Dear Noynoy, From a Fellow Smoker

August 2, 2010

Dear President Noynoy Aquino,

I would like to congratulate you for standing your ground when people asked you to stop smoking. The non-smokers do not understand how important it is for people like us to puff our daily dose of cigarette sticks.

Knowing fully well that smoking is an issue that the President is very passionate about, I would like to take this opportunity to present the plight of the people who sustain our vice- the tobacco farmers.

During the selling season early this year, the tobacco farmers of Ilocos region are only paid a meager P78-P85 ($1.71 to $1.867) for each kilogram of high-grade tobacco. For rejects, middlemen paid as low as P30 ($0.659)for each kilogram.

The low price being paid by middlemen and trading centers for the produce is barely enough to cover for the expenses in the production of tobacco.

The average land area that tobacco farmers till is ¼ hectare or 2,500 square meters. As most of the farmers do not own the land they till, out of their total income, 25 percent goes to the landlord as payment for rent.

Whilelandlords profit from something that they have no direct participation in producing, the peasants carry the burden of cultivating the land while having no constant source of income. I am quite sure that this situation is not a surprise to you as you and your family derives a big part of your riches from similar circumstances.

The cost of production including rent for tractor, additional manpower and payment of loans are all shouldered by the tobacco farmer.

Rent for tractor is priced at P.35 to P.45 ($0.007 to $0.01) per square meter. If the price of gasoline increases, the rent also escalates.

For the fertilizer, 8 to 10 sacks which is a combination of Urea, Complete and Ammonium Sulphate are needed for every one hectare of land.

The following is the price comparison of the fertilizers needed in the different provinces of the Ilocos region:

The situation of the tobacco farmers remain the same even if the price and tax imposed for cigarettes increase.

Mr. President, you have vowed to be a follower of the law. Republic Act 7171 which states that the excise tax from tobacco products be given to the tobacco farmers is still not being felt by the farmers themselves.

RA 7171 only serves to fatten the pockets of politicians who are the landlords themselves.

The improper implementation of the law, landlessness, high prices of farm tools and low pricing of tobacco contribute to the further exploitation of tobacco farmers.

As a fellow smoker, I do not ask for you to quit smoking – that is your choice. As much as it is your choice and responsibility to address the needs of the majority that not only provide your food but also your vice.

The “daang matuwid” (straight path) passes through the fields, open your window, light a cigarette, inhale deeply and implement true land reform, you owe them that much.

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