Palace urged to declare state of emergency over food supply

The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI) urges President Marcos to declare a state of emergency on food sufficiency in the face of insufficient production and supply in the market and rising the cost of food locally and globally.

SLOW SALES DAY. Chicken vendors at Paco Market in Manila sort through their wares on Friday, a day after some fast-food chains in the country admitted to experiencing supply shortages for their customers because the local supply of chickens did not meet their standards quality. Norman Cruz

Noting that the government’s treasury is empty, PCAFI chairman Danilo Fausto said the president could dip into available funds to help tide over the sector until the crisis subsides.

“I would estimate that 1 trillion pesos is available for loans from the Agri-Agra loan allocation. We can mobilize that. This is one of the things we would like to come up with for fundraising,” he said.

The Agri-Agra Act requires all banking institutions to allocate 15% of their total loan portfolio to agricultural loans and 10% to land reform credit.

The PCAFI said the president can also encourage local government units to set aside a portion of their Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA) and divert it to improve LGU-wide food production.

Under the Mandanas-Garcia decision, LGUs are supposed to download 235 billion pesos in 2022 from their share of national government taxes.

“The agricultural sector can be helped in its area of ​​responsibility. It (the funds) will not be withdrawn from the LGUs, but the direction of the funds should go to food production,” Fausto said.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 to ensure that the agency responds to the needs of farmers and agribusiness groups.

Citing the Audit Commission’s 2020 report, the PCAFI reported a wide disparity in the allocation of guarantee funds as figures show that the PGC committed more than 203 billion pesos to the real estate sector over a total of 207 billion pesos.

Fausto said there is very little left for vulnerable industries and sectors like agriculture, as farmers and stakeholders cannot deal with banks due to lack of collateral.

“In fact, only 500 million pesos have been allocated to agriculture. Property developers don’t need the collateral, they can get by [themselves]he said, adding that the PGC continues to collect penalties from banks that do not comply with the Agri-Agra Act.

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 agricultural technology.

“His directive was very simple, which is to strengthen our economic and cultural ties and leverage our relationships by getting their technology, especially for agricultural technology,” Bello said.

Marcos gave the directive through Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez, the former justice secretary said during a televised public briefing.

The president said earlier that he would lead the agriculture department “to impress upon everyone the high priority we place on the agricultural sector.”

In the House, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, warned that high sugar prices could still rise by about 60% and proposed measures to prevent the country from running out of sugar.

Salceda recalled that world sugar prices reached 29.3 cents per pound during the recovery period from the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. World prices are currently at 18.5 cents but could rise, just as they have during this period.

“You also have to remember that sugar cane is used not only for table sugar but also for alcohol – and we have seen an increase in demand for alcohol during the pandemic,” Salceda said.

He said Congress would try to meet with sugar stakeholders as soon as the session resumes and the committees are organized.

“House leadership will likely delegate a team of members of Congress to seek solutions, and we will work closely with the president’s economic officials,” he said.

Salceda made the statements amid fears of a sugar supply shortage.

In response, Salceda offered a “five-point plan” that the executive branch can undertake immediately to alleviate supply problems unless imports are increased.

“First, I propose that the National Biofuels Board zero out the supply of sugar-based biofuel additives needed for petroleum products and redirect demand to other sources such as jatropha, cassava and others. The 2006 Biofuels Act obliges oil companies to produce a gasoline blend containing at least 10% bioethanol, so not having to use sugar cane for this demand will already be a good start,” Salceda said. The president’s proposal to increase biofuel content may require sources other than sugar, he added.

“Second, ask manufacturers of rubbing alcohol and other non-food products made from sugar cane to look to other sources. I think in this respect the Department of Science and Technology will be very important,” he said.

“Third, once face-to-face classes resume, we should be stricter on restricting sugary drinks in schools to reduce non-essential and unhealthy consumption of sugar,” he continued.

Fourth, he said, the president can direct the Sugar Regulatory Authority to assess 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 pointed out that there should be no shortage of sugar. The Philippine Competition Commission, Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry can be mobilized to prioritize oversight of price and supply abuses, Salceda said.

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