AFP harasses tobacco farmers

The Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) condemned Lt. Col. Charles Castillo of the 81st IB for tagging the organization as a legal front of the CPP-NPA. Castillo said this after a dialogue between the peasant group and the military in the office of Gov. Ryan Singson at the Ilocos Sur Capitol on August 8.

Stop Exploitation is demanding the direct distribution of the 15% excise tax on tobacco which was enacted in 1992 (RA 7171) and 1996 (RA 8240). The said tax is supposedly for the enhancement of the production capacity and livelihood of tobacco farmers. In 2016 alone, the reactionary government was able to collect up to P15.8 billion (15% of P105.4 billion) in tobacco excise taxes. The group, however, said that they are left with almost nothing. Since its enactment, only a handful receive a P15,000 subsidy, or worse, a sack of fertilizer.

Farmers demand subsidy, production incentives, and programs which will concretely address their plight including high production costs and low income. In addition, they also call for palay production support as most of them engage in it after harvesting tobacco.

A research by the National Democratic Front-Ilocos indicates that the 2016 fund is sufficient to construct an irrigation system for 26,800 hectares of farmlands across the region, and procure several tractors and farming equipment. Around 38% of the fund is enough to subsidize an entire planting season and allow 37,000 farmers to cultivate an hectare of land each. There will still be a surplus which can be allocated for health and education services for peasant families.

In reality, however, almost 85% of the said fund are used to construct infrastructure projects that do not directly benefit farmers and are merely used as milking cows by local politicians and warlords in the region. In 2001, it was exposed that the Singson dynasty of Ilocos Sur corrupted about P224 million from the said fund. Similarly, Sen. Imee Marcos is also accountable for plundering P213 million from the fund when she was still governor of Ilocos Norte in 2011 to 2013.

Syndicate regimes have successively been involved in plundering tobacco funds. In 2001, former president and hueteng lord Joseph Estrada was charged for asking from Gov. Luis Singson P130 million from the tobacco fund. Meanwhile, under the pretext of “protecting public health,” Rodrigo Duterte imposed another increase in tobacco excise taxes last July 25. In January, the reactionary government was able to collect more than P20.5 billion in tobacco excise taxes.

Even local government officials of the reactionary government take part in malversing the fund. From 2016-2018, four local government units have failed to issue reports as to how they spent the P1-billion they were allocated respectively. The government was able to collect more than P41 billion in excise taxes during the said period.

Relatedly, Stop Exploitation demanded to raise the farmgate prices of tobacco at a standard price of P128/kilo, without classification. This is to reverse the underpricing (P28-P82/kilo) and bogus grading of Virginia, Burley and Native tobacco by traders and big companies in connivance with the National Tobacco Administration.