Press Release
February 13, 2016


Leading vice-presidential candidate Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to boost its budget spending on programs and projects meant to ease the impact of the current El Niño episode, seen to be the worst ever to hit the country in years.

Escudero sought the immediate release of funds of the agriculture department to avoid further delays in the implementation of projects and prevent a negative growth in farm production this year.

"Last year, our farm production hardly grew due to El Niño and other calamities that hit the country. But more than the economy, our farmers bear the brunt of these disasters since they rely heavily on farming for their livelihoods," he said.

The DA was allotted P 40.3 billion this year. The agency had also requested the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for P2.06 billion in supplemental budget to mitigate the effects of the El Niño phenomenon.

Section 4 of the General Appropriations Act of 2016 also provides the DA a Quick Response Fund of P500 million, which shall serve as a standby fund to be used for provision of seeds and other planting materials, fingerlings and fries, livestocks, minor fishing paraphernalia and minor repair of small-scale irrigation systems.

The special fund is provided "in order that the situation and living conditions of people living in communities or areas stricken by calamities, epidemics, crises and catastrophes, which occurred in the last quarter of the immediately preceding year and those occurring during the current year may be normalized as quickly as possible."

Escudero said government preparations for El Niño are hardly felt by farmers even though the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had long warned of the ill-effects of the drought.

"Noong isang taon, nagbabala na ang PAGASA na may El Niño na tatama sa atin ngayon pero may nakita ba tayong bagong irigasyon? May nakita ba tayong small water-impounding projects? Nararapat na agarang ilabas na ngDA ang pondo nito para sa mga magsasaka. " the veteran lawmaker said.

PAGASA) said the current El Niño episode is among the four strongest events alongside the big episodes in 1972-1973, 1982-1983, and 1997-1998, and may last until June this year.

The 1997-1998 El Niño episode caused severe drought in 70 percent of the country and damaged some 292,000 hectares of rice and corn plantations, costing the agriculture sector at least P3 billion in damages, according to PAGASA and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.

PAGASA has warned that the current 29 provinces affected by El Nino will increase to 34 in March, and 68 by April.

The 29 provinces include Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar, Samar, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Catanduanes, Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Siquijor, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur and Sarangani.

Escudero said the government should have been more proactive in shielding farmers from the effects of drought on their livelihood.

"Binigyan ba natin ng alternatibong kabuhayan yung ating mga magsasaka na tatamaan ng El Niño? Sinakop ba natin sila sa conditional cash transfer dahil tatamaan sila ng El Niño? Lahat po yun ay wala pong nagawa ang gobyerno," he said.

In a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country's agricultural production was almost flat in 2015, inching up by a measly 0.11 percent to settle at P788.7 billion from P797.84 billion in 2014.

The PSA said farm output slowed down due to strong El Niño, coupled with heavy rains brought by strong typhoons, particularly "Lando" which battered almost the entire island of Luzon.

According to the agriculture department, the dry spell caused damage to crops, livestock and fisheries worth about P3.32 billion from February to August last year.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, on the other hand, said the damage caused by "Lando" to agriculture reached P9.7 billion.

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