Tell me it’s not just lip-service to farmers
By Anthony A. Araos
The COVID-19 crisis is not just about the eyesore-looking checkpoints and easy-to-tamper quarantine passes. It provided an opportunity to understand the importance of the agriculture sector in the lives of the Filipino people. For most of the time, it was a race against the clock to get rice relief pack from the government for those in the marginalized sectors. Why? Rice is the staple food of Filipinos. Getting three kilos of rice affected them because it spelled a lot of difference for two to three days. It is a matter of survival in these perilous times.
All told, the COVID-19 crisis only manifested the extent of the problem on extreme poverty in the country. Clearly, there was a correlation between the lack of inclusive growth and the failure of real growth in the agriculture sector.
Agriculture has failed. Despite its rice self-sufficiency thrust, the government imported large volumes of rice. Flooding the markets with imported rice is a death sentence for cash-strapped farmers. This runs counter to the goal of alleviating poverty nationwide.
For the first time in world history, according to the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS), the Philippines has emerged as the top global importer of rice in 2019.
The government says the poverty incidence in the Philippines went down from 23.3% in 2016 to only 16.6% in 2018. For short, 5.5 million Filipinos have lifted themselves in three years. I don’t think so. Let’s open our eyes to the stark realities of life when countless Filipinos are fighting for their share of rice and cash assistance through the social amelioration program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Listen to this, it took the DSWD and the barangay councils so many days determining and completing the list of cash recipients.
Most of the farmers are poor. The government should ensure that those in the agriculture sector, about 30 million people, have better incomes. Translated: they need farm-to-market roads, post-harvest facilities and communal irrigation systems.
It is an irrefutable fact that rice production is affected by the rainy or wet season and the ‘over-dryness’ attributed to El Niño phenomenon. El Niño usually intensifies in October and persist until the first quarter of the year.
According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, there are four underlying reasons why Filipino farmers are not competitive and are not earning enough. It is due to the following reasons: lack of technology, lack of mechanization, lack of financial literacy; and lack of ability to access cheap credit.
But it doesn’t end there.
Failure to modernize the farm sector and diversify crops largely resulted in the unaddressed problem of poverty in the country. Farmers faced hardships after hardships without letup.
Had the agriculture sector not ignored the call for crop diversification, which calls for farmers to reduce dependence on a single crop as rice, the sector would have turned huge profits.
It is sad to note that there is no real growth in the agriculture sector. This sector has a great potential for employment and development in rural Philippines, most especially in remote barangays.
I realized that it was a problem that couldn’t be solved by merely praising farmers as “modern-day” heroes, but would require a fundamental change in policy. A just and egalitarian society is not just achieved by lip-service. It takes much more than to layout an agenda of rehashed and rehashed broken promises to end their misery, all unworthy of appreciation by the people.
Food security should be highly prioritized. It must reckon with the sad reality that production in the agriculture sector is low that young Filipinos are no longer interested in tilling the soil. In the past, young Filipinos dreamed of becoming farmers. Now, many of them want to leave the rural areas. So it is vital to making sure that farmers earn more in order that their children continue their farms. The focus, therefore, is improving the lives of farmers. What the future brings depends largely on how the government takes care of their needs. It is a reflection of its true strength and character.
We just have to be extra careful when traveling to Tinoc town in Ifugao. I’m referring to landslide-prone roads of this mountainous town. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) need not wait for the rainy season to come into the picture and conduct ocular inspections.
Apart from landslides, the other problems of Tinoc are floods and mudflows. The DPWH is mobilizing huge resources of manpower and equipment to clear these roads. There is nothing irregular to such action, but it is not proactive. Honestly speaking, this is a wrong strategy. Sadly, one can easily surmise that damage to roads, bridges, flood control and other public infrastructure facilities are due to sub-standard construction works. Often, low-quality materials were used in washed-out roads. The use of sub-standard construction materials particularly steel, cement and concrete is a pernicious practice. It is despicable because it endangers the lives of the people. From here on, we have to live on improving and modernizing road networks instead of concentrating on road clearing operations.
It is time for Ifugao to have a Special Economic Zone. It can be a job creator in the province’s impoverished villages. Presently, very little is done or nothing at all to put up factories in the province. Creative industries have vast potential for inclusive growth. Industrial growth means job creation leading to lower unemployment and underemployment rates.
It is kind of similar environment in Davao City (home of President Duterte) in Mindanao and Jakarta, capital of Indonesia. The same is true with Alfonso Lista (home of Ifugao Vice Governor Glenn Prudenciano) and Menado, Indonesia. The Philippines and Indonesia are neighboring countries. Both are active members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The difference between the Philippines and Indonesia is the time zone. The difference is an hour. In other words, if it is 6 p.m. in Jakarta, the time in Davao City is 7 p.m.
If the national government is really serious in getting funds to help the poor during the COVID-19 situation without borrowing money from external sources, it has to finally stop all efforts to promote Charter Change or Cha-cha. It is utilizing huge funds to promote its passage in Congress when in fact it is a well-known fact that the Senate is against it. Only the House of Representatives supports it because of the term extension provision for congressmen and other officials. From three years, the term of a congressman is to be extended to five years with two reelections. Think about it, a congressman gets to stay at the lower chamber of Congress for 15 years in a full cycle. Presently, a complete cycle of three terms is a period of 9 years. You can’t go wrong if you say the plan is obviously self-serving. It is indeed very sad that lawmakers are working for their own interests instead of the nation.
As early as last year, with the rejection by the people mounting, the idea of conducting costly information education campaign through “roadshows” in key cities began to take shape. Nobody wants cha-cha more than the moneyed politicians.
Now and then, you hear the problems of degradation, neglect and abandonment of the world-famous Banaue rice terraces, declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). To date, these problems persist. I think it’s time to press the button for the government to swiftly and decisively on this matter. The province is going through a cycle of golden moment because Governor Jerry Dalipog served as a longtime mayor of Banaue.
It is time for Board Members Orlando Addug, Perfecta Dulnuan and Clemente Bongtiwon, who are all from Banaue, to work on issues concerning the Banaue rice terraces.
An advice to Governor Dalipog: seek the engagement of the private sector to this cause thus, boosting the tourism industry, an important component of Banaue’s economy.
Blooper in Ifugao: A man from a far-flung barangay is applying for a high-paying job offered by a sea-based company. The British manager interviewed and asked the aspiring seafarer a question.
Manager: “Can you swim?” He answered: “No, sir.” Manager: “I’m sorry, you’re application is denied.” He asked: “Can the pilot fly?” Manager: “No, sir.” He said: “That’s unfair.”
For our food delights corner: Maybe you have extra time with your loved ones for a breakfast consisting of beef steak (with thinly sliced mushroom, boiled cubed squash and bean sprouts), seafood okoy, red egg and fried rice. Add bananas and chocolate or coffee and it is one yummy meal. Forget all your troubles and look to this breakfast. Don’t forget to pray for the bliss of growth.
Even if you’re just at home, bring out your best in taste and preparation of food. The cooking took all those minutes. It is the splendor of achievement- even if you’re not a chef of a noted restaurant or a five-star hotel. Right at home take the whole family on a gastronomic adventure each morning.
Finally, here are some thoughts for our dear readers: “I am not a communist but a left-leaning socialist sworn to uphold democracy.” President Rodrigo Duterte
“Even the smartest housewife cannot cook without food.” Lu You, a Chinese writer (1125-1210 A.D.) in Ming Dynasty
“He will come to us like the spring rains that water like earth.” Hosea 6: 3
“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20**