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Freeman Cebu Business

Farmers, fisherfolk groups seek protection from RCEP

Ehda M. Dagooc - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Fifteen farmers and fisherfolk organizations released a joint statement urging President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., to stand firm on his commitment to protect and support the farmers and fishermen in the country.

In an official statement dated November 30, 2022, the big organizations representing farmers and fishermen called President Marcos, Jr., for protection in connection with the Philippines’ proposed membership in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

According to the statement, duly signed and certified by Federation of Free Farmers board chairman Leonardo Q. Montemayor, the entry into any trade or economic deal must be based on equality, reciprocity, mutual benefit, and national interest.

“We ask the President to broaden and deepen consultations and participative processes with farmers and other primary stakeholders by the Department of Agriculture and other agencies dealing with the agro-fisheries sector. This will contribute to better formulation, implementation, and monitoring of policies and programs. In particular, we remain extremely concerned about the DA’s unliquidated budget usage - totaling P22 billion - in 2020, Moreover, the 2023-28 Philippine Development Plan is being finalized by the National Economic and Development Authority -- with little or no involvement of farmers, fishers, and their organizations,” the statement said.

In his inaugural address, President Marcos pointed out that food is not only a tradeable commodity or source of livelihood. Food, he stressed, is an “existential imperative” because “without it, people weaken and die; societies come apart”.

 “Our Chief Executive questioned a trade policy which prescribes that a country should not produce but import what other countries make more of and sell cheapest’. He implied that relying primarily on imports makes the Philippines vulnerable to supply disruptions from external factors like the COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and climate change,” the group reasoned.

President Marcos assumed the leadership of DA “to make it clear to everyone what a high priority we put on the agricultural sector”. He underscored the need to boost local production and reorganize the DA bureaucracy.

In his first national budget submission, the President raised significantly the DA’s budget -- proposing a 40 percent increase. He launched initiatives to address rising fertilizer prices, fast-track the construction of farm-to-market roads, and provide marketing support to farmers. He also prioritized the condonation of land amortization debts of agrarian reform farmer-beneficiaries.

On the other hand, the statement emphasized that some forces within the Marcos administration are resisting the President’s policy declarations.

 “They seek to continue the past regime’s trade liberalization agenda of opening our local markets to more and cheaper imports. This is highlighted by the veiled attempt of our current economic managers to extend the validity of Executive Order No. 171 -- after Congress begins its December recess. The EO was originally issued by President Duterte in May 2021 purportedly to address the rising prices of pork, rice, and corn by lowering their tariffs until the end of 2022. Now, they want to keep the low tariffs until end-December 2023, citing the lingering effects of COVID and the war in Ukraine.”

Despite the huge import volumes engendered by EO 171, consumers continue to reel from high food prices. The surge in imports has not benefitted the buying public, whereas it has depressed farm gate prices. The National Treasury has lost billions in revenues due to reduced customs duties, the statement noted.

EO No. 171 extends the validity of EO 134 and 135, which lowered the most favored nation (MFN) tariff rates for the importation of pork and rice up to the end of December this year. The EO also reduces MFN tariff rates for corn to five percent in-quota and 15 percent out-quota, citing that corn accounts for more than 50 percent of the total production cost of large-scale broiler and swine farms. To help maintain or lower electricity prices, EO No. 171 also temporarily eliminates the 7 percent MFN import tariff rate on coal as it is an important raw material in the generation of electricity.

According to the statement, cheap imports have further discouraged farmers from sustaining and expanding their production, thus causing even more supply shortages and increasing our dependence on imports.

 “This vicious cycle will persist -- for as long as we do not rationalize and align our trade policy with our sustainable food self-sufficiency objective. What President Marcos does with EO 171 will be a litmus test of his political will in prioritizing local food production over imports and his ability to rein in economic managers who are pursuing a different tack.

The statement expressed grave concern about the plight of farmers and fishermen with the EO 171 was signed by Nicanor M. Briones, Party-List Representative for Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP); Dioscoro A. Granada, president of Federation of Free Farmers (FFF); Elias Jose M. Inciong, president United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA); Rolando Tambago, president Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, Inc.; Roger V. Navarro, president, Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize); Arsenio Tanchuling, president Alyansa Agricultura; Rafael V. Mariano, chairman emeritus, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP); Herminio Agsaluna, president, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA); Gregorio A. San Diego, chairman, Philippine Egg Board Association and United Broiler Raisers Association; Charles R. Avila, executive director and spokesperson, Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines; Eduardo Mora, chairperson, Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP); Roy M. Ribo, national coordinator, Katipunan ng mga Maliliit na Magniniyog ng Pilipinas (KAMMPIL); Asis Perez, convenor, Tugon Kabuhayan; Rene E. Ofreneo, president Integrated Rurul Development Foundation (IRDF), and Marlon P. Palomo, executive director, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM).

FERDINAND MARCOS JR.

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