Press Release
June 24, 2015

Villar lists accomplishments of Agriculture Committee

After two years of heading the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, Sen. Cynthia Villar said the Senate succeeded in passing measures that will prepare the agriculture sector for the regional economic integration and in helping improve the life of farmers and fisher folk.

Speaking before the National Congress for Agricultural Cooperatives held in Cauayan, Isabela recently, Villar stated that at the end of the 2nd Regular Session of the 16th Congress, the agriculture committee was able to work on its priority bills.

"That is also one of the reasons why I really pursued the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, I would like to help in improving the plight of Filipino farmers and fisherfolks, who are among the poorest sectors in our country. The Philippines is an agricultural country, so we should focus on the further growth and development of the agriculture sector," Villar said.

She principally sponsored Republic Act No.10659 or the Sugar Industry Development Act of 2015, which makes sure that more assistance will be available for sugar workers to boost local sugar's competitiveness once the drop in tariff results in the flooding of cheaper imported sugar in the local market.

The law mandates the Department of Budget and Management to include in the program of expenditures annually an amount of P2 billion, starting 2016, for the block farm program, socialized credit, scholarship grants, research and development and infrastructure support programs.

Just before the adjournment of session, Villar also sponsored the committee report on Senate Bill No. 2831 under Committee Report No. 175, which seeks to institute the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Program referring to a comprehensive set of objectives, targets, strategies and activities for the growth of Halal industries producing or providing products, processes and services and resulting to increased exports of Halal products. "The regional economic integration will signal the expansion of Halal trade all over ASEAN countries. We must be ready to be at the forefront of that," Villar said.

The enactment of RA 10654 or the act to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, caused the lifting of the yellow tag imposed by the European Union (EU).

If not immediately addressed, the tag would cause a ban on the Philippines to export fish products to one of the country's largest markets. In 2013 alone, the country exported P9.4 billion worth of fish products to EU countries.

"Tinututukan ko ang mga issue at mga problema na humahadlang sa pagsulong ng agriculture sector at nagpapahirap sa mga magsasaka at mga mangingisda. I want to increase their income. Among those are smuggling cartels, unwarranted price hikes in farm produce (i.e. garlic, onions etc.), coconut infestation, and others," Villar said.

Villar also prioritized the enactment of a law that will declare smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage and a non-bailable offence.

"We don't want smugglers to get away with a mere slap on the wrist. Smuggling is a crime that not only affects the consumers, it also threatens the livelihood of farmers and fisher folks," she said.

The committee also passed Senate Bill 2675 under Committee Report No. 106 or the 'Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act of 2015.'

The bill seeks to create a trust fund composed of all coconut levy assets, including those declared by the Supreme Court as special public funds, for the benefit of the 3.5 million coconut farmers.

Villar said she has maintained an open-door policy and closely interact with agriculture stakeholders for feedback and consultation.

"Inilalapit ko ang Senado sa mga tao. I have conducted public hearings in provinces all over the country, na affected ng mga issues---we assessed the sugarcane industry in Bacolod; tackled halal policies and amendments to the Fisheries code in General Santos City; checked on the plight of Filipino coconut farmers in Davao del Sur; consulted garlic and onions growers in Ilocos Norte and Nueva Ecija," she said.

When a new Congress resumes in July, Villar said she will also work for the passage of Senate Bill 2766 or the Farm Tourism Act of 2015. The bill seeks to establish a comprehensive program for the development and promotion of farm tourism, including incentives and tax exemptions for duly accredited farm tourism professionals and operators.

"Ang lahat ng ginagawa ko sa agriculture committee is still part of my overall goal of lifting Filipinos out of poverty. About two-thirds of the country's population is involved, directly or indirectly, in the agriculture sector. It employs more than a third of the country's labor force. Agricultural workers are, however, among the lowest paid in the country. I want to contribute in bringing back the glory days of agriculture in the country," Villar said.

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