Struggle Vs Exploitation
Tobacco farmers are
being subjected to various exploitative practices such as downgrading of
produce, riseko, contract growing, excessive charging, and low
prices. But they are not giving up.
BY ZOFIA LEAL
In 2003, the tobacco
industry generated about P 25.65 billion ($496,996,706 at $1: P51.61) in
taxes, duties and other fees from tobacco leaf production and manufacture,
and the sale of cigar and cigarettes. It provided livelihood to more than
1.7 million Filipinos.
In the Ilocos region,
tobacco farming is one of the major sources of livelihood. However,
tobacco farmers started shifting to other cash crops such as corn or
peanuts in 2003 due to the difficulty in processing tobacco, the high cost
of production, and the low selling price.
The cost of
production per one hectare of land which produces 1800 kilos of tobacco is
estimated to be P67,230.45 ($1,302) including production inputs,
additional manpower, payment of loans with usurious rates, and land rent.
According to Zaldy
Alfiler, secretary-general of Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation
or Stop-Ex, tobacco farmers are struggling for a P85 ($1.65) per kilo
selling price regardless of classification. Alfiler said that even good
quality tobacco is being classified as low grade by trading centers to
lower the price. He said that at a selling price of P85 per kilo, the cost
of production would be covered and they would have income just enough to
help improve their living conditions.
Stop-Ex arrived at a
selling price of P85 per kilo after considering the cost of living, number
of working days, production costs, and average volume produced. Below is
cost of living per day
P 73,660 ($1,427)
+ 67,230.45 ($1,302)
P140,890.45 ($2,729) / 1,800 average harvest
= P 78.27
A small amount is added as income.
Every year, the price
of tobacco is being deliberated by a national tripartite conference
attended by tobacco farmers’ organizations, traders, and representatives
from the National Tobacco Administration. Stop-Ex stopped attending the
said conference in 1999 after its representatives were harassed during the
deliberations. Alfiler said that officials from the National Tobacco
Administration pointed a gun at them after they refused to agree on the
price being proposed by government and traders.
Last year, Stop-Ex
distributed a position paper detailing their proposals to 21 trade
centers. They also used radio interviews to make their positions public.
Another issue that
tobacco farmers face is contract growing. In contract growing
arrangements, traders are able to use various means to cheat the farmers
even if Stop-Ex scrutinizes the Memorandum of Agreement very carefully.
Traders cheat in the computation of expenses. For example, if a farmer
gets a sack of fertilizer, traders would charge him/her for two sacks.
Traders also charge
high interest rates for inputs they advance to farmers. They monopolize
the supply of seedlings. And they set as condition that farmers sell the
produce exclusively to them at prices they set unilaterally. Usually the
price traders set is too low.
Republic Act 7171
Republic Act 7171
mandates that the four Virginia tobacco-producing provinces are
allotted a 15 percent share of excise taxes on the manufacture of
Virginia-type cigarettes. Governor Chavit Singson authored the bill during
his stint as congressman of Ilocos Sur. The law was enacted in 1992 during
the last days of the Aquino administration.
The funds from R.A.
7171 allotted to farmers are not given directly to them but to their LGUs.
In the Ilocos region, these funds are used to create waiting sheds,
farm-to-market roads, livelihood projects and multi-cabs for barangay
(village) officials. Tobacco farmers do not get a single centavo from the
funds except when they take out loans. But these loans, said the farmers,
are given at high interest rates.
Stop-Ex is lobbying
that the funds be given directly to the farmers to help them raise capital
for production. In 2005, Representative Eric Singson gave four tractors
and three hand tractors to farmers from the 2nd district of
Ilocos. The funds for the tractors were sourced from the share of the
province from excise tax collections. This was made possible through a
bilateral agreement entered into by Singson and tobacco farmers,
represented by Stop Ex. Stop-Ex said that this was a result of their
struggle to uplift the life of tobacco farmers.
deducts seven kilos from the weight of the tobacco sold by the farmers,
five kilos for the tulis (stalk) and two kilos for the sack.
This practice is called locally as riseko.
Alfiler said, “Ang
riseko ay pagnanakaw sa mga magsasaka dahil ang kinakaltas na hindi
binabayaran ng mga trade centers ay kasama sa pinagkakagastusan at
pinaghihirapan ng mga manalon” (Riseko is a form of stealing
from or cheating the farmers because what traders automatically deduct are
included in the farmer’s cost of production and labor).
The following table
shows the difference between the price of tobacco per 100 kilos with
riseko and without it.
Price per kilo
Price per 100 kilos with riseko
(minus 7 kilos)
Price per 100 kilos without
Price difference (unpaid price of
tobacco due to riseko)
Trading centers also
force the prices of tobacco down by “stop buying” or suddenly refusing to
buy the produce of farmers justifying it with the claim that demand is
decreasing. The farmers will then be forced to sell their tobacco at a
minimal price fearing that they will no longer be able to sell it.
Stop-Ex is calling
for a stop to the exploitative practices of downgrading the classification
of tobacco, stop buying, and riseko. It is also fighting for a selling
price of P85 per kilo without classification.
The Ilocos region is
well known for producing quality tobacco products. Nonetheless, the
farmers are being ignored and their plight continues to worsen. If the
current situation persists, there is a big possibility that tobacco
farmers will be forced to shift to other cash crops to sustain their
still believes in continuing their struggle for their rights.
Alfiler said, “Kahit hindi
matugunan kaagad ang tawag, hindi tayo aatras.
Huwag tayong mag-atubili sa ating
panawagan. Makakamit din natin ang ating hinahangad sa pamamagitan ng
sama-samang pagkilos. (Even
though our call is not being heeded right now, we will not back down. Let
us not falter in our call. We will achieve victory through our collective
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© 2006 Bulatlat
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