By Hannah Torregoza

The government should take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to spur its goal to achieve food security and for farmers to boost their income, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said on Sunday.

“Ito na dapat ang bagong normal o ang mas mabuting normal para sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda: Diretso nang bumibili sa kanila ang mga LGU ng mga pangangailangan sa pagkain, (This should be the ‘new normal’ or the better ‘normal’ for our farmers and fishermen: that local government units (LGUs) buy directly from them),” Pangilinan said.

“At kapag na-engganyo nang mas magtanim pa ang ating mga magsasaka dahil sa mas mataas na kita rito, mas dadami ang pagkain, mas mumura para sa ating mga mamimili at mas magiging secure tayong may kakainin tayo araw-araw. (And if our farmers are encouraged to plant because its profitable, there would be more food, that is more affordable to consumers, and we will be more secure because we will have food everyday,” he added.

“Lahat tayo panalo sa (we all win with) Sagip Saka,” Pangilinan stressed citing the law, which was enacted into law last year.

The former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, was reacting to Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s report to the Senate that LGUs bought P2.4-billion worth of food directly from Filipino food producers to distribute as food packs among their respective constituents.

In his report to the Senate Committee of the Whole last week, Dar said the “Sagip Saka” law was a useful tool for the government’s COVID-19 response as it allowed LGUs to directly purchase of farm produce and fish catch from farmers and fishermen, subsequently bypassing middlemen.

At the beginning of the enhanced community quarantine, Pangilinan pressed the government to fast track the implementation of the “Sagip Saka” law, pushing for, among others, classifying as front-liners farmers, fishers, and workers in food manufacturing and logistics, as well as issuing quarantine passes to them.

The senator wrote local executives, including the league of governors and mayors, informing them of the “Sagip Saka” law and the enabling circular from the Department of Budget and Management’s Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB).

The said circular details how LGUs can tap farmers and farmers’ groups as government suppliers.

Under the GPPB circular, a farmer needs only to have a barangay certificate affirming that he or she is indeed a farmer will be enough for the LGU to purchase food from him or her.

“Because now we have Sagip Saka at itong GPPB resolution na pwede nang bumili direkta sa mga farmers, dapat tuloy tuloy na nating gawing new normal ito—na ang gobyerno ay direktang bumibili sa farmers sa maayos na presyo. (LGUs can now buy directly from farmers, now we can continuously adopt this as a new normal—that the government be the one directly buying from farmers in a reasonable price),” Pangilinan said.

“We cut out the middlemen, we increase the income of our farmers. That will be the biggest incentive for them to keep planting,” Pangilinan said.

At the same time, Pangilinan said he supports the Department of Agriculture’s proposed stimulus package for agriculture which funds for an updated logistics, wholesale, retail, and storage systems and the idea of having big food markets in Metro Manila, complete with cold storages and retail.

Dar told the committee they are now crafting the plan and would be part of their proposal for the stimulus package.

Pangilinan said he supports the plan as this is part of the farmers’ “handholding” phase: “So we have to give them the capacity to be able to follow through and sustain.”