Bishop blames government over GMOs and farmers' poverty (21/6/2004)

Bishop blames government for farmers' poverty
TODAY Correspondent
Tuesday, June 22, 2004

KORONADAL CITY - The government is to be blamed for the poor state of Filipino farmers, a ranking Catholic bishop here said Monday, citing the country’s trade liberalization policy as the "foremost stumbling block" in the growth of this sector.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace, said many of the problems confronting Filipino farmers are rooted in the country's "blind ambition to clash with giants in the field of globalization."

"Insensitive to their deplorable plight, the government has enacted laws and other measures that expose Filipino farmers to the claws of globalization. Because of liberalization policies, cheap imported farm products such as fruits and vegetables flood the local market," he said.

Besides globalization, he also assailed the failure of the government to subsidize Filipino farmers, unlike their foreign counterparts who enjoy state subsidies.

According to Gutierrez, because of astronomical production costs, local farm products tend to be more expensive than those coming from foreign countries.

The bishop also claimed that the government plans to liberalize the rice sector starting 2005.

He opposed the move, saying: "Again, our rice farmers will be at the losing end. These inequitable arrangements [would] cause our farmers to experience devastating losses."

Gutierrez also warned of a possible tinkering of the 1987 Constitution, which would, among others, allow foreigners to own land.

"There is an alarming likelihood that these 'reforms' will allow foreigners to own land. This will aggravate development aggression that erases farmlands to give way to shopping malls and other megaprojects," the bishop said.

A prominent critic of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Gutierrez also slammed the decision of the government allowing the commercialization of the genetically modified product in the country.

"Under the pretext of solving the country's food insecurity, the government has approved the commercialization of Bt corn. With the policy in place, the government offers the country as a market to a product that only multinational companies can produce given their financial and technological resources," Gutierrez stressed.

He also cited the alleged health hazards of Bt corn to humans, taking into account the apparent illnesses caused by the transgenic plant to B’laans living near a Bt corn field in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

Gutierrez also scored the hybrid rice program the government is promoting, saying this "only mired the Filipino farmers in deep poverty."

"To improve farm productivity and to alleviate poverty, the government is aggressively advocating hybrid rice. But while increasing production, net income remains low because debts made during farm preparation have to be paid," he said.

To liberate farmers from poverty, Gutierrez said that Congress had been deliberating on "farmland as collateral" bills, which would enable farmers to access loans from formal lending institutions.

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