Farmers shun Duterte’s policies on agriculture, land use

A farmer joins the United People’s SONA. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)

For Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Duterte’s SONA only renewed his administration’s commitment to fully implement “anti-poor, anti-farmer and anti-worker policies.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Farmers’ groups are angered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address last Monday, particularly his pronouncements affecting the sector.

Duterte called on Congress to ensure the full implementation of Rice Tariffication Law, to pass the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund and to enact the National Land Use Act.

Duterte claimed the rice tariffication, along with the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) “will safeguard the livelihood of small farmers through the provisions of modern farm equipment and machineries, seeds and credit, and extension services.”

The coconut farmers trust fund, he said, will “ensure the accelerated utilization of coco levy funds for the well-being and empowerment of the coconut farmers.”

Farmers are not buying Duterte’s claims.

For Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Duterte’s SONA only renewed his administration’s commitment to fully implement “anti-poor, anti-farmer and anti-worker policies.”

Final nail in the coffin

For farmers of Southern Tagalog, however, the passage and full implementation of the rice tarrification law “only serves to put the final nail in the coffin of farmers.”

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/ Bulatlat

Since Duterte signed the Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication bill Law last February, farmers have been reeling from the decline in palay prices due to influx of imported rice. The law removes the quantitative restrictions on the importation of rice and imposes tariffs on rice imports.

During the fourth week of June alone, the average farmgate price of palay continued to decline to P17.85 per kilogram, a huge drop from the previous year’s same week level of P21.38/kg.

The price of palay has gone much lower in Southern Tagalog. According to Kasama-TK, the price of palay in Victoria, Laguna was P11 pesos per kilo as of last harvest. In Mindoro it was P17.40.

In Pangasinan, the buying price of palay had dropped to P13.50 per kilogram since last week, down from P15 a kilo during the summer harvest, according to a report.

No more unli rice | Assessing the impact of tariffication on food security

Eddie Billones, Kasama-TK spokesperson, said, “Compare this to the retail price of rice, and we see that the only ones who benefit are not the farmers who do not have the land, the tools, or the machines to process the palay but the land-owners and the compradors who import rice or buy palay from farmers at prices they themselves dictate.”

In an earlier statement, Bantay Bigas said that the projected importation of three-million metric tons of rice this year could have been sourced from around 300,000 to 460,000 hectares and could have generated livelihood and employment in the agriculture sector.

Not for coco farmers

Farmers are also against the Coco Levy Trust Fund Law.

Under the Duterte coco levy bill, the trust fund committee will have an annual capitalization budget of P10-billion. The Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Committee to be appointed by the President will be composed of six representatives from government sector (Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry, National Economic Development Authority, Philippine Coconut Authority, Office of the Executive Secretary), two representatives from the private coconut industry sector, and only three farmer-representatives. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will serve as Executive Director of the Trust Fund Committee which will draft a medium-term Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan to be approved by the President upon the endorsement of the Economic Development Cluster. The coco levy assets will be privatized under the supervision of the Privatization Management Office.

Rafael Mariano, former agrarian reform secretary and chairperson emeritus of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said the “the coco levy bill approved by Congress will not guarantee the return of the multi-billion coco levy fund and assets to farmers. Duterte and his allies will only gain control of the fund.”

Billones of Kasama-TK said, “The P10 billion from the coco levy interest must be given back to the farmers to allow them to buy tools and equipment.”

The coco levy came from taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law years with the promise of sharing investments and development of the coconut industry.

In its September 4, 2012 final ruling, the Supreme Court upheld that a 31-percent bloc of SMC shares constitutes public money and should be used solely for the benefit of farmers and the industry. The 31 percent shares refers to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund shares in SMC that was reduced to only 24 percent and was already remitted to the national treasury in October 2012 amounting to more than P70 billion (US$ 1.52 billion).

Billones said further that the coco levy is “legalized theft.” “And every day that it is not given to the farmers is another shameful day,” he said.

Land for big business

Farmers also rejected the National Land Use Act. In his SONA, Duterte admitted that the law will meet the demands of the new investors coming in.

“Duterte’s pronouncements on the national land use act are also problematic. He is correct in stating that land is the problem. But to allow local governments and agencies to more easily take over and convert agricultural land through the National Land Use Act will not solve the main crisis 75 percent of Filipinos face – landlessness,” Billones said.

Antonio Flores, UMA chairperson said the bill “will only hasten Duterte’s China-funded Build-Build-Build projects that have mainly benefitted big businesses in the President’s hometown, as well as the districts of his allies.”  (With reports from Justin Umali) (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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