SAN FERNANDO CITY — The Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) on March 18, urged local government units (LGUs) in Ilocos to utilize their tobacco excise tax share to provide relief and subsidies to farmers affected by the enhanced community quarantine measure against the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Amid the declaration of the state of calamity in the country due to the COVID-19 crisis, we appeal to the LGUs to find ways to utilize the funds from their tobacco excise tax share to provide food, medicines and other health and sanitation needs to farmers,” said Stop Exploitation chair Antonino Pugyao in Ilokano.

He said they recognize the importance of preventive measures the government is implementing. However, the peasant leader pointed out that the government should provide sufficient assistance to cushion the impact of the strict quarantine on their livelihood.

The Stop Exploitation leader also stressed that LGUs could allocate the fund to improve the situation of rural health services and facilities.

LGUs producing tobacco receive 15% of the total excise tax collected for tobacco products. The share comes from the mandate of Republic Acts 7171 and 8240. The former governs the sharing for taxes collected from Virginia tobacco while the latter is for the Native and Burley type.

In June 2019, the budget department released the share of local government amounting to P15.81 billion. The three Ilocos provinces – La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Ilocos Norte received the lion’s share.

According to Pugyao, there are about 338,000 farming households in Ilocos, who are currently harvesting their different crops.

“The travel restrictions imposed will affect the delivery of our crops. The longer it takes for us to sell, the more losses we incur,” he said.

The peasant leader suggested that LGUs should also ensure the unhampered transport of their products. He noted that officials could either provide transportation subsidy or utilize their existing vehicles to assist in hauling their harvest to trading centers and market places.

“While the DA already promised to ensure the ease of transporting agricultural products and materials, LGU response at the local level would facilitate faster and more appropriate measures to bring our products to the consumers and traders,” he said.

Pugyao also called on the Duterte administration to rechannel the intelligence funds of the Office of the President and part of the defense budget to address the shortage of test kits, health facilities, and the personal protection equipment of frontline responders.

“Allocating these funds to the Department of Health for the fight against COVID-19 can surely make a big difference,” he said.

Under the 2020 National Expenditure Program, the DOH budget increased from P97.65 billion in 2019 to P100.56 billion.

However, critics noted that the budget for two critical components in handling the present COVID-19 crises dropped significantly. These are the Health System Strengthening Program with an allocation of P25.89 billion in 2019 to P19.33 billion in 2020, and the Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Program from P263 million to P116 million. # nordis.net

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