For Filipino farmers, desperation sets in

Neophyte Senator Rafael Raffy Tulfo taking the cudgels for farmers

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA —The plight of the Filipino farmer is going from bad to worse, and stuck in the middle is the Agriculture secretary, who also incidentally happens to be the President of the Philippines.

There is no greater sign of their stress and desperation than the case of five farmers from Bayambang, Pangasinan who committed suicide, according to Elvin Laceda, national president of the Young Farmers Challenge Club of the Philippines.

At a Senate hearing at the start of this week, Laceda revealed not only the tragic fact, but even brought along the wife of one of the onion farmers who had taken his own life.

Nanay Merly (not her real name) said she somehow found the strength to continue running their family farm after her husband committed suicide last year.

She said their farm had gone bankrupt after harabas (army worms) had destroyed their crops.

After they replanted, they then suffered further losses due to the series of storms and other weather disturbances that hit the province in 2022.

Speaking in the vernacular, Nanay Merly said that their farm which was millions of pesos on debt had barely started to break even when the government announced plans to import onions this month. “We were forced to harvest after 85 to 90 days even if our crop had not yet reached the full maturity of 100 days,” she said.

Laceda said he hoped Nanay Merly’s tale would not happen to other farming families.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said during his official visit to Switzerland this week that the government had “no choice” but to resort to imports because of the shortage of the essential produce.

Farmers from San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, one of the country’s top onion producing provinces, were up in arms over the government’s plan, saying to import now was wrong because harvest season had just arrived.

The cheap imports would naturally compete with local produce, causing further losses for the onion farmers.

Interviewed over local broadcast media, San Jose municipal agriculturist Romel Calingasan said they were concerned that onion prices would drop to between P8 to P15 per kilogram, just like last year when onion importation competed with local harvest.

Calingasan said farmers from his province were now eager to plant onions because they saw how high the product was selling late last year.

Those farmers saw how the produce they sold to traders ended up retailing at local markets at more than P700/kilo, or a ten-fold increase in some cases.

The agriculturist said they “strongly oppose” the government’s importation plan.

A lawmaker, meanwhile, said that the reason for the abnormally high selling price of onions and other essential products was because of collusion between the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

AGAP Party-list Rep. Nicanor Briones told local media that the only way the practice could be stopped if the people doing the monitoring were different from the people being monitored.

Speaking in the vernacular, Briones said those go after smugglers “are from the BOC and DA, and we know that smuggling will only happen if there is collusion between the two groups.”

 Senate Minority Leader Aquilino ‘Kpko’ Pimentel lll said he believes that the real reason for the unusually high prices is due to “price manipulation.”

He said that by disrupting the supply chain, supply could be decreased from the local market, causing artificial shortages and eventual skyrocketing of prices.

Pimentel noted that it was only in the Philippines where an onion shortage took place, while there was a sufficient supply throughout the rest of the world.

He said President and concurrent Agriculture Secretary Marcos should study the onion planting seasons to avoid the recurring supply woes.

The storage and distribution problem may resurface as a result of the planned importation of 21,000 metric tons of onions.

Calingasan said there were not enough cold storage facilities to guarantee that supplies would be available all year round, and that whatever facilities were available usually ended up being used not by local farmers but by the traders who purchased onions in large quantities.

Briones said that a repeat of the travails and tragedies that had recently befallen the country’s onion farmers was an “alarming” scenario, all because of the government’s failure to provide enough support as well as its failure to stop rampant smuggling.

Meanwhile, senators and social media were angered at what they said was the “nitpicking” of the BOC, which threatened to file charges against 10 Philippine Airlines crew members for bringing in 40 kilos of undeclared onions and fruits last week.

Senators like Raffy Tulfo and Jinggoy Estrada asked why the BOC was engaged in a “double standard” by going up against small fry, while letting powerful crooks get away with large-scale smuggling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.