Ilocandia Rumblings: Failure of RA 7171 and RA 8240 (3/3)

By SHERWIN DE VERA
www.nordis.net

LAST OF THREE PARTS

Like other entitlements provided by the law, the entirety of benefits from the tobacco excise tax share are not readily given by local government units. As discussed in the prior articles, the bulk of this fund is utilized to further the economic interest and political influence of those in power – may it be in the form of visible projects or otherwise. The full realization of the gains that farmers can avail from the law relies on the correctness of the political orientation and strength of the peasant movement.

Tobacco farmers’ struggle for the just and rightful share of their sweet and sacrifice goes a long way in our history. The tobacco monopoly caused widespread abuse and oppression throughout Northern Luzon. Spain was forced to abolish the monopoly in 1883 after it became the center of resentments and peasant uprisings.

When the Quirino administration saw the economic benefits of tobacco production, it instituted a financial agency that paved way for the creation of a farmers’ cooperative known as FACOMA. These cooperatives were taken over by influential businessmen, landlords and politicians. While they reaped huge profits, farmers carried the burden of debt and bankruptcy. It was the peasants who protested and exposed the extensive graft and corruption that plagued FACOMA.

The laws on local government share from the tobacco excise tax was also born out of the clamor of tobacco farmers for a fair share and support from the government. Prior to its enactment, it was the organized peasants in the region that demanded the provision of production aid and infrastructure support for agriculture from the huge government revenue coming from the tobacco industry. Above the vested interest of representatives of tobacco producing provinces and the political influence of then congressman Luis Chavit Singson, it was the widespread support of tobacco farmers that brought the passage of RA 7171.

Peasants have scored victories from their unified strength and action. They were able to demand funds from the excise tax share of LGUs for communal irrigation systems, flood control and protection for their farms, and direct production subsidies

In the Municipality of Salcedo for example, two communal irrigation systems were constructed from the petition submitted by farmers’ organizations. It was funded from RA 7171 but it was the people’s organization that directed the construction and presently managing the system. The same is true with the flood control project along the Buaya River that protects the Barangays Dinaratan, Paoc Norte and Bani in Sta. Lucia. The project was realized through the petition submitted by the three barangays and a dialogue with the district representative.

It is important to note that the full backing of tobacco farmers for the law was founded that it will serve to uplift their economic situation. In actuality, the fund favored the warlords and bureaucrat-capitalist in position. While this may be the case, the organized, militant and progressive peasant movement can train their strength towards launching sustained mass struggle to demand to challenge the current practice and claim their just rights and privileges. # nordis.net

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