MANILA – President Duterte’s moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands and his condonation of debt penalties on farmers under the agrarian reform program, if coupled with an institutional program that increases farmers’ income, would end poverty for Filipino farmers, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Tuesday.
“Ang utos ng Pangulo na itigil muna ang conversion ng mga lupang sakahan at ang utos niya na patawarin muna sa mga penalties sa utang ang mga magsasakang di nakabayad sa Land Bank ng kanilang amortization sa ilalim ng land reform program ay makakabuti sa ating mga magsasaka. Kapag sinabayan pa natin ng programang magpapataas ng kita nila, matutulungan nating tuluyang maihango sa kahirapan ang ating mga magsasaka (The President’s order to suspend the conversion of farm lands and to condone the penalties on the arrears of farmer-beneficiaries who had fallen behind on their amortization payments to the state-run Land Bank of the Philippines for the land awarded to them under the agrarian reform program are good for our farmers. With a simultaneous implementation of a program that increases farmers’ incomes, we will be able to help them out of poverty),” he said.
On the recommendation of farmers’ rights activist and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, President Duterte announced the two agriculture policy directives on Monday.
Pangilinan, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said his proposed Sagip Saka or Farmers and Fishers Entrepreneurship and Development Act, which is geared toward increasing the incomes of farmers and fisher folks, will help accomplish this.
Sagip Saka requires national and local government agencies to help small farmers and fishers cluster themselves and sell directly to food distributors and consumers. Seeking to bypass middlemen and consolidators, the measure also requires government to directly buy food products from accredited agricultural cooperatives, and grants tax incentives to private entities and corporations that buy directly from farmers and fisher folks’ enterprises.
“Siguraduhin nating ang pagtaas ng kita ng mga magsasaka ang magiging batayan ng tagumpay ng mga programang sakahan. Pataasin lang natin ang kita ng 67 porsyento ng mga Pilipinong nakaasa sa pagsasaka at bubuti na ang purchasing power nila pati na ang ekonomiya sa kanayunan (Let us ensure that increasing the income of farmers would be the benchmark of agricultural programs. An increase in the income of the 67% relying on agriculture for sustenance would bolster the purchasing power of the marginalized sectors and will jump-start the rural economy),” the senator said.
“Pag nangyari ito, di na luho ang pagkain, bababa ang kagutuman, tataas ang productivity, at mapapaaral at mapapagamot na rin ng ating mga magsasaka ang kanilang pamilya — lahat ng yan makakatulong para tuluyan nang mawala ang kahirapan (Food items that seemed only a luxury before can now be afforded. Hunger will lessen, productivity will increase, and farmers will be able to provide basic non-food needs such as education and health care, all contributing to the collapse of the cycle of poverty),” he added.
Pangilinan said farming in the Philippines is normally linked to low productivity and profitability partly because poor people have little access to productive assets and business opportunities. He said small farmers have few non-farm income-generating activities, and lack access to microfinance services and affordable credit.
For the 17th Congress, Pangilinan filed pro-farmer and pro-fisher bills aiming to increase incomes in the agriculture sector. Aside from Sagip Saka, he also seeks the creation of a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and is h earing the Coco Levy Trust Fund measures. His agriculture-centric legislative agenda, which also include the Crop Insurance Act, Imbak Tubig or the Water Impoundment Act, and the Food Bank Act, is intended to solve slow economic growth and underemployment in the rural areas.