By ZYSA MEI ELLORAN
MANILA – Agriculture groups called on the newly-appointed agriculture secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. to repeal policies that will allow the importation of agricultural products at the expense of local food producers.
“We are alarmed that he will only further the liberalization of domestic agriculture and food production,” Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said in a statement.
Laurel is the president of Frabelle Fishing Corporation, with business interests including deep-sea fishing, aquaculture, canning, food manufacturing, processing, food importation and trading, cold storage, shipyard operations, wharf development, real estate development, and power generation.
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, for its part, reported that importation from 2018 to 2022 includes more than 200,000 metric tons of various pelagic fishes from different countries such as China and Taiwan.
In December 2022, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continued Executive Order 171 signed by his predecessor to reduce tariffs on imported agricultural products until the end of the year. Governments impose tariffs to give locally-produced goods a price advantage over imports.
“The DA Secretary should know that opening floodgates for imported fishery products poses drastic impacts to the livelihood of local fisherfolk. Cheap and inferior quality imported fish causes further price drop of local fishery products,” Pamalakaya said.
According to Pamalakaya, the farm gate value of thousands of metric tons of imported round scad (galunggong) dropped from P70 to P80 per kilogram to P50 to P60.
The group said this is an insult to Filipinos involved in the fishing sector.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in Sept. 2023, the prices of staple food increased from 5.3 percent in August to 6.1 percent.
This increase is primarily explained by higher food inflation, which increased to 10 percent last month from 8.2 percent in August. This is due to the higher inflation of rice (17.9 percent from 8.7 percent), meat (1.3 percent from -0.1 percent), fruits (11.6 percent from 9.6 percent), and corn (1.6 percent from 0.9 percent). Meanwhile, the prices of fish, vegetables, sugar, eggs and dairy products, and bread & other cereals recorded slower inflation.
Women farmers group Amihan viewed the appointment of a Laurel as payback politics as the new agricultural chief contributed some P50 million to the 2022 election campaign of Marcos Jr.
“If Marcos Jr., as the president of the country and a former head of this department, didn’t resolve the agriculture and food crisis, now, he appointed an oligarch,” Amihan said.
Meanwhile, Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said that the new agriculture secretary has no agricultural background and no record of public service.
“Placing him as the agriculture secretary speaks volumes when it comes to conflict of interest. He represents big business and the elite. How can we expect him to know the situation of small farmers and fisherfolks who are among the poorest of the poor?” Ramos said.
However, agriculture groups and food security advocates will continue the calls to challenge the new DA secretary to abolish its liberalization policies that will lead to the worsening crisis in agriculture, rice, and food production. (RTS, JJE)