Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos on Monday took up the cudgels in behalf of the poverty-stricken tobacco farmers of Northern Luzon by appealing to Congress to refrain from further increasing excise taxes on tobacco products.
Marcos said Filipinos from the north were being neglected by the national government with regional inflation in the region being the highest compared to the rest of the country.
“We have significantly increased excise taxes on cigarettes twice already this year. Prices are going up, consumption is going down. Our tobacco farmers can’t take anymore reduction in their livelihood,” Marcos said.
“Why do we protect growers of copra, abaca and sugar from the impact of taxation while shifting the burden on our poor tobacco farmers?” she asked.
Farmers in her province have been badly hit already by four strong monsoons and two devastating typhoons.
“They have barely recovered from these calamities now our Congress wants to impose a man-made disaster in the form of new taxes,” said Marcos, adding the government must give “Life” to farmers in disaster-stricken areas as a form of immediate intervention for a quick turnaround for those who lost their crops while ensuring ample supply of cheap food for all Filipinos.
“The Constitutionally-vested right to a living wage should translate into LIFE for our farmers – the right to Living Income for Farmers in Emergency situations,” said Marcos, the only local government official who is running for senator in next year’s midterm polls.
“Simply put, in times of calamities or disasters and other emergency situations, farmers are always at a disadvantage. They have no income because their crops were destroyed. Agarang tulong ang kailangan nila (timely aid is what they need),” she said.
According to her, while farms hit by typhoons and other calamities are being rehabilitated, farmers must be given work to earn income to feed their families, in addition to free seeds, fertilizer, farm implements and credit assistance to help them get back on their feet.
“They can earn living wages repairing dikes, water catchments, farm roads and other damaged public infrastructure,” Marcos said, adding “this gives farmers basic resources to survive and restore their farms to productivity.”
Earlier, the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA), a group of congressmen belonging to the tobacco-producing provinces, wrote the Senate expressing grave concern on moves to raise anew the tobacco excise tax by 100 percent.
“It is our shared responsibility as members of the NLA to protect the interests of our constituents who depend on the tobacco industry. This industry has been providing livelihood for them and their families and this will continue for many years to me,” the solons said.
The Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA), in a separate letter to the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Department of Finance (DOF), appealed against increasing the tobacco excise tax that will continue to burden their livelihood, which is on a downtrend, given the declining tobacco volume production.
PTGA said the 100 percent proposed hike was “overwhelming”. “We do not understand the government’s direction for this industry, which supports the lives of more than three million Filipino families. Members of PTGA and their families have been depending on tobacco for our livelihood for decades,” it said.
Data from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) showed that there was a 26 percent decline in leaf production from 65 million kilos in 2012 to 48 million kilos last year. The number of farmers also decreased from 52,610 to 34,465 a year ago. (PNA)