffer and have been buried in debts.”

The bulk of the funds received by local government units, Alfiler said, were used mainly for infrastructure projects like barangay halls, covered courts, and the construction or renovation of municipal buildings “which are not associated with the improvement of agricultural production and farmer’s economic standing.”

The two laws are associated with the taxation of tobacco products and farmer’s benefits. RA 7171, entitled “An Act to promote the development of the farmers in the Virginia-tobacco producing provinces” allots 15 percent of the total revenue from products utilizing Virginia-type tobacco to provinces producing the crop. RA 8240, on the other hand, provides certain amendments to the National Internal Revenue Code to facilitate the allocation of 15 percent from the total collection of taxes from products using Burley and Native tobaccos to provinces producing the leaves.

“We challenge Malacañang aspirants to lay down their plan to ensure that the bulk, if not all the funds, are utilized for land reform and agriculture development,” Alfiler said.

Various groups in the Ilocos region have been criticizing politicians for allegedly using the funds to foster political patronage and dynasties not only in the Ilocos, but also elsewhere in the country.

They cited reports from state auditors and media outfits on fund misuse and corruption. In Pangasinan, they said, 19 officials, including incumbent Mayor Ryan Paolo Mencias of Alcala town, are facing graft and corruption charges for misusing P2.70 million of their share from the fund.

Last year, farmers in Sudipen town, also in Pangasinan, demanded an investigation of alleged irrelevant projects sourced from their tobacco fund share.

Alfiler claimed that the Ombudsman likewise ordered the filing of charges against former governors of Ilocos Sur – Luis “Chavit” Singson and Deogracias Savellano – in 2013 for misusing P26 million of the province’s share.

Singson, the principal author of RA 7171, who is currently running for Ilocos Sur vice governor with his son Ryan as his governor, has denied these allegations.

Alfiler said the most recent case is the Ombudsman order dismissing San Jose, Mindoro Occidental Mayor Jose Villarosa and two other municipal officials in connection with the same.

In February this year, he added that more than 1,000 farmers stormed the town hall of Amulong , Cagayan demanding that they be given P10,000 financial aid to be sourced from the municipality’s share from RA 8240.

Alfiler vowed that their group will support candidates who are committed to facilitating automatic allocation of the bulk of the fund for irrigation development, farmers’ production and market subsidy, cooperatives and cash grants for landless peasants.

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