‘Camella farms’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I have just been informed by small farms and backyard farm owners that property taxes in the City of Lipa have substantially increased. While this may be part of growing urbanization and the need of local governments to raise income for programs and projects, the impact on farm owners, agriculture and productivity is a serious concern that is often overlooked.

I have learned from past experience that the saying “No taxes without consultation” has become a myth if not a joke after the Local Government Code was passed by Congress. Since then, a number of local government units have simply done “table mapping and taxation” but without proper research and consultation. They do so because they can.

What these armchair local legislators and appraisers fail to realize is that there is a huge difference between the size of residential-commercial properties compared to “farm lots,” agricultural properties or backyard farms. While city lots or businesses range from about 200 to 1,000 sq meters, farm lots often start at 2,500 sqm, 10,000 sqm to 100,000 sqm upwards.

What may seem affordable to urban dwellers becomes an economic shock to farm lot owners and farmers in general. Ironically, farms and farmers are the last to benefit from LGU projects that prioritize infrastructure and commercial development and not farm-to-market roads. To this day, there are many areas in the provinces, even in Lipa City, where roads to farms are still packed mud and gravel and not paved roads. They don’t have running water or street lighting even in the age of solar streetlamps.

Hopefully this article will reach LGU officials, the Department of Agriculture as well as the DILG, to pay attention to this poorly studied approach of table taxation that also disregards land classifications stamped on titles that say “AGRICULTURAL LAND.” If the practice continues, then there is a strong possibility that the only remaining farms we will see will be up in the “bundocks.” I recently visited the Visayas, and someone shared a “loaded joke” where rice farmers called their farms “Camella Farms.”

I did not get it at first, so they explained that farming has become so unprofitable that there is a future possibility that they will all be selling their farms to property developers. Sadly, someone in property development did tell me that they often work with LGU assessors and property tax officers as well as barangay personnel because they are the ones who give leads on people seriously considering selling out.

We are already reeling from the high cost of feeds, livestock, importation that displaces backyard farmers. Now we will be pushed out of our farms by a simple act of table taxation. Yes, the Philippines is indeed anti-farmer!

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The hot topic of the week has been about the ranking or assessment of the Philippines in the recently released results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) where the Philippines was featured in the bottom ten.

Once again the pundits and politicians highlighted poor scores and ranking before they even established how the ratings were arrived at, what were the key elements, not to mention the fact that “today’s” results are the product of numerous factors, beginning with poor pre-natal care programs, our decades-old serious malnutrition problem that has stunted growth and mental capacity of children and students, classroom congestion and disruption due to the combined use of schools as disaster shelters and election centers, limited investments in infrastructure and technology and finally, prioritizing politics and profit over generational investments.

Our failing grade in the PISA is our national failure, it is not simply a failure of the Department of Education. The only time we give focus to students is when someone dies in fraternity hazing, when students get hospitalized from food poisoning, when violence erupts in school campuses because of bullying, gang wars or the rare incidence of assault by a teacher or recently, when teenage pregnancy and AIDS increased alarmingly.

Elementary and secondary education has never been attractive except for corrupt DPWH and local officials who make money with corrupt contractors that build “under-spec” school buildings. The only time education becomes a hot topic is when leftist groups in and out of Congress raise hell and demand added work benefits, faster compensation or to conveniently use issues to attack their targets.

All the adults talk about “what’s in it for them” or what is politically useful or beneficial. But who and where are the champions for school-based feeding programs, who has made a name for pushing decent toilets with running water in ALL schools, who has incessantly pushed for adequately stocked and staffed clinics in all schools, who has promoted and provided to establish a “learn to bike to school program?”

Funding for public WiFi is focused on barangays and city halls but not for all public schools. Most students find ways to buy a cellphone for personal use, but Congress won’t fund a program that gives all students a laptop or tablet that contains all study materials, so they won’t have to carry back breaking bags.

None of our lawmakers have even called out religion-driven private schools that discriminate against children out of wedlock. Imagine that, legislators openly support alternative lifestyles, gay and bisexual agendas, support peace with insurgents but won’t stand up for the right of a child born out of wedlock to enroll in any school.

Instead, they cut budgets for education and related infrastructure, they cut budgets for health and they have the audacity to point fingers at who’s to blame. WE ARE ALL TO BLAME!

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