NO matter how they hide, it appears that the neglect by previous officials in the agriculture department was there because self-sufficiency prevented them from importing food. They were too dependent on importation because there was profit. There is money to gain in local production but it is for our farmers.
No less than President Marcos Jr. stressed in his first state of the nation address that the agriculture sector was neglected and misdirected so that it seriously cries for urgent attention. He further said that food self-sufficiency has been the key promise of every administration but no one delivered.
During the election campaigns for the May 2022 polls, there were already talks of illegal importation of highland vegetables that affected our farmers in Benguet and Mountain Province. Before that, I visited the Baguio market and saw that the price of tomatoes shot up because there was short supply.
But on vegetable gardens by the Benguet-Nueva Viscaya road, tomatoes were dumped and rotting and were being given away or sold at P15.00 a kilo. This was a glaring contradiction to the manipulated prices and short supply at the Baguio market.
Last month, TV news talked about market goers in Manila who noticed the absence of siling labuyo on the shelves. Two weeks ago, dealers warned about a shortage of white bulb onions. Then last week, traders and officials from the Sugar Regulatory Administration announced a sugar shortage. At the latest, we have a shortfall in salt supply.
This latest shortage of an important kitchen essential is unbelievable. This is ironic because villages along this archipelago’s shorelines with a total of 36,000 kilometers make their own salt. Despite that, agriculture officials continued to import that commodity.
Passing by salt beds in Pangasinan, I noticed that the farmers still processed salt the traditional way which was handed down to them by their forefathers. The lack of modern equipment and low investment opportunities could be some of the factors that led to the decrease in local salt production.
The other factors could be blamed on climate change, infrastructure development needed by the barangays, conversion of salt beds to residential subdivisions and commercial hubs, and conversion of salt farms to fishponds which are more profitable. For the longest time, the agriculture department knew this but importation was the quickest solution and most profitable.
We used to be salt self-sufficient. Today, we are a very big importer of salt. Reports confirmed that the country imports around 550,000 metric tons of salt every year which represents around 93 percent of our salt requirement.
Then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. named Vice Pres. Fernando Lopez as agriculture secretary in 1965. The department successfully worked out a production program that enabled the Philippines to export rice for the first time in 1968. Because of that, Sec. Lopez was called the “rice czar.”
The president has accepted the resignation of some officials in the agriculture department and the Bureau of Customs. His press secretary said more heads will roll. Is this the beginning of the need for radical changes that he speaks of?
He talked of inherent defects in the country’s trading system with foreign economies. Self-sufficiency in food production, he said, is necessary to reduce foreign intervention and political influences. Being trapped in trading policies, we are forced not to produce but to import products that other countries sell at cheap prices.
After experiencing high prices of highland carrots and after announcing shortages in siling labuyo, onions, sugar and salt; these crooks will soon announce shortages of basic kitchen needs that we produce locally including garlic, patis, vinegar, soy and even bagoong. The profiteer-manipulators fear no one. They will import bagoong too.