Crisis in agriculture, too big for Dar – fishers group
Manila, Philippines – Amid hounding issues in the agriculture sector such as the soci-economic impact of the Republic Act 11203 Rice Liberalization Law on millions of Filipino rice farmers and the increasing cases of African swine fever, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) said that it appears that they are to big for Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar to handle. Dar was appointed in August by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Kahit ilang buwan pa lang siya sa pwesto, imposibleng hindi niya narinig na unang kwarto pa lang bagsak na ang presyo ng palay, bago at sumunod sa pagpirma ni Duterte sa Rice Liberalization Law. Abnormal nga na mababa ang presyo noon dahil tag-araw iyon, dapat mataas ito,” Pamalakaya National Chairperson and former Anakpawis Party-list lawmaker Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap said in a press statement.
(“Though he only had months in office, it is impossible for him not to hear the cries of the farmers since the first quarter of the year on depressed farmgate prices, around when Duterte enacted the Rice Liberalization Law. Peasant groups has already raised that it is abnormal during a dry season, it is supposed to be higher,”)
On the onslaught of the el nino in May, the Bantay Bigas rice watch group called for a P35,000 production support to the rice farmers victims. This is on top that palay farm gate prices are as low as P12 per kilo. Also at the same period, inquiries on the initial P4-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) that culminated at the senate. The DA also hyped their P15,000-Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program for Rice Farmers (SURE Aid).
Upon appointment in August, Dar pushed through with the SURE Aid, which was budgeted with P1.5 billion and claimed it is better that cash grants amid funding constraints. But in September, he raised the option of raising tariffs, obviously as farm gate prices continue to fall down to as low as P7 per kg and peasants across the country are brewing with unrest brought about bankruptcy. They are blaming the influx of imported rice that the law facilitated.
In another twist, this early October, Dar again announced that the raising of tariffs has been deferred. Then later the past week, he announced the plan for the P5,000 cash assistance to be given to 600,000 farmers before Christmas, thus, the raising of tariff as safeguard has been shelved.
“Ang gulo-gulo ni Dar, noong una, mas mainam daw na loan lang, tapos itataas ang tariff, binawi ito, ngayon pamaskong handog na P5,000 sa mga magsasaka sa kabila na sampu-sampung libong piso ang lugi nila. Ginagawa niyang mga batang musmos ang mga magsasaka, akala niya siya si Santa Claus,” Hicap slammed.
(“Dar seemed confused, at first, he said that loans are better, then talked about raising tariffs, only to take it back, now he is into a P5,000 Christmas gift to affected rice farmers, though their losses are at tens of thousands of pesos. He is taking them for small children, he acts as if he is Santa Claus,”)
He added that even the distribution of that cash assistance from the government is considered to be state intervention which is exactly on the opposite policy of the RA 11203.
“Nahihibang na ang gubyernong Duterte, na ipinatupad ang liberalization, kahit na alam nating lahat na hindi kakayanin ng mga magsasaka, ngayon, natutulak siyang mamudmod ng cash assistance para buhusan ng malamig na tubig ang kanilang galit,” he added.
(“The Duterte government is now acting wacky, in enacting liberalization, though the whole country knows that rice farmers would not survive, now, they are pouring cash assistance as cold water over enraged farmers,)
African swine fever
Early September, the very first cases of African swine fever was reported in the country, particularly in Rizal and Bulacan. 7,000 hogs were culled as part of the protocol. He appealed the media to help the government prevent a public alarm. By the end of September, Malacanang boasted that Dar can contain the spread of ASF, when about the same period that infected pork products were transported in Pangasinan province. Then late past week, hogs in Bayambang town were tested positive with the virus. Cases were also confirmed in Quezon City, Dasmarinas City, Cavite, and Palayan City, Nueva Ecija. To date, the government reported that 52,000 hogs were culled as part of the execution of the protocol.
Former Anakpawis lawmaker Ariel Casilao earlier stated, that at P110.15 per kilo of liveweight hog, as posted as average by the government in June, and a minimum-weighted hog at 80 kilo, the 52,000 culled hogs are equivalent to near P460 million. This is just within two months of the repeated ASF cases. In the case of China, the first case was reported in August 2018, and as of April this year, their hog inventory has fallen by 40 million heads to 375.3 million.
“Ang inventory natin noong 2018 ay 12.7 million lang, kung mangyari sa atin yung katulad sa China, na modernong bansa na sila, ay natulak silang patayin ang halos 1.2 million na baboy, at iyong pagbaba ng inventory nila, wala nang matitira niyan sa bansa. Pero si Dar, sa pahayag niya sa case sa Cavite ay limited lang daw, minamaliit niya ang isyung ito,” Hicap alarmed.
(“Our inventory is only at 12.7 million heads in 2018, if something similar to China take place in our country, amid their modern technology, they were still forced to cull 1.2 million hogs, and their inventory’s decline, there will be nothing left in the country. But Dar, based on his statement on the case in Cavite, downplays the issue by claiming it is ‘limited,'”)
Stagnant fisheries output
Fisheries production remained almost stagnant by posting a measly 0.92% growth in the volume of production last year at 4.35 million metric tons. First and second quarter posted a puny 0.9% and 0.3%, respectively. Last year, only aquaculture posted a growth, while municipal and commercial fishing declined.
“We have reiterated this concern, which we seriously believe is connected with the Chinese control of our open-sea fishing grounds. The F/B Gem-ver 1 is a commercial fishing vessel, and correspondingly, the sector fell by 2.39% in the second quarter,” he said.
Chinese naval forces virtually control the Panatag Shoal and Recto Bank, which are traditional fishing grounds of Filipino commercial fishing vessels.
He claimed that this issue is to big for Dar, though, his subordinate Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Reforms (BFAR) is mandated to implement the Republic Act 8550 Fisheries Code and its amendments RA 10654, as far as in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and especially against foreign intruders.
As early as 2015, the BFAR already estimated that the Chinese reclamation projects in the Spartly islands posed P4.8 billion economic losses in the country. In July this year, marine experts estimated that the country is losing P33.67 billion worth of value due to Chinese reclamation and poaching operations. Based on Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, China is claiming 531,000 square kilometer or around 80% of our EEZ.
“On the issue of fisheries development, Dar seemed a nobody as even his chief executive had no intentions of effecting the national laws on our EEZ, or more precisely against China. In this context, he should never ever claim any growth in the sector’s productivity,” the fisherfolk leader said.
Cover up of crisis in agriculture
Hicap claimed that the government will carry on its usual methods of covering up the crisis in agriculture to avoid the people’s condemnation. It could only blabber about candy-like Christmas gifts with the aim to tranquilize millions of affected farmers. It is downplaying the issue of ASF as if the country could do better with the superpower China.
“The fisherfolk sector, the poorest of the poor sector, will remain to do so, as Duterte surrendered our sources of livelihood to a foreign country. With just three sub-sectors, the government has wholesale put the country’s population into a disadvantaged position, further deeper into the hole of poverty and hunger,” he ended. ###