BULACAN - 67-year old Vitorino Quibatay has been waiting for about an hour at an intersection in Barangay Tungkong-Mangga in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, with a solitary sack of string beans inside a sidecar meant to carry hogs.
He’s waiting for police enforcers to leave a checkpoint up ahead. He means to sell his few bundles of string beans at the nearby market so he can buy more feed for his hogs.
Quibatay has been raising hogs for two decades, but he finds it hard to sell his over 60 sows when imported pork is sold at a much cheaper price. What little he makes, he needs to budget between his family’s food and his pig’s feed.
So he plants string beans and bananas and tries to sell them at the market for a little extra income. But passing through the checkpoint to the market means he will be fined for his expired driver’s license. He doesn’t have enough money to spend on renewal, and so he waits.
“Ang hangad ko ngayon ako ay mapautang para sa [pagkain ng] baboy ko, gusto ko lumapit diyan sa sinasabi na ang gobyerno tutulungan ang magsasaka. Paano ka kikita kung mataas ang binibili mong pagkain tapos mababa ang presyo ng baboy? Kawawa ang nagaalaga, walang kikitain,” he told ABS-CBN News.
(I hope I can get a loan so I can buy feeds enough for my hogs. I've been meaning to seek the government's help, because they have been saying they will help farmers like us. How can we earn enough when feeds cost so much but our pigs sell for so little?)
He and his son have two jeepneys but rising oil prices have kept them parked five times a week.
In the two days plying the small route they are registered for, Quibatay’s family earns P300 a day. Barely enough for food on their plates, let alone fees to renew his license.
“‘Yung hirap ng buhay namin… pati jeep halos di na kumita, halos natigil na ang driver ko. Ang rehistro ang mahal, 10,500 pagdating doon hihingian ka pa ng 1,500, halos di na kumita. Talagang kami, yung hanapbuhay namin, sanib-sanib na lang, pinagsasama namin, nabubuo rin,” he said.
(Our life is hard, even our jeepneys don't earn enough. Renewing my license would cost 10,500 pesos, additional fees might go as high up as 1,500 pesos. What can I do if I don't earn enough? We put together what we earn as a family and somehow, we make do.)
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also took on the agriculture portfolio has made it clear he will prioritize the country’s agriculture and food self-sufficiency.
“We prefer not to import, we prefer to import as little as possible. We should increase our own production of rice and corn,” Marcos said.
But pork and poultry imports will continue, due to “various reasons.”
“Sa protein side medyo pilit tayo because when it comes to pork 'yung ASF natin hindi natin ma-control for various reasons, so we still have to import a lot of the pork products… For the broiler and chicken production, we still have to import because nagkaka-problema tayo sa supply ng feed,” Marcos added.
(We are forced to keep importing protein. We can't control African Swin Flu for various reasons, so we have to continue importing pork. We still have to import poultry because we have a local problem in feed supply.)
While the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines Inc. (PPFPI) agrees that importation cannot be avoided, they hoped the country will only import enough to offset the lack in supply, and not too much as to put local raisers at a disadvantage.
They also called on the new Agriculture Secretary and President to stabilize feed supplies and prices, and raise the budget for the sector so it can play its part in the new administration’s goal of food self-sufficiency.
“Kung napopondohan natin ang TUPAD, financial assistance, at 4Ps, bakit hindi natin mapondohan ang magsasaka na napakahirap ng trabaho, 'yan tuloy nagsusuffer ang consumer sa kamahalan ng pagkain,” PPFPI President Nicanor Briones told ABS-CBN News.
“‘Yung ating pondo dapat doblehin ni President BBM ang budget ng Department of Agriculture, from  billion dapat mga P200 billion kung gusto talagang tulungan ang sektor ng akgrikultura, at bayaran ang tinatamaan ng African Swine Fever ng P10,000 per head,” he added.
(If we can fund financial assistance programs, we should also be able to fund assistance for farmers. This is the reason why our consumers are suffering from high prices of goods. The budget for agriculture should be doubled, from P86 billion to P200 billion, while ensuring assistance for hog-raisers who have been affected by the ASF.)
The PPFPI reports many hog-raisers who have stopped farming due to lack of support, overly competitive prices of imported and smuggled goods, Briones said, though actual data is yet to be made available.
Briones said, if the government makes good on its promise to prioritize the agriculture sector in this administration, hog-raisers may just come back to repopulate their farms and participate in the local supply chain.