Farmers and fisherfolks feed the nation, yet they still remain poor. Farmers, fisherfolks and children who belong to low income families consistently posted the highest poverty incidence since 2006. This means more than a decade of poverty. In the recent report published by the Philippine Statistics Authority on the 2015-2018 poverty incidence, farmers and fisherfolks remain on top with a poverty incidence of 31.6% and 26.2% respectively, higher than the national poverty incidence of 16.6% in 2018.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Filipino farmers have been facing a long list of daily challenges and burdens. This list includes high input cost but low income, unfair pricing of goods such as palay (unmilled rice), lack of access to better social services, capital, secure land, and appropriate farm technologies. Furthermore, most of them are vulnerable to climate change and its damaging impacts, such as drought and strong typhoons.

Juanito Pascual a rice farmer from Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya said, “The problem of the farmers before COVID is the high cost for labor and inputs such as fertilizers, and we don’t usually receive agriculture subsidy from the government, unlike other countries. Farmers earn little to no income at all due to low farmgate price of palay which is around 11 pesos.”

A Farmer’s Plea

Sana ang gobyerno natin nakatuon sa mga farmers, dahil ang mga farmers natin ang nagbibigay ng pagkain natin. Sila pa ang nagbibigay sila pa ang kawawa. Sana lubos-lubos na ang tulong ng gobyerno para hindi na mangutang sa five-six. Sana bigyan ng importansya ang mga magsasaka sa Pilipinas kagaya sa ibang bansa,” Juanito said. (I hope that our government will also focus on our farmers because they are our food providers, yet they are poor. I hope for all-out support from our government to our farmers.)

Farmers are still reeling from the loss of livelihood due to the low price of palay and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Will there be support for the farmers’ recovery in the 2021 proposed budget?

2021 Budget Priorities

The theme of 2021 budget according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is “Reset, Rebound, and Recover: Investing for Resiliency and Sustainability.”  

Reset, as a response, to the pandemic gets a total of Php203.1 billion for Universal Healthcare. 

Rebound, to revive infrastructure development, gets a total of Php1.108 trillion for the Build, Build, Build (BBB) program of the government.

Recover to adapt to the post-pandemic life. The national government has allocated funds for food security, industry and livelihood, social protection, education and governance and crosscutting concerns such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict  (NTF-ELCAC), which gets P19.1 billion and the National Identification System Php4.1 billion. 

It is also notable that the NTF-ELCAC gets Php19.1 billion which is more than the allocated assistance to farmers which only amounts to Php2.1 billion.

Why is this government so fixated and focused on law enforcement than on social protection and health services for every Filipino? Are we not in a pandemic?

Agriculture is the lone economic driver amid this pandemic, but only gets a meager budget for 2021. And consistent with its policy, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will not allocate unconditional cash aids for farmers and fisherfolks in its 2021 budget.

Agriculture Key to Recovery, But Gets Meager Budget

The DA originally requested for a Php284-billion budget from the DBM to fund the following programs:

  • Farm-to-market roads – Php59.89 billion
  • Rice program – Php24.8 billion
  • Livestock program – Php6.67 billion
  • Fisheries program – Php12.03 billion
  • Corn sector – Php6.6 billion
  • High-value crops – Php4.48 billion
  • Special areas for agricultural development – Php2.6 billion
  • Organic agriculture – Php960 million
  • Developing the halal food industry – Php114 million

Under the proposed budget for 2021, the agriculture department is poised to get a meager budget of Php66.4 billion. According to DA, at least Php100-billion is needed to grow the sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product. 

The World Bank also said that transforming the Philippines’ agricultural sector is “key” to speeding up the country’s economic recovery. But will it be possible with its meager budget?

Post-2020 Situation

Where do we go from here? What happens if there is no vaccine until April of 2021? How will Filipinos, especially the marginalized sector, recuperate from the losses of 2020 without any guarantee of much-needed economic aid from the government?

The biggest chunk of the 2021 proposed budget goes to infrastructure development, with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) as the second top agency to get an allocation of Php667.3 billion.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gets a little increase, but will only allocate funds through the existing pre-pandemic programs, which is limited to the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens (SPISC). This means no cash aid for those who are not included in the existing programs.

Will the budget that gives the highest chunk to Build, Build, Build programs and little to social protection be enough to make every Filipino recover and rebuild their lives beyond 2020? Will the revival of infrastructure development provide economic relief to small farm-workers, farmers, fisherfolks and jeepney drivers who are still reeling from the loss of livelihood due to COVID-19?

With the pandemic likely to continue next year, the budget should prioritize funds for the government’s continued pandemic response, a much needed social protection through cash aids for the Filipino people, especially those severely affected by the pandemic such as farmers, fisher folks, jeepney and bus drivers. The budget should also fund various adaptations to the so-called “new normal,” especially in sectors such as agriculture, to help farmers and the economy bounce back.

Filipinos need more than just a misguided sense of hope in the 2021 budget. We will only reset, rebound and recover if the budget will give more allocation and importance to social protection and economic aid that will pave the way to resiliency and sustainability in 2021 and beyond.