Cordillera farmers bat for inclusion of vegetable gardeners in DA’s fuel subsidy

Farmers carry the heaviest burden because they shoulder all transport costs to the trading posts, says Fernando Bagyan of the Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – A farmers’ alliance in the Cordillera called on the government to expand the Department of Agriculture’s fuel subsidy for farmers and fisherfolk to include vegetable “gardeners” (small vegetable producers).

In a March 21 text message, Fernando Bagyan of Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland) said the government should include vegetable gardeners in the fuel subsidy.

“Gardinero ti mangbakbaklay iti kadagsenan a transport cost gaputa 100% a gastosda ti panangbiahe ingga ti trading post… Nangina ti transport cost ditoy kabantayan dapu ti kasasaad ti kalsada,” he said.

(Farmers carry the heaviest burden because they shoulder all transport costs to the trading post… The state of road networks in the mountains makes transportation costs higher.)

While most farmers in the vegetable area are not using farm machines, he said, many use their vehicles to transport their products.

“Ina-assume siguro ng gobyerno na mas truckers ang gumagastos pero marami na sa mga gardinero ang may sariling sasakyan at nagdadala sa trading post. Papaano na sila?” Bagyan said.

(Maybe the government assumes that the truckers spend more, but many farmers already have their vehicles and bring their produce to the trading post. What will happen to them now?)

Benguet Vegetable Truckers and Traders Association president Rudy Bulawan said they imposed a P0.50 per kilo increase in delivery charges on March 16. He explained that additional charge is a last resort and needed for them to survive.

When fuel was still at around P50 per liter, Bulawan and his members implemented alternate and combined trips due to the drop in demand. However, the arrangement failed to soften their losses with the continued fuel price hikes.

With every oil price hike, the mounting fuel prices hit Benguet vegetable farmers hard, with production and transport costs rising. Meanwhile, farmgate prices of their products have not increased significantly, which traders and farmers attribute to the low demand and rampant vegetable smuggling.

The government has set aside a P1.1-billion fuel subsidy for farmers. Agriculture Secretary William Dar confirmed that aside from the P500 million allotted in their budget, President Rodrigo Duterte also approved P600 million more for fuel discounts. However, the subsidy only covers corn farmers and fisherfolk using motorized boats.

FARM TRADE. Farmers bring their produce to the La Trinidad Trading Post. (Sherwin De Vera/Rappler)

At the sidelines of the Benguet Farmer’s Summit on March 16, Benguet Legislative Caretaker Eric Yap said he would appeal to Dar to include vegetable farmers.

“Kung hindi man sila masama, ilalagay natin silang [beneficiary] sa DSWD dahil meron pa naming pondo doon. Yun ang nakikita nating solusyon diyan upang mabigyan din sila ng ayuda mula sa national government,” he said.

(If they are not included, we will put them as the beneficiaries of the DSWD because there are still funds there. This is the solution we see so that they can get assistance from the national government.)

He said the House of Representatives is also finding ways to increase the subsides.

“Actually, yang fuel subsidy [sa transport] ay sa NCR lang, kaya pinapasama ko din sana yung mga truckers dito sa Benguet kasi sila yung mga naghahakot ng mga vegetables. Kung mabibigyan sila ng subsidy, mabibigyan din nila ng discount yung mga farmers sa hauling cost nila,” Yap said.

(The fuel subsidy for transport is actually for NCR only, so we are trying to include Benguet Truckers because they are the ones delivering vegetables. If they receive subsidies, they can give discounts to farmers for their hauling cost.)

In the same event, Benguet Governor Melchor Diclas said they would check the provincial funds to see if they could also provide financial aid to cushion the impact of the fuel prices.

“Kitkitaen tayo met diay pondo ti provincial government ta barbareng nga adda met ti pondo tayo idiay disaster. Ngem kitakitaek no adda maited from Congress ken adda maited ti DA, umanayen siguro daydiay ta ireservetayo diay pondo tayo for other calamities,” he said.

(We are looking into possible fund sources from the provincial government. Maybe we could spare some from our disaster response funds. But we are also looking into possible funds from Congress and DA; that should be enough so we could save our disaster response funds for other calamities.) – Rappler.com

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