Filipino farmers, burdened by so many things, including the surge of imports and the prevalence of the pandemic, are not expecting much from President Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address.
United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) President Bong Inciong said this is the worst time for the Philippine agriculture sector. But even if some of these things will be mentioned in today’s SONA, the group does not think it will ever change anything or will make their situation better.
“We don’t expect much from the SONA. Many of the President’s past promises have either not been kept or were watered down,” Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) Board Chairman Leonardo Montemayor said in a text exchange.
Montemayor was particularly referring to Republic Act No. (RA) 11524 or an Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, which would pave the way for the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund and assets. Some provisions of RA 11524 are still being contested by coconut farmers.
Inciong, on the other hand, was thinking about importation and how the administration allowed the surge of imports across different commodities to the detriment of local producers.
“This is the worst time for Philippine Agriculture. The DA [Department of Agriculture] and its economists are repeating the mistake of the Ramos administration of liberalizing imports ahead of domestic support [and] trade remedies,” Inciong said in a separate interview.
Inciong was referring to the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or Republic Act (RA) 11203. Implemented in 2019, RA 11203 paved the way for the entry of a large volume of cheap rice imports in the country. For a time, it resulted in the decline in the prices of palay and billions of losses on the part of the farmers.
He was also referring to Executive Order (EO) 135, which was issued just this May and temporarily reduced the import tariff rates for rice coming from non-ASEAN countries.
In EO 135, President Rodrigo Duterte authorized the temporary reduction of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff rates on rice imports to 35 percent from 50 percent out-quota and the 40 percent minimum access volume (MAV) tariffs on rice for a period of one year.
Then there were the recent issuances of EO 134 and 134 which would both result in the entry of cheap pork imports, the government’s solution to rising meat prices.
“It is a strategic error which has burdened subsequent DA dispensations… The belief was and is that import liberalization will benefit consumers with lower prices and force producers to become import-and export-competitive. Never happened,” Inciong said.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chair Rosendo So also pointed how the agriculture sector had high expectations of the Duterte administration five years ago, especially when it comes to prioritizing local production over importation.
“For the past 30 years, local agriculture lost ground and regressed because all previous governments never invested in the capacity of its people and instead relied on international markets to meet staple food demand,” So said.
“Thus, destroying the decades-long capacity of the country for food self-sufficiency and sustainable food production. Five years ago, we clamored that this will be reversed under the Duterte Presidency,” he added.
Instead, he said the government’s import policy just worsened. If the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has the famous ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program, he said the DA has “import, import, import” as its current policy.
So said that five years ago, as the Duterte administration takes over, SINAG thought that there will be a “permanent shift in the agriculture strategy for a sustainable and much more localized food production to meet staple food demands, thus ensuring that more food is grown where it is needed”.
Five years later, he said the country has increased its pork imports from 252.8 million kilograms (kg) in the whole year of 2015 to 278 million kg in the first half of 2021 alone, while chicken imports, at 185.5 million kg as of June of this year, are also poised to overshadow 2015’s 198 million kg.
As for rice, the Philippines imported only 1.5 million metric tons (MT) of the staple in 2015. For this year, the year-end projection stood at 2.3 million MT.
“We have the only government agency in the world that pushes for the increase of import allocation of agricultural products, seeks the reduction of tariff for imported agricultural products; and vehemently opposes the position of the local agriculture sector in other government bodies [versus Philippine Tariff Commission, Philippine Senate, and House of Representatives],” So further said.
‘Compassion’ for the agri sector
Unlike the other groups, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) is more hopeful and even recently wrote a letter, which the group considers its one last appeal, to Duterte three weeks before the SONA.
“We are certainly hoping that even for the last time PRRD will have some compassion to help the agriculture sector majority of whom are the poor people in our country,” PCAFI President Danilo Fausto said in a text exchange.
“We have officially written PRRD last July 5 for some doable and small request to partially help the agriculture sector taking into consideration the fiscal difficulties that the government is encountering due to the pandemic. We are hoping that he will consider our appeal and will mention these requests at his SONA,” he added.
In the letter, PCAFI made an appeal for Duterte to consider providing the agriculture sector additional budget for the coming year 2022 out of the regular budget being proposed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the DA, considering that agriculture contributes 10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Among others, PCAFI asked Duterte to find a way how to allocate an additional budget of P2.0 Billion for hog recovery and repopulation program to increase the local supply of hogs, and implement an area-wide biosecurity program in order to eradicate and provide solutions to the African Swine Fever (ASF), including the acquisition of ASF vaccines.
The group also sought the President’s intervention, through a presidential order if possible, to require local government units (LGUs) to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to the agriculture sector amid the implementation of the Mandanas-Garcia Supreme Court ruling, which will result in a significant increase in the budget of LGUs starting 2022.