Taal volcano’s recent eruption and the typhoons that hit many provinces the past months could be the least of the problems of Filipino farmers. These are natural calamities we cannot do anything about, except to mitigate the effects by giving our farmers aid and safety nets.

In a series of articles and infographics, the independent think-tank IBON Foundation informs us anew of the bigger problems that impoverish farmers nationwide. We are already familiar with some of the symptoms, because we buy rice, corn, vegetables, and other agricultural products. Their prices are going up, and even as imports are flooding the market.

Duterte’s legacy to agriculture is akin to the regime’s legacy to politics: death and destruction. The numbers speak for themselves, coming as they are from the Philippine Statistics Office and the Department of Budget and Management:

First, 1.4-million jobs lost in agriculture from 2017 to 2019, the biggest number of farm jobs lost in any three-year period in the past 21 years.

Second, 3.6 percent average share of agriculture and agrarian reform in the national budgets from 2017 to 2020, the lowest-ever budgetary allotment in the past 21 years.

Third, $8-billion agriculture trade deficit in 2018, the largest such deficit in the entire history.

Fourth, 7.8 percent share in GDP, the smallest-ever share of agriculture in the nation’s history.

Fifth, below-average 2.1 percent growth in 2017 to 2019, below the average 3.5 percent from 1947 to 2016.

Another indicator of agriculture in crisis is widespread rural poverty, said IBON. Poverty incidence among farmers (34.3 percent) and fisherfolk (34 percent) is higher than the national average (21.6%), citing the latest government figures.

The conventional wisdom about farmers and farming is that they are poor because they remain poor, too ignorant to overcome poverty, or too lazy to try out. Elsewhere, the government and its sycophants blame the communists for the widespread rural poverty that provides fertile ground for rebellion.

They will say everything and anything to obfuscate the man-made calamity of agricultural and trade policies that directly affect and determine the fate of Philippine agriculture in general and farmers in particular.

Instead of a policy of promoting progress in agriculture, the Duterte regime has perpetuated importation, to the clear detriment of our farmers.

From a measly 1.1 percent in 1990, garlic imports comprised 91 percent in 2018. Policy has made us more dependent on imported coffee, beef, tuna, onion, potato, and pork.

The promise was that going imported would be cheaper. Nothing could be farther from the truth, if you ask anyone who goes to the palengke or supermarket regularly. The flood of imported rice has not resulted in cheaper prices.

At the same time, palay prices have gone down. Taken together with government’s criminal negligence, the control of rice traders and big landlords, and massive importation, the policy-driven situation under Duterte is a death sentence to palay farmers nationwide.

The addiction to agriculture imports is dangerous, especially with the basic staple that is rice. The world’s top exporters allot only 10 percent out of their domestic production for export purposes, They clearly prioritize their domestic markets, both farmers and consumers. They won’t take away rice from their own people, just to feed the people of the Philippines whose government finds it “feasible” to rely on imports. And if they do make a sale, we would fall prey to high prices, a fact that nobody can deny. Rice prices have not gone down considerably, long after the government allowed imported rice to flood our country.

There’s lots of talk about the regime supposedly fighting the oligarchs, but the situation of Philippine agriculture belies it. For at the expense of farmers and consumers, Duterte policies on agriculture and trade are beneficial only to oligarchs. Oligarhic rule doesn’t just mean monopolies and endo. It also means landlordism and profiting from rural poverty by way of massive importation of agricultural goods.

There is no end to endo, and neither is there a foreseeable end to importation, whether legal or illegal. Big multinational companies are allowed to reap huge profits and showered with tax cuts and tax breaks, while big landholdings get bigger and more profitable for the owners and, except for periodic shows of agrarian reform beneficiaries receiving paper titles, the Filipino farmers are not well off or are facing bankruptcy.

It is easy to pretend to fight oligarchy by launching a war against the owners of the nation’s biggest broadcaster. The president and his supporters just need to invent offenses or to imagine so-called “franchise violations.”

But on most days, the same president and the same set of supporters happily implement laws and policies beneficial to the oligarchy. Just look at agriculture and trade. The big landlords and big businesses are happy, unperturbed and laughing their way to the bank, while workers endure Endo and crushing costs of living, and as poor farmers stand on the precipice of certain bankruptcy. That’s what you’d find beneath the government’s own numbers unearthed and presented by Ibon.

There are many ways the government and its apologists would respond to this. One would be to tag Ibon and this columnist as “reds”, as if that would debunk the facts and figures. Another would be to present an alternate reality where workers and farmers enjoy exploitation. But perhaps the “best” possible response could be seeing the government brag yet again and quite proudly the success of importation and liberalization. Poison mispresented as cure.

If there’s any bumper crop that the regime could be proud of, it is in misinformation and disinformation. Sadly, most of us couldn’t eat “fake news,” even though many get their monthly pay from spreading it. ###

MANILA BULLETIN | February 16, 2020