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Senate unanimously opposes sugar liberalization

By Visayas Today

The Senate has unanimously opposed the executive branch’s plan to liberalize the sugar industry and will conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the matter.

Senate Resolution 213, introduced by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, said the planned inquiry is aimed at “safeguarding the welfare of 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers in 20 provinces of the country.”

It noted that liberalizing the sugar industry would be “irrelevant and very untimely” since the Sugar Industry Development Act of 2015 “is barely four years in effect, and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized.”

In a statement, Zubiri acknowledged the role of the industry alliance Tatak Kalamay for raising the issue and prodding him to rally his fellow senators against the plan.

“They (the senators) heard Tatak Kalamay’s plea and for as long as we are in the Senate, we assure you of our support and protection and we also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans,” he said.

Zubiri urged government economic managers to abandon plans to liberalize sugar and instead “help us by ensuring the restoration of the full SIDA budget in order to make our industry competitive globally.” #

World biggest rice importer? Peasant group renews call to junk liberalization law

By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A peasant group has reiterated its call for the repeal of Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law as the country is set to be the world’s biggest rice importer.

Peasant women group Amihan, citing data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the Philippines will be importing up to three million metric tons this year, beating China’s 2.5 million tons.

China’s population is 13 times more than the Philippines.

In a statement, Cathy Estavillo, Amihan secretary general, said, “This is an epic failure of the Duterte government, when rice sources are supposed to be within the country, but his policies made this distant and even at the discretion of foreign traders colluding with local big traders, who will eventually dictate supply and prices in the domestic market.”

The Rice Liberalization Law was signed February this year to supposedly reduce the price of rice by removing the quantitative restrictions on rice imports.

This, however, only resulted in the falling farmgate price of palay, which fell to as low as P7 in Central Luzon.

Estavillo, also spokesperson of consumer group Bantay Bigas, underscored that they have repeatedly warned that “RA 11203 will turn Filipinos into beggars of imported rice.” “We all have witnessed this law causing bankruptcy to rice farmers, and this will lead to displacement and ultimately declined productivity,” added Estavillo.

The peasant rights advocate also said that becoming the world’s biggest rice importer in a mainly agricultural country is an obvious failure of the government to provide “food on the table.”

“We reiterate, Rice Liberalization Law is anti-peasant and anti-Filipino. It is an economic and social crime against Filipinos as it threatens our inalienable right to food and food sovereignty,” Estavillo said. #

Will collective farming by artists save one of Manila’s remaining urban fields?

By Mong Palatino

In the Philippines, a group of artists and volunteers have turned themselves into farmers to cultivate a piece of land situated in the heart of the larger metropolitan area of Manila as part of a campaign to prevent evictions of land tillers. The group, which belongs to the Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, an organization known locally as SAKA, advocates for peasant rights in the Philippines.

In an interview with this author, SAKA leader Angelo Suarez explained what motivated the group to organize what is called a a bungkalan, a collective land cultivation in Quezon City, one of the sixteen cities making up Metro Manila whose total population reached nearly 13 million in the last 2015 census.

As peasant advocates who advance agroecology, we wanted to participate in agricultural production.
In the spirit of bungkalan, we thought this was a great chance to start participating in production and learning the rudiments of both organic agroecology and organizing a community for the assertion of people’s rights.

Suarez related the complicated history of this specific piece of land: initially used as farming land, it was grabbed from peasant communities in the 1930s to become a territory of the newly established Quezon City. Its status changed again in the 1950s when it was donated by the government to the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP), the country’s premier state university.

The land then remained underdeveloped over the next five decades despite the rapid urbanization of Quezon City. In the mid-2000s, the local peasant community successfully petitioned the government to put the land under the coverage of the agrarian reform program but UP contested this notice of coverage by ‘colluding’ with the Quezon City local government in rejecting the terrain’s agricultural classification. Indeed UP plans to build a parking lot in the community.

Yet Suarez is adamant the land should be considered as an agricultural area, as he explained:

It is a bit strange that a farmland can exist in what appears to be a highly industrialized city. But given the reality of uneven development, there does exist a large farmland in Quezon City that resembles nothing of its urban surroundings. Sure, it’s not agricultural on paper—but all it takes is a quick visit to the actual site to determine there’s nothing industrialized about this part of Quezon City at all. In fact, it is so bereft of industrialization that much of the work carried out on the farm is done by hand. The farmers cannot even afford the fuel needed by their rusty old hand tractor to make it work. Even threshing unhusked rice is done manually. What SAKA does is help maintain—and eventually prove—the agricultural status of this farmland by keeping it productive.

Suarez said SAKA started working in the area in early 2019.

We sought permission from the local peasant community to let us till the few square meters they had left unkempt for its difficulty to till. We worked the land for months, till it’s finally able to yield eggplant, okra, pechay [a form of cabbage] , string beans, and other vegetables. We are yet to devise a more efficient system for portioning out the produce among those who’ve worked on it, but for a good span of time all produce was for anybody’s taking: primarily the resident farming community, then the SAKA volunteers who’ve worked on it.

But the group now faces a series of challenges:

The first challenge is the fact that, being artists, literally none of us is a farming expert. Once in a while we get volunteers who have experience in urban gardening and amateur organic farming—but this land is the real deal, we’re practically starting from scratch on actual agricultural land.
Another setback is our lack of experience in organizing. Many of us in SAKA are new activists, and while we are guided by seasoned peasant organizers, many of them spend more time in the countryside where most of our peasant communities are.

Suarez reported how a series of rains flooded SAKA’s little portion of the farm, thus they started digging a makeshift canal system to get rid of excess rainwater. This project has become their number one priority and will remain so in the next few months:

We’ve been digging canals to jumpstart another massive till; the makeshift trenches we’re making should prevent another flooding from killing our crops. Ka Toto, one of the resident farmers and an active member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) partylist group, reminds us that the last quarter of the year is a great time to plant, a season conducive to growth. So we have to work double-time in gathering volunteers to join us. To do this, we have been actively campaigning in different forums, talking about bungkalan as a nation-wide mass movement that plays a significant role in the peasant struggle, as well as about bungkalan itself as an urgent intervention in UP’s forthcoming eviction of resident peasants.

It is unclear if the law signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on August 2019 allowing UP to sell portions of the farming land to the Quezon City government would resolve the dispute. But initiatives like the bungkalan organized by SAKA are helpful in raising awareness about the need to preserve this farmland in the center of Quezon City, and to resist the eviction threat against residents in the community.

Below are more photos from SAKA’s bungkalan activities:

Farming in the city with a high-rise in the background. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Planting activity organized by SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Volunteers of SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Agri sector slumps due to continuous government neglect

by IBON Media

Even prior to rice liberalization, the country has become increasingly dependent on food imports.”

Long-time government neglect and low prioritization has put the agriculture sector in a chronic crisis, said research group IBON.

The group said that this is in line with government’s advancement of neoliberal policies favoring local and foreign big business. The Duterte government continues this by giving minimal support to the agriculture sector.

IBON said that declining share in gross domestic product and agricultural productivity per capita, increasing import dependence, rising trade deficit, and widespread rural poverty are signs that this crisis is worsening. 

The agriculture sector’s share in the economy has shrunk from over 40% in the 1960s to less than 10% in 2018.

Agricultural productivity per capita peaked at Php7,862 in 1981, declined, and then was in a period of recovery from 1999-2008.

But agricultural productivity per capita again fell to Php7,052 in 2018, noted the group.

IBON also said that the country has become increasingly dependent on food imports even before rice liberalization this year.

For instance, garlic imports made up only 1.1% of the country’s consumption in 1990, but this spiked to 90% in 2017. Import dependency ratio also increased significantly with coffee (-7.7% to 56%); beef (8.5% to 36%); tuna (3.7% to 17%); onion (-14.3% to 15%); potato (0% to 15%); and pork (0% to 13%) in the same period.

Meanwhile, rice import dependency ratio declined from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this rose to 6.6% in 2017 and is expected to be higher due to the influx of rice imports under the Rice Liberalization Law.

The agriculture trade deficit has also increased by 30 times from US$287 million in 1994 to US$8 billion in 2018.

In the first quarter of this year, the agriculture trade deficit was a staggering US$2.1 billion, said the group.

IBON said widespread rural poverty is another indicator of agriculture in crisis.

Official figures show that the poverty incidence among farmers (34.3%) and fisherfolk (34%) is higher than the national average (21.6%).

IBON estimates that, if based on more reasonable standards of poverty measurement, at least 90%, if not all farmers and fisherfolk, are impoverished.

This chronic agriculture crisis is due to government’s chronically low prioritization of the agriculture sector, said IBON.

The group noted that from 1981 until 2020, the annual average share of agriculture and agrarian reform was only 4.1% of the national budget.

This low priority of agriculture is being continued under the Duterte administration.

The group said that the 3.5% share of agriculture in the proposed 2020 budget is the lowest since 2004 (3.3%).

Also, from 2017 to 2020, the annual average share of agriculture in the national budget was only 3.6% – the lowest since the Ramos administration (3.5%).

The average share of agriculture was higher under Estrada (4.4%), Arroyo (4.7%), and Aquino (4.2%).

IBON said that immediate steps government should take to arrest the agriculture crisis is to wipe off if not significantly reduce all forms of loans including amortization for awarded lands, and to substantially increase support and subsidies for the agriculture and agrarian reform sectors.

It should also suspend, and eventually repeal, policies like the Rice Liberalization Law, that are harming domestic production and farmers’ livelihoods.

But to truly strengthen domestic agriculture, government needs to implement long-term policies that prioritize rural development over big business interests. #

158 days

Ni Pia Montalban

Tinataras na natin ang araw
ng ating pagkakapiit.

Sinong makababatid
kung pagbibilang ba ito ng sakit
at pag-aabang ng higanti, 
o kung pagkatanggap sa pinosas na bukas
at pagbibilang ng pagsuko ng imik,

sinong makapagsasabi
kung aling apoy ang nagpakulo
ng nagsusumabaw nating poot at galit?

Ang bilang ng paglalapit
ng bayan na remata’ng sinapit
o ang paglalagkit ng pait
sa ating mga nakaambang karit?

‘Paano na ang mga magsasaka?’

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently approved the Rice Tarrication Law, allowing massive rice importation into the country.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Rice tariffication will displace rice farmers, worsen food insecurity–IBON

Rice tariffication and uncontrolled rice imports will displace rice farmers and worsen food insecurity without solving the problem of expensive rice, research group IBON said.

The government is using high inflation to justify rice sector liberalization according to long-standing demands of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and big foreign agricultural exporters.

Domestic agriculture should be strengthened with ample government support instead of being prematurely opened up to cheap foreign government-subsidized imports from abroad, said IBON.

Senate Bill 1998 or the Rice Tariffication Bill, which was approved by the Philippine Senate on third and final reading recently, is currently undergoing bicameral deliberation.

Government said that this will protect the rice industry from volatile prices, and consumers from rising inflation.

The measure is also supposed to earn Php10 billion annually which will be used to fund development of the local rice industry.

IBON however stressed that uncontrolled rice imports will drive rice farmers into worse poverty.

If the Philippines imports two million metric tons of palay, for instance, some 500,000 of around 2.4 million rice farmers will be adversely affected.

Even the government’s own Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) projects a 29 percent decline in rice farmers’ incomes from a Php4-decrease in palay farm gate prices when rice tariffication is implemented.

As it is, farmers’ average monthly income of Php6,000 at the Php21 farmgate price is already far short even of the government’s understated Php9,064 average poverty threshold for a family of five.

It is also not even one-fourth (23 percent) of IBON’s estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php26,026 for a family of five as of October 2018.

Filipino rice farmers are unproductive and domestically-produced rice is unnecessarily expensive because of long-standing government neglect of the agriculture sector.

No more than five percent of the national budget has been given to agriculture over the last two decades.

The Duterte administration does not correct this and, for instance, the Php49.8 billion 2019 Department of Agriculture (DA) budget it submitted to Congress in July is just 1.3 percent of the national budget and even Php862 million less that its cash-based equivalent of Php50.7 billion this year.

The hyped Php10 billion (US$190 million at current exchange rates) rice development fund of the Rice Tariffication Bill is too little and too late, said IBON.

This compares unfavorably to rice industry support given by other rice producers including some countries the Philippines imports rice from — Vietnam (US$400 million), United States (US$619 million annually), Thailand (US$2.2-4.4 billion), India (US$12 billion), Japan (US$16 billion), and China (US$12-37 billion).

IBON also pointed out that there is no guarantee that retail rice prices will be lower in the long run with unhampered importation.

Relying on rice imports makes the country vulnerable to higher world market prices as well as to rice production and export decisions of other countries.

In 2008, for instance, IBON recalled bow Vietnam, India and Pakistan restricted their rice exports amid rising global rice prices.

Thailand also raised the idea of creating a global rice cartel similar to that for oil exporting countries.

Government’s neoliberal prioritization of food imports and production of crops for export should be reversed, IBON said.

The Philippine government should instead strengthen the local rice industry. This begins with free land distribution to all willing tillers, followed by giving substantial support for rice producers, and taking control of the market to ensure reasonable prices for rice and other agricultural produce. #

 

Farmers decry rice crisis

Farmers from the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), AMIHAN (National Federation of Peasant Women) and rice watchdog Bantay Bigas, trooped to the Department of Agriculture (DA) Office in Quezon City last September 5 to protest the prolonged rice crisis in the country.

The groups also decried National Food Authority (NFA)’s importation of weevil-infested rice on one hand and and essentially near zero ‘palay’ procurement on the other.

According to Joseph Canlas, AMGL chairperson, the DA and NFA are useless in solving the problem of rice shortage.

“There was enough ‘palay’ that were harvested by farmers and, in fact, the NFA is buying them at a lower price but still they keep the plan to import weevil-infested rice which is a big insult for farmers and consumers,” Canlas said.

He also belied NFA’s excuses that farmers intend not to sell their harvest due to its low buying price.

During dry season, private traders buy at P20 per kilo of palay, which declines during wet season.

The group scores the TRAIN law because of the triggered unabated oil price hikes that resulted to increases in the cost production of rice.

They cited from October to May planting season, the cost for fuel increased by P914 or 15 percent from the previous P6781 to P7195 per hectare.

Meanwhile Bantay Bigas challenged the government to immediately stop rice importation and procure majority of palay this coming harvest season.

They also warned Secretary Manny Piñol not to insist on feeding weevil-infested rice to consumers.

“If they don’t act on the crisis, they must resign,” Bantay Bigas ended.# (Video and report by Joseph Cuevas)

‘Local palay procurement over importation’

“NFA should prioritize local palay procurement over importation to stabilize rice prices and avoid the continuing rice crisis because of limited NFA rice supply.”—Bantay Bigas

‘Itaas sa P20 ang kilo ng palay’

“Isang dekada nang binibili ng NFA ng P17 kada kilo ang palay. Panahon na para taasan ang support price ng NFA at gawing P20 kada kilo.”–Zenaida Soriano, chairperson, Amihan