Escudero seeks Senate inquiry into PH agricultural competitiveness

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero has filed a resolution asking the Senate to look into the current state of the Philippine’s agricultural industry to help determine what intervention the sector needs to boost farmers’ income while ensuring the country’s food security.

Escudero, in filing Senate Resolution No. 55, underscored the need to assess the competitiveness of the country’s agriculture sector, which employs 23.9 percent of the Filipino workforce or about 10.3 million people.

He said it is important to align laws and policies to “stabilize and improve incomes of farmers and fisherfolk, and to make food affordable and accessible to the poor and marginalized sectors has led to diverging, if not competing, public policy directions.”

“Ensuring agricultural competitiveness would require a measured deliberation geared towards determining the most effective government intervention and the most efficient allocation of public funds to achieve the objectives of government,” Escudero said in the resolution.

The senator said all existing agriculture-related laws should be revisited, particularly the Republic Act 8178 or Agricultural Tariffication Act as amended by RA 10848, RA 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act, and RA 11598 or the Cash Assistance for Filipino Farmers Act.

It is important, he said, to check if these laws are still beneficial to the industry and its workers.

Escudero noted that in the past, past administrations have responded to differing priorities in agriculture by adopting a policy of targeted financial infusion in the sector to improve productivity alongside the rescission of quantitative import restrictions on agricultural commodities to reduce food costs.

“Despite financial infusion afforded by agriculture-related interventions, the exposure to global competition has contributed to a significant dependence of the agricultural sector on the international market, not only for foodstuff, but also for agricultural inputs,” he pointed out.

Escudero noted that the Philippines has imported about US$15.71 billion worth of agro-based products in 2021, but only exported US$6.79-billion of the same.

As such, higher agricultural imports relative to exports netted an agricultural trade deficit of US$8.92 billion during the same year, which is about 40% higher than the US$6.37 billion deficit incurred in 2020, he said.

Escudero warned the chronic deficit in trade, especially in agricultural commodities, could adversely affect job creation, wage levels and long-term competitiveness of the agricultural sector and similar industries.

“This adverse effect of import dependence is further aggravated by deep-seated challenges that hinder efforts to realize an inclusive, resilient, sustainable and competitive agricultural sector,” Escudero said.