BAGUIO CITY – Tobacco farmers in the provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra have dared presidential candidates–Poe, Binay, Roxas. Duterte, Santiago– to break their silence on alleged corruption and misuse of billions of funds for tobacco farmers.
“Is this silence a means of courting the support of Ilocos political dynasties and warlords?” Zaldy Alfiler, secretary- general of the KMP-allied farmers organization Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) said.
A tobacco farmer, Alfiler claimed that not a single presidential candidate has aired steps on how farmers, especially poor and landless tobacco farmers, can directly benefit from the local government’s share from the tobacco excise tax.
According to the farmers’ group which has a membership of 10,000, since the passage of RA 7171 and RA 8240 more than two decades ago, billions of pesos have been given to local government units, but tobacco farmers continue to suffer and have been buried in debts.
The bulk of the funds, Alfiler said, were used mainly for infrastructure projects like barangay halls, covered courts “which have nothing to do with agricultural production and farmer’s economic standing.”
The two laws are associated with taxation of tobacco products and farmer’s benefits. RA 7171, allots 15 percent of total revenue from products utilizing Virginia-type tobacco to provinces producing the crop. RA 8240 has certain amendments in the National Internal Revenue Code to facilitate the allocation of 15 percent from the total collection of tax from products using Burley and Native tobaccos to provinces producing the leaves.
“We challenge presidential aspirants to lay-down their plan on how and what mechanism to set up to ensure that the bulk, if not all the funds are utilized for land reform and agriculture development,” Alfiler urged.
Different groups in the Ilocos region have been criticizing politicians for allegedly using the funds “to foster political patronage and dynasties not only in Ilocos.”
The farmers’ group cited reports from state auditors and media outfits have released reports on funds misuse and corruption.
In Pangasinan, the reports said, 19 officials including incumbent mayor Paolo Mencias are facing graft and corruption raps for misusing P2.7-million of their share from the fund. Last year, farmers in Sudipen also expressed their demand for an investigation of alleged rrelevant projects sourced from their tobacco fund share.
Alfiler claimed that the Ombudsman likewise ordered “the filing of charges against former Ilocos Sur Governors Luis “Chavit’ Singson and Deogracias Savellano in 2013 for misusing P26- million of the province’s share.”
Singson, the principal author of RA 7171, now currently running for Ilocos Sur vice- governor with his son Ryan as governor, has denied these allegations.
Alfiler said that most recent case is the sacking of Mayor Jose Villarosa of San Jose, Mindoro Occidental and two other municipal officials by the Ombudsman. Last February, he added, more than 1000 farmers stormed the town hall in Amulong, Cagayan demanding that they be given P10,000 financial aid to be sourced from the municipality’s share from RA 8240.
Alfiler vowed that their group will support candidates that are committed in facilitating automatic allocation of the bulk of the fund for irrigation development, farmer’s production and market subsidy,cooperatives and cash grants for landless peasants. THOM PICANA / northboundasia.com