This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. VI, No. 13, May 7-13, 2006


Special Report

Tobacco Farmers 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.   


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 the computation:

    P508    ($9.84)                                  cost of living per day
 x   145                                                  working days
    P 73,660        ($1,427)
+     67,230.45   ($1,302)                      production cost
    P140,890.45  ($2,729)  / 1,800         average harvest

 = P 78.27 ($1.52)

A small amount is added as income. 

Tripartite conferences

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.    

Contract growing

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.       


Traders automatically 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 riseko

Price difference (unpaid price of tobacco due to riseko)

La Union

P60- P65

P5580- P6045

P6000- P6500

P420- P455

Ilocos Sur

P60- P67

P5580- P6231

P6000- P6700

P420- P469

Ilocos Norte

P55- P60

P5115- P5580

P5500- P6000

P385- P420

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 livelihood. 

However, Stop-Ex 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 action.) Bulatlat


© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.