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Opinion

Drugs back, farms out?

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

After reading about how responsive Secretary Benhur Abalos is to matters raised by the media, some members of the PNP, particularly in the province of Iloilo, have shared through channels about their operational concerns on their campaign against drugs.

It seems that “drugs are back in the province of Iloilo and certain influential characters are prime suspects.” That was the unedited message shared with me last week and it seems that police officers on the ground are asking, “Who’s got our backs?” After many years of being told by former president Rodrigo Duterte to “just do your job and I have your back,”cops are now uncertain about the possible consequences if they tangle up with local politicians, influential characters or political relatives.

The shift is certainly extreme, coming from a time when some police officials used to impose a quota on the number of drug busts or number of neutralized violent drug personalities. Today, the announced policy of the PNP is “restorative” and “by the book” in dealing with drug users, suspects and pushers. But on the other hand, the police nationwide regularly get told off or served memos (that go in their records) whenever there is a noticeable spike in drug use or related crimes.

While the PNP and the DOJ are both trying to deal with the International Criminal Court and critics of the drug wars by declaring that “our system works,” the government and officials should prioritize the safety and security of the general public from the return of drugs and drug dealers, especially with the claimed involvement of local politicians.

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When DOF Secretary Ben Diokno called out the Executive branch and the local governments to step up and do their part in fighting food inflation and promote security, some of his colleagues in government claimed that he was just passing the buck.

Unfortunately, we are now at a point where it is not just a matter of dealing with red tape, LGU abuses, etc. We have reached a point where a growing number of small producers, “micro farm owners” and generational hobby farms are beginning to give up or shut down. It is so bad that even companies and corporations and feed mills servicing the poultry and piggery sector have seen serious decline in their sales, anywhere from 20 percent upwards.

The drop in monthly sales in the last three to four months translate to hundreds of millions in revenue affecting not just the private sector but also government revenues. It also affects other farmers who supply grains such as corn and other feed inputs.

Our readers must bear in mind that 60 to 65 percent of the pork/hogs supplied to the entire Philippine market are produced by backyard piggeries that often only have 10 to 20 sows. The industry standard was that you need to have at least 50 sows to be classified as commercial and it is at this number where a grower can be “profitable.” Unfortunately, that was before African Swine Fever practically wiped out all piggeries on the island of Luzon and pre-pandemic times before feeds, medicines, genetic material, electricity, transport and LGU interference and harassment shot everything through the roof.

A common observation in many wet markets or palengkes is that the available pork is all frozen, meaning imported and creating a glut and drop in prices.

Aside from small- to medium-size piggeries, I was told by two senior veterinarians who have had dealings with national and provincial authorities that a sizeable number of small to medium poultries as well as gamefowl hobby farms have stopped or are now planning to stop this year. A small piggery owner who inherited the farm from his father is currently reviewing costs, continued losses and alternative businesses he could shift to that would be less susceptible to price variations and LGU harassment.

Many of the hobby or family farms that have less than ten hogs don’t even make enough profit to cover their own time or labor cost. Someone told me that he is lucky if he can make P1,000 net profit per piglet after caring for a sow and its piglets for five months. So, like many other hobby farmers, they might soon become landlords by building dormitory style accommodations. This does not come as a surprise because many LGUs outside Metro Manila are pushing for urbanization and are pro-real estate development and anti-piggery, anti-poultry, etc.

Another veterinarian shared that many backyard free range or gamefowl owners or breeders who used to keep around ten heads of roosters and a few hens in the backyard have stopped because they would rather use the money to feed the family than speculate or try to make money raising chickens or gamefowls. This will be a vicious cycle that will contribute to higher prices and more smuggling.

The question is, where is the “Big Chief” who has very few Indians? I refer to President Bongbong Marcos, the Secretary of Agriculture “in absentia.” I don’t mean to disrespect His Excellency but the fact of the matter is, farms are closing, costs are rising, we have national agencies and regional offices under the DA that don’t have enough people to perform their duties up to par, and we have a well of laws, rules and regulations governing agriculture that work only for the corrupt in government and business.

Vietnam is already rolling out vaccine distribution and strict monitoring of two varieties of ASF vaccine, one made by Vietnam and the other by the USAID. Many countries in the region are already ahead of us in terms of sustainable agricultural practices and policies that are pro-farmers. China and Taiwan are already doing multi-level building-located piggeries and fish tanks.

Here in the Philippines, we are still asking, “Where is the Secretary in Absentia?”

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BENHUR ABALOS

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