The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI) is urging President Marcos to declare a state of emergency on food sufficiency in the face of insufficient production and supply in the market and the rising cost of food locally and globally.
Noting the government’s empty treasury, PCAFI president Danilo Fausto said the President can tap available funds to help tide the sector over until the crisis dissipates.
“I would estimate that P1 trillion is available for lending from the Agri-Agra loan allocation. We can mobilize this. That is one of the items that we would like to propose for mobilization of funds,” he said.
The Agri-Agra Law requires all banking institutions to allot 15 percent of their total lending portfolio for agriculture loans and 10 percent for agrarian reform credit.
PCAFI said the President can also encourage local government units to set aside a portion of their internal revenue allotment (IRA) and divert those to improving food production on the LGU scales.
Under the Mandanas-Garcia ruling, LGUs are supposed to download P235 billion in 2022 from their share of taxes from the national government.
“The agriculture sector can be assisted within their area of responsibility. It (funds) will not be taken out of the LGUs but the direction of the funds should go to food production,” Fausto said.
The group also asked the President to review the mandate of the Philippine Guaranty Corp. and ensure that the agency caters to the needs of farmers and agribusiness groups.
Citing the 2020 report of the Commission on Audit, PCAFI said a big disparity in the allocation of guarantee funds when figures showed that the PGC has committed more than P203 billion to the real estate industry from a total of P207 billion.
Fausto said very little was left for vulnerable industries and sectors like agriculture since farmers and stakeholders cannot deal with banks for lack of collateral.
“In fact, only P500 million was allocated to agriculture. Real estate developers do not need the guarantee, they can fend for [themselves],” he said, adding that the PGC continues to collect penalties from banks that do not comply with the Agri-Agra Law.
PCAFI stressed that the penalties collected should be made available to farmers and producers.
Also on Friday, the new head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), Silvestre Bello III, said Marcos wants the Philippines to take advantage of its ties with Taiwan to improve local agriculture technology.
“His directive was very simple, that is to strengthen our economic and cultural ties and to take advantage of our relations by getting their technology, especially for agriculture technology,” Bello said.
Marcos gave the directive through Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, the former Justice Secretary said in a televised public briefing.
The President earlier said he would head the agriculture department “to make it clear to everyone what a high priority we put on the agricultural sector.”
In the House, the chairman of the committee on ways and means, Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, warned that elevated sugar prices could still rise by about 60 percent and proposed measures to prevent the country from running out of sugar.
Salceda recalled that world sugar prices went as high as 29.3 cents per pound during the recovery period after the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. World prices are currently at 18.5 cents but could go up, much as they did during that period.
“You have to remember as well that sugarcane is used not only for table sugar but also for alcohol—and we saw increased demand for alcohol during the pandemic,” Salceda said.
He said Congress will try to meet with sugar stakeholders as soon as session resumes and committees are organized.
“The House leadership will probably deputize a team of members of Congress to look into solutions, and we will work very closely with the President’s economic managers,” he said.
Salceda made the statements amid fears of a sugar supply shortage.
In response, Salceda has proposed a “five-point plan” that the Executive branch can immediately undertake to mitigate supply woes, short of increasing imports.
“First, I propose that the National Biofuels Board set the supply of sugar biofuel additives required for petroleum products to zero, and redirect the demand to other sources such as jatropha, cassava, and others. The Biofuels Act of 2006 requires oil companies to produce a gasoline blend with at least 10 percent bioethanol, so not having to use sugarcane for that demand will already be a good start,” Salceda said. The President’s proposal to increase biofuel content can require sources other than sugar, he added.
“Second, let us request manufacturers of rubbing alcohol and other non-food sugarcane-based products to shift to other sources. I think in this regard, the Department of Science and Technology will be very important,” he said.
“Third, once face-to-face classes resume, we should be stricter about restricting sugar-sweetened beverages in schools to reduce non-essential and unhealthy consumption of sugar,” he continued.
Fourth, he said, the President can order the Sugar Regulatory Authority to evaluate and optimize processes in the sugar value-chain, from harvesting to milling to refining.
Finally, the government can validate and investigate the possible hoarding of sugar by traders. Some local planters have pointed out that there should not be sugar shortages. The Philippine Competition Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Trade and Industry can be mobilized to prioritize monitoring against pricing and supply abuses, Salceda said.