By EIKEE JAMELA CAPPAL and RONJAY MENDIOLA
MANILA – Filipino farmers are asking lawmakers to increase the budget for agriculture and to strengthen the food sector.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya (Pamalakaya), and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women said that the proposed budget for agriculture is insufficient and that this shows how improving the local food production is not important to the Marcos Jr. administration.
“Marcos Jr.’s budget only satiates their interests and starves the people,” Amihan said.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) and its multiple subprograms have a proposed budget of P197.84 billion ($3.5 billion) for 2024. This, based on Marcos Jr.’s budget message, is a six-percent increase from the P186.54 billion ($3.3 billion) budget last year.
However, the DA’s budget, which is 3.43 percent of the proposed P5.78 trillion ($102.59 billion) budget, is still way behind than the allotted funds for defense (P282.7 billion or $5 billion), state forces (P430.1 billion or $7.5 billion), and infrastructure (P822.2 billion or $14.5 billion).
“The government finances violence but has no budget for food. The government favors businessmen and politicians. We are not benefiting from the infrastructure projects, businessmen do.” they added.
Foreign trips over the agricultural sector
Ronnel Arambulo, vice chairperson of fishers group Pamalakaya, assailed the gap between Marcos Jr.’s planned budget of P1.4 billion ($24.8 million) for his foreign travels next year and the proposed P1 billion ($17.7 million) fuel subsidy for corn growers and fisherfolk.
“The budget for pleasure vacations is higher than the budget for agriculture while farmers’ problems and the agricultural productivity crises are not being addressed,” he said.
Arambulo also stressed that misplaced priorities in the national budget deprived Filipino farmers of urgent assistance and subsidies.
“On top of the low budget allocated to agriculture, there were programs that were not executed properly. It was a waste of public funds,” Ronny Manalo, KMP secretary general, said in a statement.
In the DA’s 2022 audit report, the Commission on Audit (COA) noted red flags in the agency’s failure to distribute 855,493 bags of rice seeds meant for farmers under the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF); 2,088 pieces of farm machinery; 942 hand tractors; 599 floating tillers; 329 reapers; and 215 recirculating dryers.
COA also called out the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for the delays or termination of 83 projects covering three calendar years and amounting to a total of P1.2 billion ($21.3 million).
Boost agriculture and the local food industry
Zenaida Soriano, chairperson of the women farmers group Amihan, stressed the need to support the agriculture sector and local food industry.
When asked about her message to Marcos Jr. and the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Amenah Panganadman, Soriano mentioned the importance of developing agriculture and ensuring food security.
She added that the country does not need to rely on imports for food given the country’s farmers are more than capable of doing it. When the local food industry is well-supported and promoted, prices of goods will decrease.
Mau Hermitaño of Kilusang Mayo Uno said that Marcos Jr. should step down as DA Secretary.
According to Hermitaño, the agriculture sector deserves a full-time cabinet secretary who can get insights from and listen to the country’s farmers and fishers. “Allocating public funds and taxes to food and public services must be done correctly, which Marcos Jr. is incapable of doing.” (JJE, DAA)