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Farmers demand food production aid under 2022 nat’l budget

Hit hard by government’s greater dependence on food importation during the coronavirus pandemic, farmers have demanded P15,000 production subsidy in next year’s national budget.

Reacting to Department of Agriculture (DA) statements at its ongoing budget deliberations at the House of Representatives, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also said it opposes secretary William Dar’s admission there will be no cash aid for farmers under their Php91 billion 2022 budget proposal.

Gutom po ang mga Pilipino lalo na ngayong pandemya. Kailangan palakasin ang lokal na produksyon ng pagkain. Paano magagawa ito kung walang ayuda sa mga magsasaka at hindi nagagamit ng tama ang pondo sa agrikultura ayon sa pangangailan ng mga magbubukid? KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos in a statement said. 

(There are more hungry Filipinos during this pandemic. Local food production must be strengthened. How can this be achieved without cash aid to farmers and funds are not used properly to benefit farmers?)

Ramos said that they support a higher budget for DA, their group is not keen on the department’s fiscal directions as well as greater emphasis on import liberalization and private and foreign investments on agriculture.

Ramos said such policies have only primarily benefited local and foreign business interests and have further marginalized poor farmers.

“The perfect storm in agriculture is not only due to the african swine flu (ASF), climatic events, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Decades of neo-liberal policies have only worsened the state of agriculture and Filipino farmers,” Ramos said.  

The KMP revealed that DA’s “Matibay na Seguridad sa Pagkain, Maunlad at Masaganang Buhay ng mga Magsasaka at Mangingisda” program is in fact decreasing the budget for corn production, organic agriculture as well as the production of high-value crops.

“The P207M o 1.33% increase in the National Rice Program budget is also very meager to support rice production,” it added.

KMP said DA’s market and business-driven and profit-oriented programs remains its focus while failing to address the slump in pork production due to the ASF.

“The DA is already discussing technology and modernization under Digital Agriculture 4.0, while the dominant domestic farming perennially relies on carabao and manual plow. There is a significant disconnect between DA’s policies and the realities of poor Filipino farmers,” Ramos revealed.

The KMP said Dar must realize the actual condition of farmers and get out of his “alternate reality.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The ill logic of rice liberalization

by Rosario Guzman/IBON Foundation

Runaway inflation has always been our economic managers’ alibi for liberalizing importation. Food always takes a beating from this short-sighted policy, as it has the single biggest weight of 36% in the average commodity basket.

Inflation reached its highest in a decade in 2018 upon the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, the most comprehensive and most regressive tax reform the country has ever had. TRAIN slapped value-added taxes and excises on consumer products, including unprecedentedly on all petroleum products. It reduced income taxes, which have benefited only the rich more than the middle class and the poor, as it has ultimately rebalanced income gains with higher prices.

But it was still the rice’s fault, according to our economic managers, and hastily they did push for the tariffication of the quantitative restrictions on the country’s staple. Rice bears a 9.6% weight on inflation and it is an extremely socially sensitive product on the same level as diesel that TRAIN had finally taxed; thus it has to be kept under control. That is their logic for subjecting local rice to undue competition with imported rice that is far better government protected and supported.

Wrong premises

Our economic managers would later point to decreased rice retail prices, although still higher than pre-tariffication levels, to support the argument that imports liberalization indeed benefits the Filipino consumer.   

It’s turning out to be a feeble argument, however, as the country would again see the highest food inflation in 27 months at the beginning of 2021, with meat and vegetables contributing the most. The apparent cause is government’s non-containment of the African swine fever epidemic in the hog subsector. But despite the obvious need for government intervention in domestic production, the official quick reaction is again liberalization, this time of pork imports.

The government has simply been pitting the welfare of local producers against that of the consumers, apparently in a principle of subordinating the interests of the few (the farmers) to the welfare of the many (the consumers). This is also wrongly premised on the Filipino consumers being concerned only with cheap commodities. Joblessness is at its worst level, while economic aid in the face of the pandemic has been meager. Majority of the Filipino consumers need to be productive first and earn decent incomes, or in the immediate be given economic relief, before they could truly benefit from lower prices. But government’s obsession with imports liberalization has only worsened the jobs crisis, loss of livelihoods, and farmers’ bankruptcy.

Denied reality

From 2018 to 2020, palay prices have gone down by an average of 19.5% for both fancy and other varieties. Palay prices are lower by a minimum of Php3.30 per kilo for other varieties, from a national average of Php20.06 to Php16.76 per kilo. Nine of the 17 regions have even lower palay prices than the national average. These are based on official statistics.

Field studies conducted on the first year of the rice tariffication law by Bantay Bigas, a nationwide network of rice advocates, showed farmgate prices going down to as low as Php10-15 per kilo. Palay prices in the range of Php10-14 per kilo were noted in the country’s rice bowls – Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Isabela, Ilocos Sur, Mindoro, Bicol, Negros Occidental, Capiz, and Antique. Palay prices in the range of Php11-15 per kilo were seen in Agusan del Sur, Davao de Oro, Davao del Norte, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Caraga. Bantay Bigas noted that palay prices continuously declined in four consecutive cropping seasons right after the passage of the rice tariffication law.

Value of palay production went down from Php385 billion in 2018 to Php318.8 billion in 2020 despite a slight increase of 229,000 metric tons (MT) in production volume at 19.3 million MT in 2020. If the average farmgate price of Php20.06 before rice tariffication was maintained, production value would be more or less at the level of Php387 billion – thus a visible loss of Php68.3 billion in the last two years, or Php32,523 for each rice farmer.

These are based on official figures. Bantay Bigas noted that farmers in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija lost Php20,000 to Php35,000 per hectare in 2019, as farmgate prices dropped to Php14 per kilo during the dry season and Php10-13 per kilo during the wet season. Farmers in Barangay Carmen in the same municipality have mortgaged about 40% of their rice lands or an estimated 80 hectares due to depressed farmgate prices. In Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija, some rice lands near the highways were already sold at Php1 million per hectare.

In 2019, rice farmers’ net income per hectare decreased by 32% in the dry season, by 47% in the wet season, and by 38% on the average as compared to figures in 2018, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. This translated to substantially lower profitability ratio for the farmers. For every peso the rice farmer spent on one hectare, his profit declined in 2019 from 73 centavos to 53 centavos in the dry season, from 63 to 36 in the wet season, and on the average from 73 centavos to 47 centavos.

The average net income of Php21,324 in 2019 translated to Php236.93 per day in a 90-day cropping season, down from 2018’s Php34,111 or Php379.01 a day. The farmer lost Php142.08 income per day, which was way bigger than the Php4.65 per day that his family supposedly gained from cheaper rice. (Regular milled rice was reportedly cheaper by Php2.86 per kilo in 2019. The daily average per capita rice consumption is 325.5 grams or 0.3255 kilogram. Thus, 0.3255 kilogram x 5 family members x Php2.86 = Php4.65)

These are official figures. We are not even talking about rice farmers who incurred net losses.

Also incidentally, the Php236.93 income per day recorded in 2019 was short of the already incredibly low official poverty threshold of Php354 per day for a family of five. It was not even enough for the official family food threshold of Php248. The reality is undeniable: the country’s rice producers live in acute poverty and hunger, and rice liberalization is directly responsible for this irony.

The bigger picture

The rice tariffication law purports to offset these losses by allocating the tariff revenues to support farmers. We do not need to go into detail about how these are not enough or at worst tokenistic. We only need to see the trend of government’s agricultural support to conclude that the Duterte administration has put the sector aside in favor of other hollow and counter-productive budget items, including its infrastructure agenda.

The budget for agriculture in 2021 is only Php110.16 billion, merely 2.2% of the national budget. This has diminished further from the 2019 share of 2.7%, which is apparently already the largest under the Duterte administration. Including the budget for agrarian reform, the annual average allocation in 2017-2020 is only 3.6% of the national budget, the lowest in 21 years. This still got smaller at 3.2% in 2021.

The country’s rice self-sufficiency ratio has significantly gone down from 93.4% in 2017 to only 79.8% by 2019. Such increased import dependence is not even justified anymore by the goal of curbing inflation nor by inadequate supply. It is but a formed habit from chronically neglecting domestic production. To illustrate, despite the hyped increase in production volume in 2020 and even at harvest time, the Duterte government approved the importation of 300,000 MT. The pandemic has apparently prompted exporters such as Vietnam and Thailand to prioritize their domestic consumption, triggering already ingrained insecurity among importers such as the Philippines.

Also totally negating the inflation argument now is the fact that Vietnam and China have already started buying rice from India due to increased local prices. This could precipitate another fast rice inflation in the narrow global market, on which the Philippines has unduly relied at the expense of its own direct producers.

This brings us back to the bigger picture – that the farmers’ struggle for the reversal of rice liberalization and for more responsible state intervention is not just about themselves but the more meaningful future of food security and national development. #

= = = = = = =

(A contribution to the virtual forum “Rice Tariffication Law: Two Years After” sponsored by the College of Economic Management, University of the Philippines Los Baños, 22 June 2021)

‘The wastewater looked like mud’: EMB goes after Vitarich Corp.

Four reporting fellows of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) took a motorized boat to Marilao River to search for the outfall pipes of the town’s biggest chicken dressing plant. It wasn’t easy.

BY ANNIE RUTH SABANGAN, BERNARDINO TESTA, ROBERT JA BASILIO JR. AND RIC PUOD

Part 2 of 4

Read Part 1: The Bulacan town where chickens are slaughtered and the river is dead

What you need to know about Part 2:

  • A PCIJ team sails into Sapang Alat, a creek where Marilao’s biggest chicken dressing plant releases wastewater, and discovers how the water has turned into a garbage dump.
  • While the Municipal Health Office has the mandate to go after pollutive industries, it has not been able to exercise its powers.
  • A closure order from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’  Environmental Management Bureau finally prompted the operators of the dressing and rendering facilities of Vitarich Corporation to take action, but an environmental officer thinks the solution is unsustainable.

It was a rainy Tuesday and it was high tide at the Marilao River. On Sept. 24, 2019, when the coronavirus pandemic was still months away, a PCIJ team took a motorized outrigger boat into the river and embarked on a search for the waste pipe of a poultry processing plant.

The brown liquid waste that flowed from pipes jutting from the compound of Vitarich Corp., one of the country’s biggest poultry and feed firms, was visible from a window of the Municipal Health Office (MHO) of Marilao. Getting to its location in Sapang Alat (Salty Creek) wasn’t so easy, however. 

It was near impossible to wade through the sludge on the river bed. The team rented a boat in Brgy. Poblacion and sailed to the creek, a tributary of the Marilao River, and waited for high tide because otherwise the boat would be stuck in the shallow and rocky parts of the waterway. 

Marlo (not his real name), a fisherman who served as guide, knew the river like the palm of his hands; but the search would still turn out to be arduous. The waters were still, but the boat had to stop at least five times. Occasionally, Marlo had to reach into the putrid water with his bare hands to weed out the trash caught by the boat’s propeller. 

Baka hindi sa lunod ako mamamatay nito, baka sa dumi at baho (I will not die here because of drowning, but because of filth and stink),” quipped one of the team members.

It was almost one hour of this before the team reached the bridge at the mouth of the creek, where the water turned visibly foamy from the viscous effluents coming from drain pipes lining the riverside. The water body had been abused like this by residents and businesses alike, although some are more responsible for its death than others. 

It should have been a warning of what awaited the PCIJ team inside Sapang Alat, but the members were not prepared for what they saw when Marlo shut down the motor of the boat and turned the outrigger towards an inlet that leads to the creek. 

It was a garbage dump. The water turned a darker color, thicker, and filthier from a mix of solid and liquid waste. Marlo had to use a bamboo pole to propel the boat, which often got stuck in mounds of trash.

The fetid and filthy inlet in the Marilao River in Bulacan leading to a creek called Sapang Alat. Image taken in September 2019. Photograph: Bernard Testa/PCIJ

Dead fish floated on the water. A rotting tilapia was discolored and its eyes were missing. A disfigured janitor fish –– bloodied, bloated and burnt –– looked monstrous with its teeth exposed. 

Siguro napadpad sila dito, inanod noong nag-high tide. Patay na ‘tong sapa na ‘to e, wala nang mabubuhay na isda rito (Maybe they were carried here by the waters when it was high tide. This stream is dead. No fish will survive here),” Marlo said.

Glenn Aguilar, who monitors the river as staff of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 3 office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), linked the fish’s death to the absence of oxygen in the waters. 

“It’s an indication na patay na ‘yung tubigAng isda hindi siya mabubuhay kung walang oxygen (It’s an indication that the river is dead…. The fish can’t survive without oxygen),” Aguilar said in an interview later.

While the janitor fish is known to live and multiply even in polluted waters, Aguilar said it’s not capable of surviving in dead waters for a long time.

DEAD FISH IN A DEAD CREEK. A distended janitor fish found in Sapang Alat beside a chicken dressing plant in Brgy. Sta. Rosa 1, Marilao, Bulacan. Image taken in September 2019. Photograph: Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ
REEKING CREEK. Poultry feces and innards floating in Sapang Alat, a tributary of Marilao River in Brgy. Sta. Rosa 1. Image taken in September 2019. Photographs: Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ

The team also found a big plastic bag filled with creamy matter floating on the water. A stomach-turning smell was released when the receptacle was opened. It contained decaying chicken entrails. 

This part of the creek was flecked with a brownish and yellowish substance smelling like poultry feces, too.

The boat continued to follow the creek’s meandering course upstream, towards Vitarich Corporation’s outfall pipes. There was a place where trees grew and wild weeds crawled on the banks of the creek. One large tree was bedecked with dirty plastic trash. Here, where there was thick vegetation, bubbles of air rose from the water and made for an eerie atmosphere. 

TREE OF TRASH. The PCIJ team passes by a garbage-bearing tree as they sail upstream to look for more pollution point sources. Photograph: Bernard Testa/PCIJ

Finally, the sound of water rushing like a waterfall was heard. There it was –– the outfall pipe from the compound of Vitarich Corp. The team collected water samples.

The PCIJ team would later learn from the EMB and the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) that the pipe wasn’t from the dressing plant itself, but from the feather rendering facility that converts feathers of slaughtered poultry into animal feed ingredients. It was operated by PSP Aqua Resources, a business partner of Vitarich Corp. 

The PCIJ team would take another boat trip the following month, in October 2019, to Sapang Alat to collect more water samples. The team also set off to search for the drain pipes of other poultry processing plants in Brgy. Loma De Gato.

SHORT BUT ARDUOUS SAIL. Google satellite view of the area in Marilao, Bulacan where the PCIJ team boated and looked for pollution point sources in September and October 2019. Landmark icons by Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ
Screenshot of a Google satellite map showing the proximity of Vitarich’s dressing and rendering facilities to the Marilao River, its tributary creek Sapang Alat, and the health office and municipal hall of Marilao, Bulacan. Landmark icons by Annie Ruth Sabangan/PCIJ

Cease-and-desist order

Eight months earlier, on Jan. 24, 2019, the EMB Region 3 office ordered two plants inside the compound of  Vitarich Corporation to “cease and desist” from releasing wastewater into Sapang Alat. 

EMB said the dressing and rendering plants –– operated by Alt Trading and PSP Aqua Resources, respectively –– did not have discharge permits. 

In two separate but identical violation notices, then EMB Region 3 Director Lormelyn Claudio said their treatment facilities were “not properly operated and [were] therefore discharging untreated wastewater,” which was a violation of the Clean Water Act. 

File photo of the waste outfall of Vitarich/ALT Trading’s chicken dressing plant in the margins of a creek in Brgy. Sta. Rosa 1, Marilao, Bulacan. Sapang Alat creek had solidified due to the unabated discharge of untreated effluents into the river tributary. Image taken in January 2019. Photograph: Bernard Testa/PCIJ

Three days after the cease and desist order was issued, on Jan. 27, Marilao’s environment officer Reynaldo Buenaventura accompanied EMB pollution inspectors to Sapang Alat to seal a canal that dumped wastewater from one of the Vitarich plants into the Marilao River. 

It was part of the national government’s efforts to clean up Manila Bay. On the same day, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu declared from the Baywalk in the country’s capital the start of the rehabilitation of the bay. 

Marilao River is part of Meycuayan-Marilao-Obando River System that dumps wastes into the bay.

Ang tubig parang hindi na liquid e Parang lupa na. Ibig sabihin hindi na umaagos…. Nagso-solid na e (The water no longer looked like it was liquid. It looked like mud. It means it’s no longer flowing…it has solidified),” Buenaventura told PCIJ. 

Water sampling analyses conducted by the EMB showed that the plants’ wastewater discharges exceeded effluent limits. The polishing ponds –– which were supposed to improve the quality of the effluents before it was released into the river–– were no longer capable of cleansing wastewater at that time, according to Climaco Jurado of EMB Region 3’s Environment Monitoring and Enforcement Division.

The violation notices barred the plants from resuming operations until the issues were rectified.

Viscous liquid and solid wastes were clogging this polishing pond of Vitarich’s chicken dressing plant in Brgy. Sta Rosa 1, Marilao, Bulacan when pollution inspectors from the EMB in Region 3 went to the facility on Jan. 18, 2019. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/PCIJ

Vitarich sought to distance itself from the violation notices issued against the dressing and rendering plants inside its compound. While the company owned the two plants in question, Vitarich lawyer Mary Christine Dabu-Pepito told PCIJ that the plants were operated by its business partners.

“They are in the best position to answer whether these violations indeed occur and what were the steps they undertook to address the issues raised in the NOVs,” she said in a May 12, 2020 e-mail responding to PCIJ’s questions. 

“At any rate, Vitarich requires its business partners to operate within the bounds of law, including compliance with environmental laws and regulations,” she said.

Ramiro Osorio, officer in charge of the EMB’s legal office, disagreed. In an interview on Aug. 8, 2020, Osorio said Vitarich also bore responsibility because the company is the project proponent and holder of the environmental compliance certificates (ECC), issued to the rendering facility in October 1997 and the dressing plant in October 2008. 

The ECC “is a project-specific permit” that makes the proponent directly responsible for the project, he said.

Copies of the two 2019 stop orders obtained by the PCIJ from EMB-Region 3 showed that they were addressed to the president of Vitarich Corp., the operations manager of PSP Aqua, and the manager of Alt Trading. 

Wala pong pakialam ang DENR do’n kung sino ang nag-o-operate ng rendering plant. Kung sino ang nakapangalan sa ECC, sila ang ire-regulate namin (The DENR isn’t concerned with who operates the rendering plant. Whoever is named in the ECC is the entity we will regulate),” said Osorio.

Source of wastewater discharge

Eduardo Lazo –– an executive at both the chicken dressing and rendering plants –– said they did not secure a permit to discharge because the rendering facility was not supposed to have effluents. 

What happened was that wastewater from the dressing facility overflowed, he said, carrying chicken feathers from the rendering plant into a drainpipe. He maintained that the rendering plant did not release wastewater. To address this problem, he said PSP Aqua installed a separate pipe to catch raw feather materials and redirect them to a digestive chamber.

“The feathers must first be filtered out of water. Then the wastewater from it will pass through the dressing plant’s wastewater treatment facility. So wala na kaming discharge (So we no longer have a discharge),” he said.

Lazo said the discharge that PCIJ found gushing at the back of the Vitarich compound in September 2019 did not come from the rendering plant but from the ice plant that was also located within the premises. 

Does the ice plant need a discharge permit from the EMB? “I don’t think so…Ano ito e, tubig na malinis na galing sa pinagtabasan ng yelo (It’s just clean water that comes from ice cuttings),” said Lazo, referring to the effluent.

The wastewater samples collected by the PCIJ were warm. 

EMB-Region 3’s Jurado, who inspected the rendering facility in January 2019, rejected Lazo’s claim. In an interview on Oct. 14, 2019, Jurado said PSP Aqua was issued a CDO because it was “discharging without discharge permit.”

Kasi ang claim nila wala silang discharge kasi naka-line lang sila sa dressing plant. E noong pag-inspection namin, meron silang sariling wastewater discharge. Nakita talaga namin (ang) pipe galing sa kanila (Their claim was that they didn’t have a discharge because they were linked to the dressing plant’s wastewater treatment system. But when we inspected the facility, we found out that they had their own wastewater discharge. We really saw that they had their own pipe),” Jurado said.

Wala silang polishing pond (They didn’t have a polishing pond),” he added, referring to PSP Aqua’s lack of treatment facility for its own wastewater. 

MENRO’s environmental management specialist Dan Ezekiel Martin, who also inspected the rendering plant before the CDO was issued, also said that PSP Aqua had its own wastewater discharge.

Jurado said PSP Aqua fixed the problem after it  “re-channeled” its pipe to the dressing plant’s wastewater treatment facility.

Dressing plant’s wastewater treatment system overhauled

In October 2019, the EMB’s Environment Monitoring and Enforcement Division recommended the lifting of the CDO after the dressing and rendering plants rectified issues raised. 

It was around the time the PCIJ team made its second visit to Sapang Alat and, by then, the effluents were no longer spilling out as a result of the CDO.

Records from the Marilao government showed that the improvements coincided with the entry of a new business partner –– Barbatos Ventures Corp. –– to replace Alt Trading as Vitarich’s business partner to operate the dressing plant. Barbatos was granted a government sanitary permit on July 12, 2019.

The EMB also recognized the efforts to fix the treatment facility of the dressing plant, according to Glenn Aguilar of EMB-Region 3. “[I]naayos muna nila ‘yong treatment facility…. Pabalik-balik sila dito sa amin, pinapakita ‘yung [lab] results ng [wastewater] sampling nila (They fixed the treatment facility first…. They were here several times to show the lab results of their wastewater samples),” Aguilar told the PCIJ in an interview on Oct. 28, 2019. 

Lazo said Alt Trading complied with the EMB requirements. “The CDO was given to Alt Trading and they were able to fully comply,” Lazo told PCIJ during a July 21, 2020 interview. He was referring to the conditions set by the EMB, which included treating the effluent from the chicken dressing facility so that it could conform to the government’s wastewater quality standards.

Lazo said Barbatos also started a P6.1-million project, composed of a three-phase process, to overhaul the dressing plant’s wastewater treatment system. He said Barbatos knew that treating the facility’s wastewater wouldn’t be enough and an overhaul was needed as grass had grown on the pond and one could walk on the hardened scum., Phase 1, worth P2.3 million, included the installation of polyethylene liners on all five of the dressing plant’s treatment ponds to prevent the seepage of wastewater.  

Phase 2 involved the placement of floating aerators on three of the five ponds, which was worth P2 million.

Phase 3, which was in the pipeline at the time of Lazo’s interview with PCIJ in July 2020, would be the installation of a water clarifier and filtration system that would cost P1.8 million.

“When the system is in place, only clear water will come out of the last two ponds,” Lazo said. 

In a June 2, 2020 report, the Marilao government’s Joint Inspection Team (JIT) noted improvements in the dressing plant’s wastewater treatment facility. The discharge was clean and no longer smelly, according to the report signed by Buenaventura and business licensing head Martin Armando Cruz.

Lazo welcomed the results of the JIT inspection and said the “ultimate objective” of Barbatos was “to no longer need a permit from the DENR to discharge wastewater.”

“That’s because we will no longer generate wastewater. We will be able to recycle all the water we use,” he said. 

This remains to be seen, however. Dan Ezekiel Martin, the MENRO’s environmental management specialist who inspected Vitarich’s dressing facility with EMB staffers in 2019, saw a bigger sustainability challenge.

Production in the dressing plant kept increasing, but the size of the area for wastewater treatment remained the same, he said.

Kasi normally, sa gano’n kalaking dressing plant…dapat hectares ang usapan ng laki ng area ng [wastewater treatment] pond (Because normally in a dressing plant as big as that…we should be talking in terms of hectares of wastewater treatment pond),” Martin told the PCIJ in an interview in September 2019, noting that there were only five waste stabilization ponds in the facility.

As of 2018, the production capacity of the dressing plant was 50,000 a day or 1.2 million birds a month, based on the self-monitoring report (SMR) submitted by Alt Trading. It was over three times its production capacity a decade earlier, in 2008, when it had an output of only 15,000 birds a day.

Stench lingers

Despite the interventions, however, Lazo admitted the facility would continue to stink.

Kasi…hindi mo puwedeng sabihin na 100% mawawala ang amoy, kasi you’re dealing here with waste. Iyong raw feathers may malansang amoy na ‘yan kasi (You can’t say that the odor will be gone 100% because you are dealing here with waste. The raw feathers already have a fishy smell),” Lazo said.

Lazo claimed that the rendering plant was necessary because it solved Marilao’s waste disposal problem. 

“If, say, Marilao dresses 300,000 chickens a day, that means producing 30 tons of feather waste daily if you don’t have a rendering plant…. No dumpsite will accept that huge volume of waste. It’s a high-maintenance waste. You have to bury it and address the odor. Decaying feathers smell like dead humans,” he said.

Like hair, chicken feathers are made up of fibrous protein called keratin that is resistant to being biodegraded or decomposed by bacteria, he explained.

The Business Permits and Licensing Office (BPLO) shared Lazo’s position. BPLO chief Amado Cruz said Vitarich’s rendering plant also collected chicken feathers from other dressing plants in the town and helped address poultry waste disposal in Marilao and the entire Bulacan province. 

Kasi…kung itatapon mo itong feather sa basurahan or sa isang sanitary land facility, mapupuno tayo sa dami ng residual feather…kung walang centralized na rendering plant dito sa Vitarich (We would all be swamped with feathers if you threw these in the trash can or in a sanitary land facility and…if there’s no centralized rendering plant in Vitarich),” he said, stressing that feathers don’t decompose easily in a landfill. 

Sanay na ang mga tao dito sa amoy…. Alam nila ‘yung nature ng business kaya alam din nila pag ‘yun pinasara, mawawalan ng workers (The residents are used to the smell…. They know the nature of the business that’s why they also know that if it would be closed, there would be no more workers),” he added. — PCIJ, February 2021

This series was produced with the support of Greenpeace Southeast Asia — Philippines.

Next: Poultry processing plants responsible for the pollution of Marilao River have gotten away with small fines.— PCIJ

Inflation highest in 21 months, NEDA warns of continuing increase

The country’s Inflation rate accelerated to 3.5% in December 2020, driven by the increase in the prices of food non-alcoholic beverages, transport, and restaurant and miscellaneous goods and services, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) reported Tuesday.

The inflation rate last month is higher than the 3.3% in November 2020 and the 2.5% in December 2019.

Among the sub-groups, prices of vegetables and meat significantly increased from the previous month, traced to lower production following the damage caused by previous typhoons, the NEDA said.

The increase in the prices of meat inched up for the third consecutive month owing to the decline in domestic swine production due to the African Swine Fever (ASF), the agency added.

NEDA said that country’s average inflation rate for 2020 is at 2.6%, higher than the 2.5% the previous year but within the 2% to 4% target range of the government.

Acting socioeconomic planning secretary Karl Kendrick Chua blamed the coronavirus pandemic and the string of calamities that hit the country for the increase.

“The imminent threat of natural calamities every year highlights the need for long-term solutions such as infrastructure investments that would improve flood control, water management and irrigation systems, reforestation, climate-resilient production and processing facilities, among others,” Chua said.

Chua warned that the ongoing La Niña weather phenomenon may continue to adversely affect the economy.

Inflation hardest for the poor

Research group IBON noted that the December 2020 inflation rate is the highest inflation in 21 months, and even higher for the poorest 30% of Filipino households at 4.3%.

IBON said that even Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data show that the December inflation rate is the highest since March 2019.

“The prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose the fastest at 4.8% last month from 4.3% in November 2020. Inflation in health and transport was also higher at 2.6% and 8.3%, respectively,” IBON reported.

“The higher December 2020 inflation figures underscore the urgency of giving poor and low-income families additional emergency cash subsidies. The faster increase in prices is all the more burdensome due to record joblessness and decreasing incomes amid the pandemic lockdown,” the group said.

IBON blamedthe government’s continuing failure to contain the pandemic it said resulted in more unemployed Filipinos today than at any time in the country’s history.

The group estimates unemployment in October 2020 at 5.8 million Filipinos — or two million more than the official 3.8 million count — or an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipino rice farmers need support, not liberalization

by IBON Media & Communications

In a statement, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) acting secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said: “The Philippines generally does not have a natural comparative advantage in rice production compared with neighbors like Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar which all have large flat plains, fewer or no typhoons, less history of land inequality, and access to the Mekong River system, which serves as a great source of natural irrigation, as well as lower population growth rates.”

On that basis, NEDA argues that rice liberalization is the logical thing to do and that the Rice Liberalization Law (RLL, or Republic Act 11203) is already benefiting the country. The problem with this argument is that it treats food security like a game that you lose just because you do not have the right starting conditions. That’s a free market-based argument that only has a semblance of sense in economics textbooks.

In the real world, and as proven by the experience of literally every successful developed economy, comparative advantage can and should be modified with government intervention. Chua omits how government neglect and policies like the Rice Liberalization Law (RLL) are what undermine Philippine rice production and domestic agriculture. The Philippines can improve productivity, increase production, and provide enough rice for Filipinos with sufficient government support to rice farmers and the rice sector. The government’s defeatist attitude and blind surrender to market forces is the biggest reason why Philippine rice production and domestic agriculture as a whole remains so backward.

The RLL is captive to that narrow-minded thinking and just makes things worse.

Misplaced praise

NEDA hails the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF), a component of the RLL, which supposedly guarantees Php60 billion pesos from rice importation revenues for six years. RCEF will supposedly help rice farmers to modernize and innovate. This seems to be helping rice farmers.

Instead, RLL is killing the rice industry. Over a year into RLL and because of unrestrained rice importation, palay prices have fallen to as low as Php8-10 per kilo. This is a huge 50% drop from the Php20 per kilo price of palay before the law was passed. Rice farmers have cumulatively lost some Php84.8 billion in earnings in the first full year of implementation or around Php35,328 per rice farmer. Earnings are not enough to pay for the cost of production.

As a result, farmers from Philippine rice granaries such as Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Laguna and Mindanao are already thinking to stop planting rice. At least 3,000 rice mills have already stopped operating.

Farmers were facing worse prospects for selling palay even before the RLL. The government earlier clipped the powers of the National Food Authority (NFA) to influence and support the price of rice in the market by restricting the amount of palay and rice it buys locally .

RCEF claims to enhance farmers’ competitiveness through mechanization, seeds distribution and trainings. However, its coverage is actually limited and can even aggravates farmers’ indebtedness.

RCEF reportedly aims to cover 1.9 million rice farmers listed in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) and Department of Agriculture (DA)-accredited rice cooperatives and associations. This still leaves out at least half a million rice farmers. The Integrated Rural Development Foundation (IRDF) has for instance already estimated that the annual Php10 billion RCEF allocation will not be enough to offset the losses that RLL causes rice farmers, which it computes to be between Php60-Php110 billion.

Loans may also just worsen indebtedness if productivity or earnings do not increase much and if farmers’ expenses are still too high. Loans are too easily eaten up by production costs such as for expensive commercial seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and tools. The government does not make any effort to make these more affordable. Landless farmers may just end up using loans to pay their land rent to landlords.

These are why so many government loan programs have just kept so many farmers in a cycle of debt. The Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) and the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) also provide rural credit. RCEF and the older ACEF and SIDA reportedly make Php2.1 billion in funds available for easy credit to rice farmers. About Php2.5 billion of ACEF funds were allegedly lost to corruption in 2014. Meanwhile, stakeholders lament that SIDA funds reportedly amounting to some Php2 billion per year since 2015 have so far been underutilized.

Worsening neglect

NEDA’s negativity about the country’s rice industry glosses over the government’s accountability for the agriculture sector’s backwardness because of its long-standing neglect. Government policies on land and food such as the RLL, relying on imported agricultural products, allowing rampant land use conversion, and flawed land reform only worsen the impact of this neglect.

The agriculture sector shed over one million jobs between 2017 to 2019 which is the most jobs lost in a 3-year period in 21 years. The sector’s 2.1% average annual growth in the same period was below its 3.5% average annual growth for 70 years from 1947-2016. Agriculture’s share in gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen to its smallest in Philippine history at 7.8 percent. The agricultural trade deficit in 2018 was also the largest in the country’s history at US$8 billion.

Agriculture is still such a significant part of the economy and these signs of weakness point to how much needs to be done to bolster the sector. And yet, under the Duterte administration, the budget for agriculture and agrarian reform averaged just a measly 3.6% of the total national budget annually from 2017 to 2019. This is even slashed further to just 1.6% in 2021. This means that the government’s capacity to support farmers with facilities, subsidies and other assistance is declining.

Rice farming households are also among those who will not be getting any more cash assistance. Although agricultural production was among the least affected sectors by the pandemic, earnings from rice farming are so poor that many rural families also rely on various odd-jobs in the informal sector which have been adversely affected. Yet the proposed 2021 budget for cash assistance has been reduced to just Php9.9 billion from over Php260 billion under the emergency Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.

Support our producers

The Philippines’ annual average rice self-sufficiency ratio over the last 30 years was 91% and the country was 93% rice self-sufficient as of 2017. Yet rice can be much cheaper and the country can be fully self-sufficient if only there was enough support, subsidies and facilities for the country’s 2.4 million rice farmers. We do not have to import our staple food and rice farmers can have decent incomes.

Why do we have to risk not having rice on the table from rice-exporting countries stopping exports to make sure that they have enough to feed their own people? How sure are we that the price of rice will remain stable if domestic production remains backward and global rice prices are volatile?

Why make our farmers suffer? Along with other producers, they provide the nation with food to eat, yet they are among the poorest.

The government is liberalizing the critical rice sector out of blind adherence to so-called free market and globalization policies. All this does is create opportunities for giant agribusiness corporations to make even more profits from selling their expensive, chemical-laden, unhealthy, and environmentally-destructive products.

Filipino farmers have to deal with so many man-made woes aside from the vagaries of the weather. Yet they are not passive to these. Farming communities nationwide practice sustainable agriculture. These should be recognized and supported. Indigenous peoples’ schools teach organic agriculture and oppose corporate encroachment on their lands. These should be hailed not vilified or shut down.

Peasant organizations struggle for their own land to till. They deserve to be given these as well as given the means to make these productive. Precarious rural incomes and livelihoods should become a thing of the past. And, as every Filipino deserves, farming communities should have decent education, health and housing as well as the conveniences of water, electricity, telecommunications and transport. In all of these, the government’s role in running an economy for the people is the most important intervention of all. #

Fighting for our rights to food, a healthy environment and development

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

In a forum on the role of consumers in agroecology, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Center Assistant Chief Klarise Espinosa stressed that the right to food is recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Article 11 states that “everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living… including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” As duty bearers, governments are expected to make sure that the right to food and the factors enabling it are realized, clarified Espinosa. The ESCR Center is currently reviewing to what extent the Philippine government facilitates and provides sustainable, available, and accessible food.

The ICESCR underscores that the right to food is linked to having decent living standards and the availability of essential needs, services and utilities for an individual and families. For campaigners of People Economics, asserting the right to food is inextricably connected to the people’s struggle to realize their rights to produce food and other basic needs, to industrialization, to a nurtured environment, to the comprehensive range of working people’s rights, to progressive fiscal systems, and to economic sovereignty.

Right to food challenged

In the Philippines, the government gives only token attention to the right to food, as well to the rights to an adequate standard of living, services such as health and education, and even to utilities such as water and electricity. Neoliberal policies have also kept the economy backward and underdeveloped, thus leaving the environment in bad shape, and affecting the availability of safe and sufficient food.

The Philippine government’s food threshold is very low and set at a measly Php50 per person per day. But the Philippines should not have to be counted among the top countries with moderate to severe food insecurity and high levels of malnutrition as per the food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had the government not abandoned and liberalized agriculture, IBON Research Head Rosario Guzman said.

The critical state of our natural food sources, namely Philippine agriculture and the environment, is due to government neglect and mispriorities. This helps to explain why Filipinos’ access to safe and sufficient food is problematic.

The agriculture sector, which produces our food, lost 1.4 million jobs from 2017 to 2019, or even before the pandemic. The sector’s annual growth was only at 2.1% on average in the same period and its share in the economy has reached its smallest in Philippine history at 7.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Combined agriculture and agrarian reform budgets were at their lowest in 21 years being only 3.6% on the average also from 2017-2019.

In the middle of the pandemic, government even defunded agriculture further with a meager 1.5% allocation in the 2021 budget. This pales in comparison with the agriculture budgets of rice-exporters Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, which are at 6.3%, 3.6%, and 3.3% of their national budgets, respectively.

Land degradation and land use conversion have also disrupted the ecological balance and affected food systems.

The country’s forest cover is now down to only 23.3% of the country’s land area which, according to environment scientists, is ecologically unhealthy. They say that the country’s geography and terrain should sustain a 54% forest cover.

The use of inorganic chemicals and input-dependent crop varieties meanwhile has caused severe erosion in 70.5% of the country’s land area. Moreover, land conversion for corporate agriculture, cash crops, real estate and infrastructure has also added to ecological disruption. The current administration is for instance pushing for almost one million hectares of oil palm plantations in Mindanao. Its Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects, including the Kaliwa, Kanan, and Laiban Dams, threaten to destroy communities, livelihoods, farms, forests, and water sources.

IBON infographic

Hunger and government’s unsustainable ways

Philippine agriculture is in contradiction as a food system, affirms Dr. Charito Medina of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG). Farmers and fisherfolk producing food, he says, struggle to eat, and are the poorest sectors with 36% and 34% poverty incidence, respectively, according to official 2018 poverty statistics. Land planted to food kills instead of extending life because it is heavily infused with chemicals. Agricultural lands produce not for people but for big business in the case of feeds and biofuels production. Food wastage is high. Ultimately, corporations, not farmers, control and profit from agriculture. Government policies even prioritize importation and cash crops for export instead of strengthening local food production.

Rural, urban, and indigenous folk affirm how government policies have made food more difficult to both produce and avail. Zen Soriano of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) said that during COVID, farming communities are practically being hamletted during the lockdown. This makes it difficult for farmers to transport their produce and for farmworkers to transfer from one planting area to another. There are even cases when peasant missions to deliver food aid were terrorist-tagged. She also said that the rice liberalization law has caused palay prices to fall and millers to close down.

Mimi Doringo of the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) meanwhile said that for families whose breadwinners lost their jobs or are in precarious work amid the coronavirus crisis, more expensive food and services make it more difficult to cope. Kakay Tolentino of the BAI Indigenous Women’s Network agreed that many government policies have interfered with indigenous people’s food systems in ancestral lands, from the commercialization of palay seeds to destructive mining, export crop plantations, ecotourism projects, and militarization.

These are happening while the pandemic crisis batters especially millions of the poorest and informal workers. The widespread distress is driving calls for heightened aid, food security programs benefiting all marginalized sectors, junking rice liberalization, and a halt to corporate landgrabbing and the commercialization of land and crops. Strategically, the calls are for land reform so that tillers can make their land productive and benefit from this, and for a healthy and robust environment that is not being maimed in pursuit of so-called development that only benefits a few.

Call to consumers

As rights holders, consumers can establish solidarity with producers and themselves begin sustainable practices in producing and consuming food. They can demand the production of and access to safe and sufficient food. Consumers need to also thwart the corporate onslaught on agriculture. Consumers can assert not only the right to food but the right to produce it, and other economic, social and cultural rights.

Solidarity with producers can range from forming relationships to directly procure local farmers’ produce and help raise farmers’ incomes, to standing with farmers in their campaigns for land and life. While maintaining this connection with local producers, consumers can also engage in urban farming to grow what they eat and eat what they grow.

In demanding the production of and access to safe and sufficient food, consumers can call out government neglect of the country’s own production sectors. They can push for ample budget allocation to agriculture and industry, free land distribution and stopping land use conversion, and boosting local production by giving farmers financial and infrastructure support. They can push government to procure local produce and to ensure local stocks for adequate supply.

Consumers can demand that the price of food be reasonable. They can demand subsidies in times of crises and emergencies such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are so many households, displaced workers, farms and small businesses in need.

The corporate onslaught on agriculture and on Filipino producers and consumers also has to be thwarted for local production systems to break free from big business and foreign profit-driven objectives. This means saying no not only to the highly chemical and artificial farm inputs detrimental to the soil and the people’s health, but also to all policies that prevent Philippine agriculture from flourishing into the nation’s giver of food and material for development. This means saying yes to Filipinos’ indigenous, traditional ways of farming, while improving food and agricultural programs towards being ecologically sound, scientific and sustainable conduits of progress. #

* “The Role of Consumers in Agroecology” was co-organized by the Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI), Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), IBON, and the AgroecologyX Network

Why can’t food self-sufficiency be our new normal?

by Rosario Guzman

From the outset of the Duterte government’s military lockdown as its response to the spread of the coronavirus, it has directed the continuous flow of food commodities, along with medicines and other essentials. Food is inarguably essential to people’s survival during a pandemic and in its socioeconomic aftermath.

Government’s response however has fallen short in ensuring food production and supply. In fact, the military and authorities have controlled even the movements of the direct producers, both in tending their farms and selling their produce to the markets. Even activist volunteers who endeavored to bridge the farmers’ produce to urban consumers and to deliver relief goods to the farming families were detained and accused of violating quarantine rules and inciting to sedition.

The thing is, government has erased “food self-sufficiency” from its agricultural planning principles, now totally unheard of in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. It has instead focused on “economic opportunities” anchored on “market orientation”. The country’s lack of food self-sufficiency has made government’s coping with crises such as COVID-19 utterly chaotic.  It is the economy’s sinkhole that will make us fall deeper into a COVID-aggravated economic crisis.

Yet, eight weeks into the military lockdown, while it continues to wrestle with its insufficient health response, the Duterte government is talking of a “new normal” in agriculture. A closer look at the plan, however, reveals it to be a bunch of old habits that have hampered Philippine agriculture from achieving even the most basic goal of food security, much more self-sufficiency.

Pre-COVID crisis

Only eight weeks ago, the country’s “normal” agriculture was having its worst crisis in decades. The sector lost 1.4 million jobs in 2017-2019, the highest number in a three-year period in the last two decades. Its average annual growth rate of 2.1% in the same period is also lower than the 3.5% average in the last 70 years. The sector has also reached its smallest share in history at just 7.8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In the first quarter of 2020, agriculture posted a 1.2% decline in output, finally collapsing after a momentary recovery from a decline in 2016 and a three-year slowdown thereafter.

Neoliberal policies that government has recklessly implemented are the culprit in agriculture’s near demise. Starting off with the evasion of free land distribution to tillers and rampant land conversions to favor finance capital, government has oriented agriculture towards commercialization, high value cash crops, inorganic chemicals dependency, paid-for irrigation, imported machinery, and trade liberalization. Agriculture is not a government priority, which is putting it mildly when the figures clearly manifest state neglect. The 3.5% average share of agriculture and agrarian reform in the 2017-2020 budgets is the lowest in two decades. In 2018, the Duterte administration delivered the coup de grace with the liberalization of rice imports.

Landowners and merchants have exploited this “normal” – that is the classic story why our food frontliners are the most destitute and hungry in Philippine society. And like adding insult to injury, the government points to farmers’ lack of capacity and technology (and interest to carry on) as the reason why food self-sufficiency is not feasible.

Government gross neglect

Then, COVID-19 happened. Government agencies could not even provide a full picture of our food buffer stocks. The Philippine Statistics Authority has stopped updating the rice inventory, for instance. This showed that, as of March 1, our rice stocks were enough for only 65 days, quite below the 90-day buffer. Vietnam’s announcement that it would implement a rice export ban added to Filipinos’ anxieties – Vietnam accounts for about 38% of Philippine rice imports.

A day before the declaration of a lockdown, euphemized as ‘enhanced community quarantine’ (ECQ), the Department of Agriculture (DA) made assurances that there was enough food for everyone in Metro Manila. The stocks of rice, vegetables and root crops, poultry and meat products, fish, and eggs were sufficient. It took time before some local government units started distributing relief foods, and even then mostly unhealthy canned sardines.

Farming has been disrupted. IBON estimates about 2.5 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk economically dislocated by the ECQ. The ECQ guidelines specifically allow establishments engaged in food production and trade but are painfully quiet about the farmers. Farmers’ organizations have said it succinctly – there is no work from home for them. They are subsistence farmers who will go hungry if they are not allowed to farm.

The Duterte government’s COVID response for agriculture under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is to provide Php5,000 cash assistance each to only 591,246 beneficiaries under the Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF). But as of 28 April 2020, seven weeks into the lockdown, the Duterte government has served only 266,284 rice farmers.

Farming families may have been given cash assistance through the social amelioration program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which even then has only served 57% of its target 18 million beneficiaries as of 1 May 2020.

Granting that the rice farmers have indeed received subsidies, IBON estimates these to be equivalent to only Php80-119 per day over 49 days of lockdown, or less than one-fourth of the already low official poverty line of Php353 per day for a family of five.

Government’s meager and much-delayed response to the pandemic is pushing the poor and vulnerable farmers and fisherfolk deeper into poverty and hunger, which gets more and more morally unacceptable at this point in our crisis.

Photo by Lito Ocampo

Neoliberal inertia

The DA is among the first agencies to talk of a new normal. We should rethink and restructure our policies and practices, said DA secretary William Dar. But the DA’s emphasis on the continuation of neoliberalism especially under a global economy that is about to plunge into a grave depression cannot be missed. The Duterte government cannot fake a new normal narrative when its transition plan remains neoliberal.

The budget priority for the DA to transition to its “new normal” remains for cash assistance instead of production support. This is under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA), which is in line with the implementation of the Duterte administration’s rice liberalization law. The RFFA targets to provide Php5,000 to rice farmers who are tilling 0.5-2 hectares. The FSRF is in addition to RFFA and is packaged as the COVID-19 response, which targets rice farmers who are tilling one hectare and below. The total target beneficiaries of both packages are 1.2 million rice farmers nationwide, but there are 2.5 million rice farmers in the country who are definitely dislocated by rice liberalization.

The program priority is a food resiliency action plan that is aimed at an unhampered flow of food and agri-fishery products. It is anchored on the aforementioned cash assistance as consumption stimulus and market links such as the Kadiwa program, market satellites and market on wheels. In short, it is anchored on trade, again not so much on strengthening farmers’ production. The plan is also about popularizing urban and backyard gardening, which is overly focusing on individual consumers to go on survival mode instead of improving the production and conditions of farming communities in the real spirit of bayanihan.

The DA has proposed to implement nationwide the “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Laban sa Covid-19” or what it dubs as Plant, Plant, Plant program to “increase the country’s food adequacy level”, with an approved Php31-billion supplemental budget. But this will be done by intensifying the use of quality seeds, inputs, modern technologies – which have been proven from experience to only add to the farmers’ debt burdens. The DA unfortunately has perennially acted as a marketing agent and endorsed the sale of seeds, inputs and farm machinery of big agribusiness to Filipino farmers, while it has shunned the promotion of agroecological practices.

The Duterte government still emphasizes that in order for agri-fishery to grow and cope with emergencies such as pandemics, the sector needs to attract more investments and resources and partner with the private sector. And there we are back on the neoliberal road.

Photo by RB Villanueva

Build the momentum

Surely, food self-sufficiency can be our new normal. But first in the face of a pandemic, farmers need fast and sufficient relief assistance, both for their daily needs and health services and as production subsidy. In the same manner that urban consumers should be relieved of paying their bills during COVID-19, farmers should have been long ago condoned of their mounting debts from unpayable land amortizations, loans from unscrupulous traders, and even from availing of government lending programs. Then, farmers and fisherfolk should be allowed to go to their farms and on fishing trips and deliver their produce to the markets.

But in the long-term, food self-sufficiency is about the assertion of an entire range of human rights. The state should recognize the right to food, the right to produce food, the right to till the land, and to have control of the land that farmers have been tilling for generations. Farmers have the right to choose their own production system, so as not to be dictated by the whims of the market and made vulnerable to market vagaries. We can envision an agriculture that is moving away from the profit-oriented concept of value chain that disregards the small producers and their environment, and move towards sustainable farming practices.

In the end, we can build the momentum for food self-sufficiency only from the farmers’ struggle and movement for genuine agrarian reform. And that should be our new normal. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Lola, nananawagan ng tulong

Habang nagko-cover ang Kodao ng pag-aresto ng 18 na aktibista sa Barangay Central, Quezon City noong Biyernes, Mayo 1, lumapit ang isang lola at nakiusap na i-bidyo ang kanyang paghingi ng tulong.

Nais ni Lola Marietta “Nene” Benig ng tulong upang makabili ng kanyang gamot, partikular sa Department of Social Welfare and Development at sa Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs ng Lungsod Quezon. “Nais ko pa pong mabuhay,” ani Lola Nene.

Sa mga nais tumulong, siya ay nakatira sa No. 4, Maparaan Street, Barangay Central, Quezon City. Ang kanyang numero ay nasa dulo ng bidyo. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

Don’t insist on low poverty threshold, address jobs crisis, gov’t told

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recently attributed reduced poverty in the first semester of 2018 to the rising quality of jobs under the Duterte administration.

But research group IBON said that dismal jobs creation, the magnitude of joblessness, poor quality work, and meager wages give away the true picture of Philippine poverty.

The group stressed that government needs to first admit that there is a jobs problem to embark on real solutions to poverty.

Very weak job creation indicates an economy in crisis that deprives people of livelihoods, IBON said.

Job generation in the first two years of the Duterte administration was the worst in six decades and nine administrations.

Employment grew by an annual average of only 0.2% in in 2017 and 2018 compared to the 1.6%-3.9% annual average under the administrations since the time of Diosdado Macapagal in the 1960s.

IBON added that the persistence of joblessness and underemployment, where even those employed seek additional work, underscores the inability of the economy to generate enough stable and decent work.

The group estimates the unemployment rate to have grown from 9% in 2016 to 10.3% in 2017 and 9.9% in 2018.

In 2018, IBON estimates 4.6 million unemployed and 6.7 million underemployed Filipinos.

IBON also underscored that wages remain far below what households need on a daily basis.

NEDA claims that poverty fell due to higher incomes from wages and salaries especially among the poorest families.

IBON however pointed out, for instance, that the Php575.18 average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers in January 2018 is not even enough at 60% of the estimated Php955 National Capital Region family living wage at that time.

It should also be noted, said IBON, that the methodology of poverty and unemployment statistics obscures the real situation of poverty and unemployment.

The unrealistically low poverty threshold results in millions of Filipinos not being counted as poor.

Similarly, the definition of unemployment since 2005 results in millions of jobless Filipinos, including discouraged workers, not being counted as unemployed millions.

Rather than hyping supposedly on-track poverty reduction, the Duterte administration should count the real numbers of poor and unemployed Filipinos.

This is the only real basis for an effective strategy for poverty alleviation, said IBON.

The Filipino people deserve a comprehensive and broad-based poverty alleviation strategy that includes enabling the economy to create jobs, raise people’s incomes and livelihood, and increase economic production and capacity for consumption.

Government can embark on this instead of setting such a low poverty threshold and harping on reducing the number of poor just by changing the way they are counted, IBON said.

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)