By Mario Casayuran
Senator Imee R. Marcos today denounced Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III for attempting to downplay the present lack of government support to farmers when he claimed that the country never exported rice in the 70’s under her late father’s “Masagana 99’’ program.
“Shame on you, Secretary Dominguez, give the Filipino farmer some credit! When supported by sound government policy and defended against rampant importation, we can feed ourselves. Give the Filipino farmer a chance!,’’ Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate economic affairs committee, said.
A press statement from Marcos’ office said Dominguez “lost his cool” during the Senate Committee of the Whole’s hearing Wednesday when Marcos asked him why large cash infusions were being made to Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), and Philguarantee instead of giving direct assistance to marginalized sectors through a network of commercial, rural, and cooperative banks similar to that in ‘’Masagana 99.’’
“Even President Duterte already warned Land Bank during his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), since they were only lending to big business at the expense of farmers, who are supposed to be the primary customers,” Marcos said.
Contrary to Dominguez’s claim, the Philippines did export rice to neighboring countries when farmers under Masagana 99 produced a surplus of some 89,000 metric tons in 1977 to 1978, according to Dr. Emil Q. Javier, an agronomist and former president of the University of the Philippines (UP).
The Philippine Rice Institute (PRI) also reported that rice exportation in 2013 was only the second time it took place since Masagana 99 was launched by Marcos’s father, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
“President Duterte was pushing for a revival of Masagana 99 early on in his administration, but maybe Dominguez misled his best friend too,” the lady lawmaker said.
Marcos lamented the “crumbs” of livelihood support allotted to farmers, citing that P5,000 in cash aid did not reach many farmers and could not be stretched to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season.
She said that most farmers who till only a hectare or two of land were intimidated by having to apply for loans and were unlikely to avail of more than P600 billion in off-budget funds coursed through the Land Bank of the Philippines for agricultural aid.
“Banks only lend money to people with money. What borrowing capacity do poor, unregistered farmers really have? Only big business will qualify and benefit from such funding,” Marcos asked.
Marcos pointed out that Dominguez revealed his disdain for poor farmers who could not pay back their loans when he called 800 banks participating in Masagana 99 a mess that had to be cleaned up when he was agriculture secretary during the Cory Aquino administration.
“What our country’s chief economic manager is really saying is that rice farmers are a pain in the budget and are not worth subsidizing. He has given up on our rice farmers ever regaining their export potential and will let unregulated rice importation do the dirty job of snuffing them out,” Marcos said.