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Farmers to presidential bets: Show us your concrete plans

By Walter Balane, Armando Fenequito, Rey Garcia and Julie Jubelag/Aspire 5 News

 

matulac

Francisco Matulac File photo by Walter Balane

SINAYAWAN, Valencia City – Francisco Matulac never got tired. At 68, he still farms rice like he did in 30 years. His neighbors would always see him as an able-bodied old man. He never runs out of anything to fix. Work in the farm and the household make him happy.

But not on this particular cropping season. In a backyard shed are 50 bags of organic fertilizers he bought but cannot use. For the past days, he has been cursing about it. He and the 38 members of the Lateral G-7 Bayanihan Irrigators Association here were unable to plant rice due to lack of water. Bukidnon, initially not in the  forecast, is among the 32 provinces affected by the El Niño.

He knew they cannot blame it all on the weather. The other problem, Matulac added, is that the government did not act swiftly to help farmers prepare for the dry spell.

“Wala na gani ulan, manhid pagihapon kaayo ang NIA (National Irrigation Administration) sa ilang mahal nga irrigation fee (While we have no rains, the National Irrigation Administration refuses to waive irrigation fees),” he said.

Bobo Narciso, head of the Abag Kalambuan (Support Development) peoples’ organization, one of the biggest associations of farmers in southern Bukidnon, said the concerns of small farmers like Matulac should be at the core of the 2016 national election candidates’ agenda for Mindanao – considered the country’s food basket.

“The problem is they are giving us motherhood statements about their plans,” he added in a telephone interview Thursday night.

Narciso cited the promises of presidential candidates to work for an increase of the budget for Mindanao to boost agriculture and the economy of the region as a whole.

During the presidential debate in Cagayan de Oro on February 21,  Sen. Grace Poe and Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte spoke of the need to increase the budget share, which at present is P380.9 billion or 22.2 percent of the P3 trillion national budget in 2016.[VIEW INFO-GRAPHICSRegional Share of Mindanao’s P380.9 billion budget (Source: MinDA)

“The electorate should push for the candidates to cite concrete examples. The devil is in the details,” he said.

narcisoNarciso speaks to farmers in a forum in Don Carlos, Bukidnon, Philippines
Narciso’s FB Account

Narciso said they wanted to check if candidates are with them on specific concerns.

Farmers feared the unknown about their fate in the economic integration brought by the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), he said. He explained that with zero tariff on agricultural products, among others, they cannot compete without sufficient and appropriate government support.

“We need price subsidies for major farming inputs such as fertilizer. We want to decrease irrigation service fees, among others. Are they in favor of that?” he asked.

He said pushing for an increase in the budget for Mindanao is not enough. The candidates should also reveal how they will use the budget, he added.

“If we have an increased budget, well and good. But if they will just use it to build airports and seaports in the urban centers, then it doesn’t directly help ,” he said.

Farmers in Mindanao needed more and longer farm to market roads, post harvest facilities, cold storage and other facilities.

“Is their bigger budget for Mindanao going to agriculture and is it intended for the small farmers or for the multinational corporations?” he asked.

Except for Senator Miriam Santiago, all four other presidential candidates, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Duterte, Poe and Manuel Roxas III have expressed more than one specific programs on agriculture as of February 25, based on an online research by Aspire 5 News.

All the four, except Roxas, pronounced making irrigation available for free. [VIEW INFO-GRAPHICSThe Presidential Bets and their Agriculture Agenda]

According to gov.ph, the over-all budget for the Department of Agriculture for the country in 2016 is at P93.4 billion. This is nothing compared to the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at P766.5 billion with about P268.4 billion intended to pave all national roads by 2016 and construct access roads to airports, seaports, and tourist destinations.

In North Cotabato, the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the additional budget increase will not help the plight of the farmers.

Jerry Alborme, KMP spokesperson told Aspire 5 News via telephone the farmers are always left behind in the budget even this year with a 25.7 percent increase or about P78 billion additional allocation for Mindanao.

“Wala man gyud na (nila) matilawi sukad pa na sa una (They have never experienced any development),” he said.

Alborme said that until now farmers still face woes like lack of water system and farming assistance. LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW : Jerry Alborme, KMP-North Cotabato

“Kanunay gyud naga krisis ang kinabuhi sa mga mag-uuma nga mao man unta ang nagahimo og mga produkto sa atong nasod (The life of of the farmers are always in crisis even if they are the ones who made the food products),” he said.

Most farmers have been buried in debts especially that the province has experienced dry spell.

“Here in North Cotabato, the only response of our government is the P4 million cloud seeding,” he added.

Alborme said for the farmers, the dry spell is just a secondary concern.

The primary disaster, he added, is that their farm products are bought at a cheap price (in the market).

Romeo Montenegro, director for investments and public affairs of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), in a telephone interview said the issues raised by the farmers are valid.

But he clarified that while it appeared that the budget for farm to market roads is smaller compared to the budget for highways, airports, and seaports it doesn’t mean small farmers were neglected.

He said the cost of building airports and seaports is always higher than how much it would to build farm to market roads.

Montenegro said increasing the budget for Mindanao has always been the goal. But it should be viewed at per capita share. He argued that Mindanao’s per capita share of the budget is now higher compared to those of  Luzon and the Visayas.

“(This means Mindanao residents are better off compared to years ago),” he added. As of midnight, Montenegro was unable to send a copy of the report showing  the per capita figures.

The farmers are worried about another thing.

Alborme from KMU’s North Cotabato chapter said any additional budget might be diverted.

“It has been a tradition of our politics in the country that the candidate of the administration will use it to buy votes,” he said.

Armida Pajaron, a community officer of a non-government organization supporting farmers in Valencia City said agriculture is one of the sectors prone to corruption.

“I observed that most budgets for farmers implemented by DA (Department of Agriculture) go to whoever is close to their heart,” she added.
masipag
A farmer in Dabongdabong, Valencia City inspects a rice stalk
Photo courtesy of Masipag Mindanao

At the time it reaches the farm level, she said, it has already gone through a lot of cuts. She said the government should address this problem.

“You can have a big budget on paper high above, but it doesn’t mean that intended recipients at the grassroots get it all,” she said in the vernacular.

Some of DA’s projects on fertilizer and seed subsidies became controversial. VIEW RELATED STORY:  DA investigators find irregularities in P30M NIA organic fertilizer project.

Alborme said that the government should provide assistance to farmers for fertilizers and seedlings, especially in times of calamity.

The farmers, he said, are always short of money because calamities damaged their crops.

He urged that the next national government officials should pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill into law to address the issue of land distribution, one of the major factors of production.

Alborme said he also urged other farmer groups to exert pressure on Congress to pass the bill.

The problem with Congress, he added, is some of their members are also big landlords.

Abag Kalambuan’s Narciso said farmers want their government to listen to their needs.

“They can’t make plans addressing poverty and development here if the government don’t come and talk to us,” he said.

Bukidnon and North Cotabato were two of the 16 poorest provinces in the country in 2014.

Francisco Matulac, the farmer from Sinayawan, Valencia City, is cursing as he covered his bags of fertilizers with tarp late that afternoon.

He said it’s the government who earned his ire for its failure to act on the farmers’ needs.

“The El Nino is bad for us, but their slow response is the worse disaster,” Matulac said. (Walter Balane, Armando Fenequito, Rey Garcia and Julie Jubelag/Aspire 5 News)

Low pressure area, high pressure impact

I saw the news: they counted the dead and the injured. I have to blink faster when they said repeatedly that what we experienced for a week is only “low pressure area.” Already it has killed many.
Maybe it is timely to provide basic education on environment and climate change to all. I don’t care if it will be formal or informal education as long as it clarifies and enlightens.
LPA , I think tonight, is misunderstood just like “storm surge” during Yolanda’s time.
Another way at looking at this is via vulnerability. The number of dead and hurt tell how vulnerable we are in Mindanao.  Let’s assess the hazards in every area and prepare ourselves to face challenges like LPA.

Reading the 11-point summaries of the GPH-MILF Peace Talks in Kuala Lumpur

When I used to cover Davao City, I have become more familiar with the GPH-MILF peace negotiations. Even if it is only the committees on the cessation of hostilities who meet, they issue a joint statement to some how shed light on the coverage of meeting.

I expected this from the talks in KL but the reports said there was none.This is not a good sign, if we look at it that way.  I think having no joint statement is more sincere an act, than forcing one when there is none.Is it right to have one just to play with symbolism?

Many people expected a lot from the talks. After that “historic” meeting in Japan between President Benigno Aquino III and the MILF’ chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the stakes are high on “expediting the peace process”.

As a journalist who covered this from afar, my reading is, are we supposed to mistake “expediting the process” with taking short cuts? Unless we expected the negotiators to be rubbing on a bottle for a genie to make wishes easily his command. Read More…

Beginner’s Random thoughts on running in Malaybalay City

  1. Come to the race to compete only with yourself.
  2. Expect to be laughed at; laugh with them, it’s another exercise.
  3. Stretch your body before running and your limits, too; but do not be suicidal
  4. Prepare for the race and your needs after it, including one more item at the drug store: muscle pain ointment.
  5. Listen to encouragements from friends, ignore negative remarks from ‘friends’
  6. Use water and food to keep you going, not to slow you down
  7. If you can’t run faster, go slow, or walk; but don’t stop.
  8. Dress light and feel light.
  9. Smile, don’t talk, to an acquaintance while running to save breath
  10. Thank God, family, friends before and after running, it counts to be grateful of the gift of the human life.
  11. Run even if there is no race or competition; if you feel good about stepping on the finish line; be aware that the best is yet to come.
  12. Help keep our community peaceful and free so we still have fields, trails, and streets where we can still run.

I made it!

I got these points printed in my mind from the starting line of the 4.2 km. Panahik night run on January 22 up to dinner tonight.

Finally, I was able to write it down.

I’m sure there will be more I can remember later on.

To those who have other thoughts to add, please key it in as a comment. (or make your own list.)

We don’t know, maybe in the future we can write a book about the gift of running in the free streets of our communities!

Cheers!

NEVER FORGET!

Logo for the commemoration of the 1st anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre

In line with the commemoration of the 1st anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao, we are sharing this logo/patch.

You may use this instead of your present Facebook profile pix on Nov. 23 as a sign of your solidarity with the families of the victims, the journalists and media workers, and the rest of the world.

It was so far the biggest blow to journalists and journalism in the Philippines. Let this be a symbol of our collective cry for justice and for more protection for journalists, where ever they may be.

Changing the world starting from one’s dining table

On the road to a resort in Lianga, Surigao del Sur late on October 28, our Grassroots Documentation and Reporting Training Team talked about the application of science in the food that we eat.

It was a humorous but “meaty” chatter. The usual one you get into inside the vehicle while heavy rains slow your trip down. A check on the time piece showed dinner should go ahead before check in.

We talked about the chicken in the fast food chains. We talked about the poultry products in our breakfast table. Then the conversation extended to the synthetics of food preparation in the world of fast food chains and how they alter way of life and relationships. Fast food vs. slow food. Old vs. new ways to prepare food. We also talked about that World Toilet Summit in Beijing (yeah, but that’s another thing.)

Just a week before, I sat next to a Vegan. Is that how you call people who live on plant-based diet?

So I had some inputs to make in the car ‘conversation’: that natural diet is a healthier choice.

When we arrived at the resort and dinner was served later, I was shocked to find fried chicken on the table. Wew! While most of us skipped it at least as the main course, I find it very funny.The caterer later on told us they failed to follow the agreed food requirements.

We usually have nice conversations on health and diet; very nice,  that we often do not see them in our decisions and actions.

The simple reflection I got during the chatter was quiet an awakening.

If I want to correct what for me were unhealthyfood  decisions, I should rather start it on my dining table.

Back in Malaybalay, I wanted to bring the reflection closer to home.

I immediately shared about the advantages of this diet choice. I felt it was welcomed, in the light homecoming conversation. But I realized its not going to be easy.

When you are not the only one deciding in the kitchen, the market day, and the budget, there will be complications on your desire to initiate or explore a healtheir diet.

This thing about science, technology and food is quite a sensitive topic at home. Because of preferences and primarily due to the lack of time to prepare with everyone working for a living and not being able to afford hiring a househelp.

I realized it requires mass-based, proper and open consultations with every one concerned at home. It requires education about diet, health, among other things.

We even need rules on how to talk about it (why and how are we going to change the menu that has been our choice through time?) We need information and communication. We need not only one-sided information dissemination. We need to listen to one another. (Now this sounds like the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front already.).

Anyway, we also cannot miss out on the environment or the market.

The poultry industry, despite the talk of unhealthy hybrid/synthetic-based production (millions of eggs in how many days?) is a big and multi-million industry.

If you look at trimming it down you are looking at cutting on the feeds sector, and eventually the corn industry for example.

From my window in Kalasungay, I can smell the odor of poultry farms in Patpat, our neighbor village in Malaybalay City.

What I thought are micro personal choices and basic human rights will have bearing on the world economy!

Likewise, the choices we make in our kitchens are  affected by the choices offered by the market. Its an economic structure embedded into our way of life.

I remembered a colleague expressed his potent view over that dinner in Lianga: “That’s why most of us often get sick” and “that’s why doctors and hospitals are making money.”

Who is winning if we are losing? Such a formidable foe I supposed.

I missed the forum organized by anti- GMO (genetically modified organism) groups (sorry for this label) or should I say pro-organic farming groups last week in Bukidnon State University where Bt Talong took centerstage.It should have been a venue for critical information.

We all need to look at these options laid on the table by modern science and technology. Science does wonders, too. I think what we must remember is that “modern” doesn’t always mean healthy.

That’s why I still wanted to offer my two-cents worth in the big cloud and inter-gallactic movement for change.

I start going natural and fry-free food for breakfast, at least. I hope it will snowball into something more significant.(The folks at home do not entirely like this move at all.)

But like the ripple effect, it starts from baby steps.

Maybe if we change what we eat for meals at home, we help change the landscape of our farms and plantations.  (End)

NIA’s organic fertilizers for Northern Mindanao: People’s money in shadowy subsidy

Hundreds of farmers become recipients of at most 20 bags each of organic fertilizers. But not all of them are happy. Some claimed they received ‘very dry’ stocks, useless fertilizers.

By Walter I. Balane

MALAYBALAY CITY, Philippines – About P30 million worth of organic fertilizer subsidy implemented by the National Irrigation Administration in Region 10 for thousands of farmers in Northern Mindanao becomes subject of public inquiry after farmers complained it is of sub-standard quality.

NIA-10 proposed the project to help irrigators’ associations they are working with to improve their yield in rice along thousands of hectares of rice farms.

But the farmers found the fertilizer useless, and a government official finds out it was produced by a company owned by no less than the NIA national administrator’s family.

Some farmers also found out that the report of the number of bags released to them was bloated: two farmers received only a total of 60 bags, and a receivable of 20 bags more; but the distribution report showed a total of 200 bags were released to them.

Here are some links to the running story of the controversial Northern Mindanao organic fertilizer subsidy project as posted on news website MindaNews:

A dog sleeps above a pile of unused organic fertilizer in bags in a farmers’ association garage in Sinayawan, Valencia City, Bukidnon

Samples of NIA-distributed organic fertilizers taken as Bukidnon board member alleges scam. The FPA-10 regional office already sent board member Glenn Peduche a copy but the results are yet to be revealed.

Valencia agriculturist says NIA didn’t coordinate with LGUs. Engr. Gerson Galvan said NIA did not have the expertise to test the quality of the organic fertilizers.

Bukidnon Gov wants P-Noy to look into fertilizer scam. The Department of Agriculture already announced it has initiated an investigation by ordering their legal division to probe on the issue.

Mayor-wife of NIA chief supplier for NorMin’s P30-M fertilizer subsidy program. NIA-10 regional director Julius Maquiling was qouted in official records of the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan that Lila, Bohol mayor Regina Salazar owned Bayugan, Agusan del Sur-based supplier 3K and C  Enterprises. He identified the mayor to be the wife of NIA administrator, now replaced, Carlos Salazar.

NIA chief Salazar owns outlet supplying NorMin’s fertilizer subsidy program, says FPA.  The Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority Manila Office revealed that Carlos Salazar, the NIA administrator actually owned the company, based on documents he submitted to the FPA to apply for product registration.

DA team starts 45-day probe on NorthMin organic fertilizer project. The Department of Agriculture, upon request of the Bukidnon provincial board, has initiated an investigation into the possible organic fertilizer scam. NIA officials have been investigated. The report is due oin mid-September.

Organic fertilizers and pesticides are left to the elements at a motor pool of the National Irrigation Administration compound in Valencia City pending an investigation.

P2.3M worth of fertilizers in Bukidnon put on hold. The Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority has put on hold P2.3-million worth of organic fertilizers and pesticides here following complaints by farmers over alleged substandard quality, overpricing, and rigged bidding.

About 2,700 bags of Grow Organic Fertilizers and 3,741 liters of Green Organic liquid fertilizer-pesticides have been placed inside a motor pool building in the National Irrigation Administration compound after these were delivered in the first quarter of 2010.

Jimmy Apostol, NIA Bukidnon irrigation officer, told MindaNews Wednesday the fertilizers and pesticides are part of the last of three tranches of the NIA’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer Subsidy Project in Northern Mindanao initiated in June 2009.

The stocks have been put on hold since last June 4 by virtue of an FPA “stop use/stop move/stop sale” (SUMS) order pending their own tests of samples.

Two months after samples were taken, the fertilizers and pesticides are still kept in the open motor pool building.

No results yet on probe of P30-M NIA fertilizer project. After almost four months after the Department of Agriculture investigated into the controversial P30-million National Irrigation Administration’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer project for Northern Mindanao, no results have been released so far.

DA investigators find irregularities in P30M NIA organic fertilizer project. A fact finding team created by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in July 2010 found irregularities in the National Irrigation Administration’s P30-million bio-organic fertilizer subsidy program implemented in Region 10 in 2009, among them that there was only one bidder and that the organic fertilizer delivered did not comply with the specifications of the procuring entity, “hence should have not been accepted and paid for.”

No raps, only ‘reorientation’ for NIA officials behind P30-M fertilizer program. Irregularities were found in the implementation of the National Irrigation Agriculture’s fertilizer subsidy program in Northern Mindanao, but Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was satisfied with the recommendations to withdraw and replace the substandard organic fertilizers released to farmers and reorient the officials behind the questionable P30-million project on bidding procedures.

In her letter to Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata on October 18, Lealyn A. Ramos, Department of Agriculture-X regional executive director said the recommendations came from the investigation team formed by her office.

Rice farmers in this city were among the recipients of the organic fertilizers distributed by NIA-10 in 2009. At least 1,000 farmers in Northern Mindanao, mostly in Bukidnon received the fertilizer procured with funds from the DA’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) – Rice Program.

Ramos said the reorientation means keeping all members of NIA-10’s bids and awards committee abreast with the latest updates of the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184).

She said Alcala’s decision was prompted by Sangguniang Panlungsod Resolution no. 425-2011 passed on August 1 urging the secretary to “take the appropriate actions based on the said recommendations.”

Alcala’s decision drew the ire of City Councilor Glenn Peduche, who was among the first to expose the alleged irregularities of the project, including lapses in bidding and the reportedly substandard quality of the fertilizer.

“The DA should conduct a more in-depth investigation how this happened. If proven to have violated the law, perpetrators must face the consequences,” Peduche said.

[The report is an Investigative Journalism project of the author for the Asian Center for Journalism Ateneo de Manila University MA Journalism course.]