Press Release
February 11, 2023


Senator Chiz Escudero has underscored the need for government to expedite the provision of much needed help in the agricultural sector to make it truly resilient and competitive internationally "with or without" the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement.

"Matagal ko nang panawagan sa pamahalaan na bigyan ng tunay na prioridad ang sektor ng agrikultura. With or without the RCEP in mind, we should make sure that our agricultural sector is resilient to any internal and external shocks. After all, we are an agricultural country," Escudero said.

As the Senate continues to conduct hearings on the RCEP treaty for ratification, the veteran legislator said the trade deal needs careful review to ensure that stakeholders in the country's agricultural sector, especially farmers and fisherfolks, are protected.

"Mas lalo na kung tayo ay sasali sa RCEP kailangan nating siguraduhin na hindi madedehado ang ating industriya ng agrikultura, lalung-lalo na ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda," he added.

Escudero said the country should urgently address the weakness in the agricultural sector primarily caused by the meager investment that the government has given to it.

He renewed his call on the government to channel financing to the beleaguered farm sector with the same energy that it is pressing Congress to expedite the passage of the bill creating the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF).

The Bicolano senator said the Executive and the Legislative should work hand in hand to end the government's "ADD - agriculture deficit disorder" as reflected in the flat farm sector growth inflicted by COVID -19 pandemic.

"In 2022 ang value of crop, livestock, poultry, fisheries production na P1.756 trillion, computed in 2018 constant prices, ay mas mababa pa sa P1.086 trillion production noong 2018," he noted. "Kaya naman tumaas ng 28 percent ang presyo ng gulay, 25 percent ang presyo ng isda, 30 percent ang sa karne sa loob ng apat na taon."

"Kung mas mahal pa ang isang kilo ng sibuyas kesa sa isang araw na minimum wage, anong pruweba pa ang kailangan ipakita na meron tayong food crisis ?" Escudero asked.

On Monday, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has told a media briefing that the Senate expects to ratify the trade agreement within the first quarter of 2023.

Ratification of the RCEP agreement was stalled in the previous Congress because of opposition from groups within the agricultural sector. At present, there are some 100 groups from various sectors that are against the ratification of the international agreement.

The RCEP, signed by the Philippines in November 2020 and ratified by then President Rodrigo Duterte in September 2021, entered into force for other signatory countries on January 1, 2022. But because it has yet to be ratified by the Philippine Senate, the RCEP remains unimplementable in the country.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In June 2020, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released its 2018 study showing that poverty incidence was highest among farmers (31.6%), fisherfolk (26.2%) and individuals living in rural areas (24.5%). In 2015, the same sectors were also the poorest, with poverty incidences at 40.8% among farmers, 36.9% among fisherfolk, and 34% among rural-based individuals.

"As I have been saying, nobody wants to be left behind in a global economy, but we must also be certain that in entering into more trade deals, we do not leave behind the most vulnerable sectors of our local economy. Growth must always be inclusive, or it will only perpetuate the cycle of poverty," he added.

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