Farmers hit presidentiables’ silence on Tobacco Excise Tax


VIGAN CITY — The Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) today criticized presidential candidates for “being mum on the corruption and misuse of billions of funds meant for farmers.” Zaldy Alfiler, the group’s Secretary General claims that this might be their means of “courting the support of political dynasties and warlords in Ilocos.”

“Not a single presidential candidate has aired concrete steps on how farmers, especially poor and landless tobacco farmers can directly benefit from the local government’s share from the tobacco excise tax,” said Alfiler, a small tobacco farmer himself.

He lamented that more than two decades have passed since the passage of RA 7171 and RA 8240, and billions of pesos have been given to local government units yet tobacco farmers continue to suffer and have been buried in debt.

Alfiler explained that the bulk of the funds received by local government units were used mainly for infrastructure projects like barangay halls, covered courts and construction or renovation of municipal buildings which are not associated to the improvement of agricultural production and farmer’s economic standing.

The two laws are associated with taxation of tobacco products and farmer’s benefits. RA 7171, entitled “An Act to promote the development of the farmers in the Virginia-tobacco producing provinces”, it allots 15 percent of total revenue from products utilizing Virginia-type tobacco to provinces producing the crop.

RA 8240 on the other hand provides 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 Malacañang 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,” states Alfiler.

Different groups in the region have unceasingly criticized politicians for using the funds to foster political patronage and dynasties not only in Ilocos. Reports from state auditors and media outfits have released reports on funds misused and corruption.

In Pangasinan, 19 officials including incumbent mayor Paolo Mencias are facing graft and corruption raps for misusing P2.70 million of their share from the fund. Just last year, farmers in Sudipen also expressed their demand for an investigation of alleged irrelevant projects sourced from their tobacco fund share.

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. The 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, more than 1,000 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 said that their group will support candidates who are committed to 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. STOP Exploitation has a 10,000 strong membership from the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra. #