The Initiative being undertaken by the government to address continuing poverty, food insufficiency, and hunger and the crucial role being played by the agricultural sector were discusses by both officials from the Executive Branch of government and the agricultural sector during the “Huntahan” Media Forum with theme: “Kalayaan sa Kagutuman” in partnership with Unigrow Philippines hosted by Toto Ylagan (left) and Jesse Las Marias (2nd right) held at the Max’s Restaurant inside the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City on Wednesday (June 12, 2024) the 126th Philippine Independence Day. Graces during the forum from left are; National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Eduardo Guillen; Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat; and Jimmy Vistar President of Unigrow Philippines. – Photo by Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

QUEZON CITY — The initiatives being undertaken by the government to address continuing poverty, food insufficiency, and hunger and the crucial role being played by the agricultural sector were tackled by both officials from the Executive Branch of government and the agriculture sector on Wednesday (June 12), the 126th Philippine Independence Day.

During the “Huntahan” Media Forum with the theme: “Kalayaan sa Kagutuman (Freedom from Hunger)” at the Max’s Restaurant in Quezon Memorial Circle hosted by Toto Ylagan and Jesse Las Marias, National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Eduardo Guillen, a former mayor of Iguig, Ilocos Norte in 2010, said in his town agriculture was a model in agriculture project.

In the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), Guillen said that they also participated in the “National Greening Program”.

He added that his town also won the “Galing Pook Award”, wherein they were trained and gained knowledge in every step of agricultural production.  

Guillen had been the NIA Chief for one year and four months already.

As NIA Administrator, Guillen said that he could not have done the “paradigm shift” in the flood control project as envisioned by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr.

Guillen noted that his “mindset” is that “what really is the problem of the agricultural sector and in conjunction of the DENR, it was found out that 40 percent of the agricultural sector has problems on irrigation and potable water.”

The DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) with Secretary Manuel Bonuan, also followed suit with the NIA and the DENR in addressing the irrigation problems through addressing the flood control projects.

Guillen said that from Small Water Impounding Projects to Water Management Flood Control Projects, which is a “game changer” as the DPWH has billions of pesos worth of projects, and its budget endorsement goes to the NEP (National Expenditures Program).

“The problem in agriculture is that they are ‘fragmented’ such as “contract farming” and it is being addressed through farmers cooperatives,” he said.

Guillen cited the Magat Dam, Pantabangan Dam. “Angat Dam,” he said, “supplies 90 percent of the water requirements of Metro Manila and NIA itself has a share from the Angat Dam.”

He noted that Angat Dam has a capacity of 540 million cubic meters of water at one time.

Guillen said that the power companies are angry with the NIA because they allegedly do not release water for the power companies.

He added that the “rainy season” in the Cagayan Valley Region is from October to March and the NIA knows the “cropping season” and what areas need the irrigation.

The NIA Chief stressed that they are now in “convergence” with the DPWH because they are the ones who will build the “Sabo” dams for irrigation purposes.

Guillen revealed that the NIA is now constructing 1,800 units for now, which are solar pump irrigation projects that would not interfere with the “ground water”.

He noted that the NIA has small budget in the sense that after the feasibility study of a project, the contractor may demand changes, which they do not have the control of.  

Guillen disclosed “the 2024 budget of NIA is in the amount of PHP40 billion and it was proposed to be increased to PHP80 billion, unfortunately, when it reached the Senate, it was again ‘chopped’.”

Nevertheless, he argued that the President’s “marching order” was food security, hence, it was restored back to only PHP28 billion.

He revealed that the budget of NIA for 2025 is pegged at PHP17 billion, which Guillen said, was again “cut” by the DBM (Department of Budget and Management), considering that the 2024 NIA budget is PHP40 billion.

Guillen said that President Marcos called the attention of the DBM on the “paradigm shift” from the “harvest season” to “cropping season” in so far as irrigation is concerned, and because of that, the DBM is considering a bigger budget for the NIA in 2025.

“We provide the transplanter, PHP150 for personal insurance of the farmers, next is ‘harvesting’, and most especially, the rice processing center because the price of rice is decreasing,” he said.

“Rice production is only PHP20, PHP50,000 is already huge for “hybrid”. 63 percent conversion of NFA to rice PHP8,000 by 63 percent is PHP540 and PHP50,000 by 63 percent would only PHP30 but it (rice) is sold at PHP57,” he added.

Guillen stressed that the farmers cooperative may capture PHP100 million and divided by 1,000 farmers from the “food value chain”.

“The PHP20 is the ‘aspiration’ of President Marcos,” Guillen said, “such that he wanted the farmers themselves to also profit from the ‘food value chain’, which is not impossible, what is only needed is to make it nationwide and involve the LGUs.” 

Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat, from Guimba, Nueva Ecija, his father is a farmer and his mother is an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker). He is a lawyer by professional training as a graduate from San Beda College.

They established the Magsasaka Party-list even though they do not have money in the first place. In 2022, Magsasaka Party-list also won. A billionaire allegedly attempted to grab the Congressional “seat” from Magsasaka Party-list but he did not succeed.

Cabatbat, however said, Magsasaka Party-list was not elected into office this time because of what transpired previously.

He noted that the NIA has provided irrigation to the farmers, adding that, all their contact international organizations such as in South Korea and Japan, they would like to donate “solar panels” for irrigation pumps.

In 2010, Guillen was Mayor of a fifth-class municipality and Marcos was Ilocos Norte Governor, he approached the DA (Department of Agriculture) and he told them ‘Kahirapan ang tunay na problem (poverty is the real problem).”

“All the farm equipment such as a farm tractor has a counterpart in the LGU (Local Government Unit), the establishment of a cooperative, where I educated the farmers and taught them about the successful farmers cooperatives,” Guillen said. 

Cabatbat said that the Bondoc Peninsula is the “Heart of the Insurgency”, hence, they would like the area as the beneficiary of solar irrigation projects.

He recalled that the farmers in Siaton were allegedly fired at as well as in Surigao del Sur, Cebu where farmers were fired at with their tractors.

Cabatbat himself was a victim of violence, but he was able to survive and he took it upon himself that he still has a “mission” to fulfill and that it does not necessarily mean that he has to return to Congress.

But God willing, he said, Magsasaka Party-list may still gun for a seat in Congress.

He noted that the 2018 Rice Tariffication Law has set the farmgate price of rice at PHP18 per kilo but only the rice traders benefitted from it but not the farmers themselves.

The government, Cabatbat said, bought both the rice and the palay at a farmgate price, adding that, Nueva Ecija has a higher “farmgate price” of rice compared with other provinces. 

“Only the importers became rich because they did not decrease the price of rice,” he said.

“We (Philippines) are the number importer of rice in the world,” he said.

“I am not for food sufficiency but I am for food sovereignty (soberanya sa pagkain),” Cabatbat said.

He is supporting the return of the NFA to its “glorious days”, which has been an institution for several decades already.

Cabatbat stressed that it all started with the “Globalization” (GATT-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and he is for food sovereignty.

He would like to restore back the farmers to their “old glory” even before the Western time or when the Americans came into the Philippines, and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) has benefitted the farmers themselves.

When there came the pandemic such as the ASF (African Swine Fever), Cabatbat said, the hogs were not buried and were even allegedly made as “lechon”. 

Las Marias noted that the Philippines is experiencing 4,000 cubic meters of water every year.

He said that the big countries are now not constructing dams because of the long “gestation period” which takes about 9 to 10 years.

Vistar stressed that he and Ylagan conceptualized the “Huntahan” and they agreed to conduct it for the sake and well-being of farmers and the agriculture sector, with the participation of the NIA Chief and Cabatbat.

He said that the Philippines may be “paralyzed” if the country depends solely and heavily with the importation of rice and other agricultural products.

Vistar slammed that there is still an ongoing “derby” at the PhilRice (Philippine Rice Institute) at the UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Banos) in Los Banos, Laguna in so far as rice is concerned.

He noted that all kinds of “seeds” are available in CLSU (Central Luzon State University) in the Science City of Munoz in Nueva Ecija which can be propagated nationwide.

Vistar scored that not all the LGUs get the “money” from the DA (Department of Agriculture), and they (LGUs) are blaming the NIA and DA, saying that, they should be independent themselves. – By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr.

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