MANILA—Stressing the need to help poor farmers and fishermen, frontrunning presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe and running mate Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero have vowed to allot about Php300 billion for agriculture sector if elected in May 9 polls.
The independent tandem made this promise in front of the 8,000 crowd that trooped to the Federico Munoz Mandapat Sports Complex in San Carlos City, Pangasinan to attend their campaign rally last Friday night.
”We will give priority to the improvement of irrigation because I know that is the main problem of our farmers every time there is drought,” Poe said.
Escudero, former chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said the Php300 billion will be used for free irrigation, pesticides, mechanization and other benefits for the farmers.
”Me and Senator Poe want to create a government where no one will be left behind and this fund will be the key so that our poor farmers will not be left behind in the development and progress,” Escudero said to the delight of the cheering supporters.
Accompanied by the senatorial team of Partido Galing at Puso (PGP), Poe and Escudero visited three universities – Pangasinan, Luzon and Virgen Milagrosa before attending the campaign rally, their second after the kick off rally at the Plaza Miranda last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Escudero urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to boost its budget spending on programs and projects meant to ease the impact of the current El Niño episode, seen to be the worst ever to hit the country in years.
Escudero sought the immediate release of funds of the agriculture department to avoid further delays in the implementation of projects and prevent a negative growth in farm production this year.“Last year, our farm production hardly grew due to El Niño and other calamities that hit the country. But more than the economy, our farmers bear the brunt of these disasters since they rely heavily onp farming for their livelihoods,” he said.
The DA allotted Php 40.3 billion this year. The agency had also requested the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for Php 2.06 billion in supplemental budget to mitigate the effects of the El Niño phenomenon.
Section 4 of the General Appropriations Act of 2016 also provides the DA a Quick Response Fund of Php 500 million, which shall serve as a standby fund to be used for provision of seeds and other planting materials, fingerlings and fries, livestocks, minor fishing paraphernalia and minor repair of small-scale irrigation systems.
The special fund is provided “in order that the situation and living conditions of people living in communities or areas stricken by calamities, epidemics, crises and catastrophes, which occurred in the last quarter of the immediately preceding year and those occurring during the current year may be normalized as quickly as possible.”
Escudero said government preparations for El Niño are hardly felt by farmers even though the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had long warned of the ill-effects of the drought.
PAGASA said the current El Niño episode was among the four strongest events alongside the big episodes in 1972-1973, 1982-1983, and 1997-1998, and may last until June this year.
The 1997-1998 El Niño episode caused severe drought in 70 percent of the country and damaged some 292,000 hectares of rice and corn plantations, costing the agriculture sector at least Php3 billion in damages, according to PAGASA and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.
PAGASA has warned that the current 29 provinces affected by El Nino will increase to 34 in March, and 68 by April.
The 29 provinces include Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar, Samar, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Catanduanes, Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Siquijor, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur and Sarangani.
Escudero said the government should have been more proactive in shielding farmers from the effects of drought on their livelihood.
The leading vice presidential candidate has earlier said the Poe-Escudero tandem will push for the inclusion of the calamity victims to the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT).
In a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s agricultural production was almost flat in 2015, inching up by a measly 0.11 percent to settle at Php788.7 billion from Php797.84 billion in 2014.
The PSA said farm output slowed down due to strong El Niño, coupled with heavy rains brought by strong typhoons, particularly “Lando” which battered almost the entire island of Luzon.
According to the agriculture department, the dry spell caused damage to crops, livestock and fisheries worth about Php3.32 billion from February to August last year.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, on the other hand, said the damage caused by “Lando” to agriculture reached Php9.7 billion.