Malaybalay bishop pushes Filipino-first food policy

MALAYBALAY CITY – Malaybalay Bishop Jose A. Cabantan expressed his support for House Bill 4626 (Food for Filipinos First Act of 2011) as a safety measure for food self sufficiency in the country.

Cabantan met with Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile, author of the bill, at the bishop’s house during the congressman’s visit to Bukidnon Saturday to consult farmers and other stakeholders on his proposed bill dubbed as the “food sovereignty bill.” “I highly recommend it.

The safety nets, which we should have long ago must be in place,” Cabantan told Bukidnon News. He added that the government must stop importing the country’s basic staple food “by raising it locally.”“It’s about time we make the decision that the Filipinos must be supplying to themselves first,” Enrile told radio station DXDB after meeting with the bishop.

He said self sufficiency in food is different from the common notion of food security, which ensures that food is around regardless where it came from.

He cited that before, the Philippines is a top rice exporter. But in 2007, he added, it is Asia’s No.1 rice importer.

He said the government cannot continue importing rice and other agricultural products to the detriment of the local agriculture sector.

“Maybe someday time comes when we will all be at the mercy of the country’s trading partners,” he added.

He cited that Thailand is exporting its agricultural products, but is doing so as a surplus to the local food requirement.

Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan said if the law be passed it would mean more incentives for farmers. He welcomed the bill as “it is working for a single digit interest loan rate for rural banks catering to the farmers.”

Roderico Bioco, former chairperson of the Philippine Maize Federation, and president of Mindanao Grains Processing Inc., said domestic food security must be prioritized. Bioco agreed that incentives must be given to those producing for local consumption.

“I have nothing against agricultural exports. I am just against them asking for tax incentives,” he added.

As reported by Manila-based media, Enrile defines “food sovereignty” as the “right of peoples, communities and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances.”

Enrile proposed to strip off the National Food Authority of its regulatory function, except trading, which will be transferred to the Department of Agriculture as among the 25 sections of the bill.

The bill pushes for agricultural infrastructure support; to ensure access to low-interest credit to farmers, fishers and farm workers; remove all subsidies on export-oriented agriculture and transfer them to grains and vegetable farmers and livestock growers; launch an effective and strong campaign against smuggling and dumping of food and agri-based products and commodities that can be supplied by local produce; reclaim the country’s original strength on agricultural research and scientific breakthroughs; strengthen NFA as a state trading enterprise that protects farmers and fisherfolks; and break all land monopolies as government implements the last phase of agrarian reform program.

But Fr. Danilo Paciente, head of the diocese’s social action center, which focused on agricultural projects for poor farmers, said the country needed more than what’s espoused in the bill

“There is a need to formulate participatory national vision for food security in the country for the next 15 to 20 years,” he said.

“No export except when there is surplus, no more importation after, say 15 years,” he stressed.

Eventually, he said, the vision should emanate from the people, not from the leaders to attain national food security.   (Walter I. Balane)

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