STA. CRUZ, ILOCOS SUR – Tobacco farmers in the Ilocos region vow of “spilling the beans” in the alleged tobacco fund misuse in the continuing inquiry at the House of Representatives.
Leaders of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) and Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon ti Ilocos Norte (AMIN) serve as resource speakers on a related resolution regarding the P66.45 million anomalous transaction of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos being conducted by the House Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability (CGGPA).
House Resolution 1126, authored by the Makabayan Bloc, is asking the CGGPC to “determine the tangible benefits acquired by tobacco farmer of Ilocos Norte” from the RA 7171 funds. The progressive bloc said that the province received a share of P1.50 billion from 2006-2016.
“The law, RA 7171, received a wide support from us farmers in 1992 because it was supposed to help in uplifting our production capabilities and economic situation. It was actually the result of our strong clamor to take our rightful share from the billions of government revenue generated from the industry that depends on us,” Antonino Pugyao, Chairperson of STOP Exploitation and concurrent Secretary General of AMIN said.
Pugyao added however that in reality, the law favored warlords and politician, not the farmers. RA 7171 served as “milking cow” of politicians to finance their dynasties while a small portion was allotted to them, he added.
“Compared to infrastructures, farmers are more likely to benefit from direct production subsidy and incentives, programs that concretely answer our problems on the high cost of production and meager income due to the low price of tobacco,” said Pugyao, adding that “infra projects should focus on irrigation development and genuine post-harvest facilities such as rice-production centers.”
Zaldy Alfiler, Secretary General of STOP Exploitation also believes that RA 7171 failed to serve its purpose because of the vague provisions on where to put the funds. The four categories were broadly stated allowing local governments to go around with it.
Alfiler stressed that there are no field audits or inspections being conducted by the concerned agencies like the Commission on Audit (COA) or the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) to substantiate whether the projects funded by the law were appropriate for and benefited the farmers. Noting that NTA is mandated to “institutionalize mechanism to monitor the utilization and to measure the impact or benefits derived by the beneficiary LGUs from the fund allocation” under Rule VIII Section 3 of Joint Circular No. 001-2014 of the Department of Finance.
Farmers groups are proposing means to improve fund allocation and service delivery, including amendments in the law. They are eyeing a system of automatically allocating LGU shares into specific portions and uses like the Internal Revenue Allotment.
“Initially, we are studying the possibility of automatically allotting the LGU shares to 50% for production subsidy and incentives, 20% for agriculture-related infrastructure, 20% for education, trainings and health services for farmers and their families, and 10% for early recovery and rehabilitation assistance in times of calamities and disasters,” Alfiler said. ACE ALEGRE / ABN
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