Agricultural over-importing, smuggling can only go on

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The Duterte admin misunderstands food security. It over-imports agricultural produce, mostly from China, at slashed tariffs. An illusion of plenty is created.

Yet insecurity results. Domestic growers of grains, vegetables, fruits, sugarcane, hogs, chicken and fish falter. So do makers of feeds, fertilizers, pesticides. No funds are raised to support them. Agricultural workers, one-fourth of total manpower, lose jobs. The rural population, 57.6 percent of total, goes hungry.

The over-importing fosters smuggling, also mostly from China. Diseased pork and poultry are sneaked in and infect local stocks. Frozen fish and fresh produce, soaked in formaldehyde, elude phytosanitary inspection. Filipinos are sickened. Yet no one goes to jail.

Over-importing is likely to go on in the next admin. The ruling party’s candidates for president and VP are leading in preferential surveys. Both profess closeness to the Chinese Communist Party and vow to continue present programs. The agriculture secretary is seeking re-appointment by them. That sworn testimony in last week’s hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole alarmed opposition presidential candidate Senator Ping Lacson.

That hearing was informative. Contraband worth at least P1 million fetches life-term, no-bail economic sabotage. Customs since 2016 has interdicted 542 shipments valued at P1.99 billion, averaging P3.67 million each. Only one culprit has been haled to court, out on bail on minor charges. Over-imports and smuggling enrich only China, its local partners and crooked officials.

Food security can be achieved not by over-importing but by over-producing what we need. Imports must only be of short stocks, and only to subsidize small planters. Thus can domestic supply multiply, prices stabilize and quality improve. Surplus is stored for rainy days. Domestic producers can earn from exports.

The opposite is happening. Domestic producers are dying.

Over-dependence on China is risky. If China’s agricultural stocks run out for whatever reason, Filipinos will have no more source.

That can be sooner than later. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China applauds, has disrupted this mid-spring’s wheat planting season. One-third of the world’s wheat comes from the warring lands; a 90-day delay in harvest results in global shortage. Shifting to other grains may not suffice. Ninety-eight percent of fertilizers derive from natural gas, of which Russia and Ukraine are also major extractors. Farms worldwide will be untended. Food prices will soar. Rich countries will corner the meager stocks. Famine will worsen pandemic and joblessness in poorer lands.

The admin candidates say they will continue to set aside Manila’s arbitral victory against Beijing at The Hague. They belittle sea and air patrol craft. Joint military drills with allies will halt. Those will further weaken the defense of maritime jurisdictions. Chinese warships and fisheries militia will be able to trespass more frequently and in greater numbers the West Philippine Sea, Benham Rise and internal waters. More fish will be poached, shoals robbed of mollusks and crustaceans, and gas and oilfields occupied.

Beijing will lend its triumphant Filipino candidates for showcase projects. Once debt-trapped, Manila will cede sea and airports to China, the way Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Djibouti and many others were arm-twisted. Like those countries, the Philippines is over-borrowed. The Duterte admin has more than doubled the public debt in six years, from P5.5 trillion to P12.5 trillion. Yet huge estate and other taxes remain uncollected.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on debt payments in order to import food and fuel. The turmoil that now rocks it may also befall the Philippines, shuddered another opposition presidential aspirant, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. But he, Lacson and yet another, Norberto Gonzales, refuse to unite the Opposition to defeat the admin. Gonzales was national security adviser and defense secretary of the ex-President who principally supports the admin tandem.

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