Election 2016: Agenda of the Benguet representative
THE INQUIRER is coming out today with the fifth of its series on people’s pressing concerns that should be high on the agenda of candidates for representative, governor or mayor in the May 9 elections. The series should help voters in the provinces choose their leaders wisely. In line with our “ThINQ. Vote.” advocacy, we have asked candidates in certain provinces, cities and congressional districts to outline their concrete plans of action in dealing with specific issues in their areas.
(Editors’ Note: INQUIRER.net has since substituted the abbreviated answers of the candidates, which were published in the paper, with the candidates’ full responses, as originally sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)
CONCERN 1: AGRICULTURE
FIGHTING WEATHER, PROTECTING COMMERCE. Benguet farms and gardens supply most of the carrots, potatoes, broccoli, beans, cabbages and cauliflower that are sold in Metro Manila markets. But the province’s 27,491 farms have been affected by extreme weather patterns like typhoons.
These farms also face competition. The start of the economic integration of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has opened up the country to legally imported vegetables.
The government’s most recent action is to develop a sophisticated trading facility to improve the marketability of Benguet vegetables, but farmers complain that their bigger challenges are unsettled loans from middlemen and unconventional weather.
There may be a need to develop Benguet-grown vegetables into a true brand, to cope with Asian competitors.
I do not see any competition problems as to the quality of vegetables Benguet farmers produce compared with imported vegetables. We have been supplying vegetables to Subic and Clark for several decades in the past, including industrial or commercial markets in Metro Manila, and seldom were there issues on quality. The problem our farmers face with the upcoming Asean integration is the heavy subsidy Asean countries provide their own farmers.
Despite this, our present government have also provided so called “safety nets” to local farmers in terms of soft loans, access to affordable fertilizers and farm equipments.
The most effective “subsidy/safety net” this administration has given to our farmers to be able to compete with foreign suppliers are, aside from the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center, is the concreting and rehabilitation of almost all national primary and secondary roads in the country, including Benguet, and barangay and farm roads.
Billions of pesos have been poured, not only in Benguet, but in the entire Cordillera region. Good roads mean higher income for our farmers because this enables them to save on production costs, such as vehicle repairs, tires and gasoline, and reduced transport duration. We definitely have no control of the weather, but higher profits due to good roads and other government safety nets will help our farmers in Benguet solve to an extent the effects of the Asean integration, weather and even loan sharks.
Climate change is inevitable and government needs to help farmers in coping with the weather disturbance. Greenhouses would be the most suitable solution for Benguet farmers but these are expensive. Government should help them build greenhouses through financial assistance be it through soft loans, materials and also education. Farmers should also be taught to diversify their crops like planting more resilient crops like root crops.
The government should also provide no-collateral, low-interest loans for farmers with more liberal payment schemes to encourage them to borrow money from the banks and realize that it is more cost effective than borrowing from middlemen. Our farmers have relied on middlemen for so long that their relationships are too deeply rooted, so government should come in now. It will not happen overnight but it is about time to start.
ASEAN integration is already here. Government must hire more manpower and equipment for the Bureau of Plants and Industries to be able to set up quarantine checkpoints in all ports of entry to ensure that all produce coming in are safe. This would protect our farmers and our produce from unwanted pests. While it is important to invest on farm to market roads, it is equally important to appropriate funds for more BPI personnel.
CONCERN 2: ENVIRONMENT
A CURE. Benguet hosts some of the remaining virgin forests in the country. But in protected areas like Mount Pulag, these forests are threatened by expanding settlements, some of which engage in vegetable gardening.
An anthropology professor of the University of the Philippines Baguio points out that part of the problem is government’s decision to provide multiple instruments which allow people to acquire land. According to a recent inventory by various land titling agencies, residents near Pulag have land titles issued by the ancestral land titling system, free patent system, agrarian reform program and forest management program.
These programs are intended to provide social justice to upland forest inhabitants because forest reservations by their nature are supposed to be inalienable. But these are enforced with no clear oversight or a study on theirs impact on forested mountains.
The many land titling instruments passed in Congress and enshrined in the Constitution, all serve a purpose–and that is to provide land for the landless and for the Indigenous Peoples to lay claim over their ancestral lands. Land is life. The forestry law, the watershed law, the national parks laws, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, are all good laws which protect our environment and forest lands and at the same time, give justice to the landless. I don’t see any conflict amongst these laws. What is needed is the strict implementation of all these laws by the concerned agencies.
Benguet alone has 76 communal forests. The management of these should now be devolved to the local government units for maitainance and development. Involve the communities in the development and preservation, since it is communal.
Benguet is also covered with so many watershed, forest and protected area reservations. But let’s face it, many of these reservations have built up areas already. It is time to reclassify built up areas and delineate these from the still untouched forests.
After delineation, forest laws should be strictly implemented over the remaining areas. DENR should now implement the law to the letter and not allow the remaining forests to be intruded.
It is time to review the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. It should be amended by removing the NCIP’s power to give titles. Protected areas, communal forests and watersheds should be excluded form the domain. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agrarian Reform and NCIP should also discuss how to properly delineate their functions to ensure that they do not step over each other’s jobs.
CONCERN 3: INDUSTRY
GIVE MONEY BACK TO MINING TOWNS. The stories about “gold in them thar hills” when the Americans occupied the Philippines and developed Baguio City were initially about the mineral resources of Benguet. The first mining company was called Benguet Corp. after the Ibaloy and Kankana-ey communities that embraced the trade.
But many of the upland towns that have mining firms as their neighbors have no roads made of gold. This is likely due to a tax sharing system that has not given the revenues to the host towns. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines has acknowledged this discrepancy and has advocated for a law that automatically grants mine towns their share in taxes.
Responsible mining is now the accepted norm in the industry. As to tax sharing amongst the host LGUs, the present law is acceptable to everyone. But it is the process or present government practice of requiring mining companies to pay their taxes in Manila or to where their mother company is domiciled, rather than directly remitting their taxes to the host local governments [that needs to be corrected]. I have filed bills to this effect in the past Congress to correct this practice but the Department of Finance has always opposed them.
Empower local governments to access a mining company’s actual production so that they would know their actual and rightful share from taxes. At the moment, it is just the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) which has access to the records.
Directly remit shares from the national wealth to the local governments for better efficiency.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) should relax its rules on small-scale mining activities that drive pocket miners underground.
(Interviews by Kimberlie Quitasol)
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