Farmers, fisherfolk, other agri workers should be on COVID-19 vaccine priority list— agri groups

April Rafales, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 02 2021 07:44 PM

MANILA - Agricultural groups have called on government to include farmers, fisherfolk, and other workers from the sector on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccination.

This, as the nation kickstarted its vaccination rollout with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Chinese firm Sinovac.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairman Rosendo So said agricultural workers are frontliners, too, as they safeguard the country’s food security. 

So pointed out that farmers and fishermen who interact regularly with traders must be given priority, especially in areas that produce more agricultural products.

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“Ito is syempre mas [risky] tsaka 'yung mga pumupunta sa dagat palagi 'yan may connection sa mga nagbebenta ng isda, so mas madali silang matamaan compared doon sa mga nasa farm, poultry farm, piggery farm, mostly 'yung mga tao sa loob di masyado lumalabas,” he said.

(They are exposed to risks, they go outside and interact with sellers so it is possible they get infected with COVID-19 easily compared to those working in farms -- where people do not usually go outside.) 

Authorities earlier approved a priority list for the government's COVID-19 vaccination drive, with health workers, elderly, and poor Filipinos on top of the list.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas national president Danilo Ramos echoed So’s sentiments, adding that free vaccines with high efficacy rating must be given to farmers and agricultural workers whose livelihood were also badly hit by the pandemic.

“'Yun pong mataas ang efficacy, at sa tingin po namin ay tumutugon doon sa epektibo, ligtas at dapat po kung sa mga magsasaka, agricultural workers at mangingisda ay libre,” said Ramos. 

(I hope we would be given a vaccine with a high efficacy rate that is free and safe for our farmers, agricultural workers, and fisherfolk.) 

Among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, the Philippines, with over 580,000 coronavirus infections, has lagged behind Asian neighbors in rolling out its vaccination program.

Authorities hope to inoculate 70 million people or two-thirds of the population this year. 

BUDGET FOR VACCINES

So said the amount the government could collect from the importation of pork under current tariff rates may be used in the vaccination of agricultural workers.

But the Department of Agriculture’s petition to cut tariffs from 30 percent for in-quota and 40 percent for out-quota, to 5 to 10 percent for in-quota and 15 to 20 percent for out-quota for pork is still being reviewed by the Tariff Commission. 

Agricultural groups earlier criticized the move, saying it would pave the way for the influx of imported pork and kill the local hog industry.

Ramos, on the other hand, suggested that the government could realign its budget from the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“'Yung P19.1 billion na pondo ng NTF-ELCAC sa halip po na gamitin 'yun sa red-tagging, para sa terrorist-labeling, ilaan na po 'yun sa magsasaka na lumilikha ng pagkain ng ating bayan,” he said.

(The P19.1 billion fund of the NTF-ELCAC should be allotted for the vaccines instead of using it on red-tagging, terrorist-labeling. The money should be spent on farmers who help make food for our country.)

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes said the agency would recommend for the inter-agency task force leading the country’s pandemic response to include agricultural workers on the list of essential workers.

“'Yan nga po ang paguusapan sa IATF, irerekomenda po ni secretary na isama naman sa essential workers ang atin pong magsasaka at mangingisda, siyempre po dahil frontliners din sila, kailangan ay maproteksyonan sila against COVD-19,” Reyes explained. 

(We are already discussing that with the IATF. The DA secretary already recommended including farmers and fishermen on the list of essential workers. They are frontliners too, and they need protection from COVID-19.)

“'Yun pong sa tariff for pork, yes, maganda pong panukala 'yon pero i-address po natin sa ating mga mambabatas kagaya ng RTL (Rice Tarrification Law) kung puwede lang po 'yung taripa sa pork kung 'yung taripang 'yun maiipon para support sa hog industry,” he added.

(We will look into the suggestion regarding the pork tariffs, but we need to address it with our lawmakers just like with the RTL. We need to see if the pork tariffs can help or provide support to the hog industry.)