Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,    No. 38      October 24 - 30, 2004      Quezon City, Philippines











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Grains of Truth

Food Producers Suffer Hunger, Poverty

“Kawitang palakol” and “gawat” are terms that refer to times when food is scarce, usually the weeks before harvest season when the farmers have spent all their money on fertilizers and pesticides and harvest time is still far away. The considerable increases in the prices of farm inputs and terribly low price of palay ((unmilled rice) have however made the whole year a period of “gawat” for the Filipino farmers.


Celestino Ariel, 60, started farming at the age of 18. His family is a tenant, tilling a three-hectare farm in Barangay (village) San Roque, Naic in Cavite province, 39 kms south of Manila. 

To work their land, Mang Celestino borrowed P12,000 (US$214.29 at US$1=PhP56) from a local money lender. The contract he signed stated he should pay one cavan of palay per P1,000 he borrowed in addition to the whole amount loaned.

The amount he borrowed however was barely enough to shoulder all expenses: farm inputs at P6,230, labor cost from planting to harvesting at P 4,575, and rental of farm equipment at P1,500 – totaling P12,305. 

When harvest season came, Mang Celestino’s one hectare reaped a total of 80 sacks of palay. He used the 10 cavans to pay the thresher operator and another 15 cavans to pay the farm workers who helped harvest his products.  He also paid P200 to the neighbors who helped him carry the products home (hakot).  

Less the 12 cavans he needed to give to the moneylender in addition to the P 12,000 he borrowed, Mang Celestino was left with exactly 33 cavans.

However, because of the very low farm gate price – P7 per kilo or P175 at 25 kilos per cavan –  he was left with only a total of P7,525. He was P4,475 short for his P12,000 loan. 

Mang Celestino said he had to borrow money from his 80-year-old mother, Maria, to add to his loan payment. 


Mira Luna Varon, 50, a widow with four children, is a former settler in the uplands of western Tarlac, 109 kms north of Manila. Her family used to till six hectares of land.  In an interview with Bulatlat, Aling Mira said she and her neighbors were given a stewardship of the land they occupied by the local government in 1990. Harvests then were good because they had enough land to till, she said. 

In 1998, Aling Mira said the provincial government under Gov. Arturo Yap took around 200 hectares of land in the mountains, including Aling Mira’s. Aling Mira and her family were then driven out to look for land to till in the lowlands. Aling Mira found a hectare of idle land which, after being cleared of tall grasses, has served as her family’s source of livelihood and where their new home stands. 

All of Aling Mira’s children have graduated from high school and as much as she wants to send them to college, they are now all tied up in farm production.  “Wala rin akong pera na ipampapa-aral sa kanila” (I have no money to send them to school), she said.  

The fear of being evicted again from the land they are tilling is very intense for the family since they do not have a land title.  “Wala kaming kasiguruhan dito” (We have no security here), she said.

Meanwhile, not far from Aling Mira’s land is the land being tilled by Bella Reyla. Aling Bella is tilling a hectare of land owned by Paulino Rela, a small landowner who owns eight hectares of farmland.

Their landlord-tenant relationship is what they call buwisan: the landowner gets 25 percent of the total production while the tiller gets 75 percent but shoulders all the production cost. 

Aling Mira and Aling Bella are not alone in their plight. Research by the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) shows that 70 percent of farmers nationwide are landless.

Backward agriculture

Agricultural production in the Philippines remains agonizingly backward to this day.  Although big agriculture-based corporations – such as canned pineapple producer Dole-Philippines in Cagayan de Oro, southern Philippines or the sugar producer Hacienda Luisita Incorporated in Tarlac – use high-tech machinery for their farm production and harvesting, the lowly Filipino farmers continue to make do with the age-old plow and slow-paced carabao.

To prepare the land for planting, farmers have to rent hand tractor, at the following rates:

Table 1
Cost of Hand Tractor Rental


Rental Cost per Hectare

Cagayan Valley

P 1,200


P 1,500

Nueva Ecija

P 2,000


P 1,500

Meanwhile, harvesting is still done by hand, using hand-held sickle. Later, the palay grains are spread on cemented ground and dried slowly under the sun.

High cost of farm inputs

Eligio Macagba, 66, owns more than three hectares of land in Barangay San Luis, Roxas in Isabela province.  As an agrarian reform beneficiary, he paid the government P3,070 a year for 15 years, from 1974 to 1989, after which he was given a land title. 


Although he owns the land he tills, Mang Eligio, in an interview with Bulatlat, still complained of the high price of farm inputs. 


His expenses last planting season included: hybrid seeds at P 1,200 per sack and used two sacks per hectare for a total of P7,200; urea fertilizer at P820 per sack and used two sacks per hectare or a total of P 4,920; and 16-20-0 fertilizer at P800 per sack and used three sacks per hectare for a total of P7,200.

He also had to use two kinds of pesticides: three quarts of herbicide per hectare at P400 per quart or a total of P3,600 and three quarts per hectare of the pesticide to protect the ricefield from kuhol at P1,000 per quart or a total of P9,000.  

Mang Eligio also paid 10 seasonal farm workers P1,000 per hectare or a total of P3,000 for planting and another P2,880 per hectare for eight farm workers for bunot-punla (harvesting) or a total of P8,640.

For his three hectares of land, Mang Eligio shelled out a total of P43,560 for farm inputs and farm workers’ wages. 

These costs however vary from province to province. (See table 2).

Table 2
Cost of Farm Inputs and Wage of Planters per Hectare





of Planters (Mananananim)

Total Cost

Cagayan Valley

P 1,200

P 1,620

P 1,400

P 2,700

P 6,920


P 1,500

P 4,400

P 1,790

P 1,800

P 9,490

Nueva Ecija

P 1,600

P 14,340

P 2,280


P 18,220


P 2,000

P 1,440

P 1,350

P 2,000

P 6,230

Note: Rate cost for Nueva Ecija was based on planting by sabog.  Regular rate for planters is P 1,600 to P 2,000.

According to Joseph Canlas, chair of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), the price of fertilizers has doubled this year as compared to last year making lives more miserable for small farmers. From P420 per sack, the price of urea has reached P850. Another fertilizer, the 141414 or triple katorse today cost P675 per sack from P375 last year. 

Table 3
Cost of production per hectare during harvest time




Product Share  of Seasonal Farmers (Manggagapas)

Total Cost

Cagayan Valley

5 cavans (P8 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 5 cvns = P1,000)


Ika-13 (11 cvns in 150 cvns per ha) (P8 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 11 cvns = P2,200)

P 3,350


10 cavans (P7.80 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 10 cvns = P1,950)

P 500



Nueva Ecija

7 cavans (P7.50 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 7 cvns = P1,312.50)

P 1,500

Ika-10 (10 cvns in 100 cvns per ha) (P7.50 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 10 cvns = P1,875)

P 4,687.50


10 cavans

(P7 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 10 cvns = P1,750)


Ika-6 (5 cvns in 100 80 cvns per ha)

(P7 per kl x 25 kls per cvn x 15 cvns = P2,625)

P 4,575


Struggling for survival

Last Oct. 20, some 1,500 farmers from Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog trooped to Manila to voice their plight. They held what they called a “street conference” in front of the Department of Agriculture’s main gate in Quezon City.

The farmers had declared a two-day farm strike to decry their worsening situation.  Their demand: an increase in palay’s farm gate price which now ranges from P7 to P10 a kilo. The farmers are seeking that it be raised to P15 per kilo. 

If the peasants’ demand is met, Mang Celestino would get a gross income of P 16,125.  “Makakabayad ako sa utang at may matitira pang pera kahit konti” (I can pay my debts and there could be something left), he said. 

But given that a family of six in Region II where Mang Celestino’s province is located needs an average of P455 a day or P13,650 a month to survive, whatever extra he would have left after paying off his debts would still never be enough for his family to live on, until the next harvest season.

Table 4
Farm Gate Price


Farm Gate Price of Palay

Cagayan Valley

                P6.80 to P8


                P7.80 to P9.50

Nueva Ecija




The KMP in a statement said that the price of palay has remained the same since 1990. 

KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos, himself a peasant from Bulacan, 40 kms south of Manila, suggested that the government, through the National Food Authority (NFA), should increase its procurement of locally-produced rice to 25 percent from its mandated 10 percent. 

“The government should buy more of the farmers’ produce so they would not be forced to sell to unscrupulous traders,” he said. 

The peasant leader added that in the past few years, the NFA only buys one percent of the total amount of locally produced rice.  He said this is due to the Arroyo government’s policy of trade liberalization that allows the entry of foreign produced rice that cost lower at the world market. 

The government’s policy stated that the liberalization of the rice industry would make the cost of rice cheaper in the local market.  

On the contrary, Ramos said that there has been a 100 to 300 percent average increase in the price of rice since 1994 when the country entered the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and, a year later, the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

KMP statistics show that in 1994, NFA rice cost P8.44 a kilo; ordinary rice is P8.86 and special rice is P9.50.  Today, NFA rice already cost P16 a kilo; ordinary rice is priced from P17 to P18 while special rice varies from P20 to P28. 

But while the local market price of rice has increased by 100 to 300 percent in 16 years, the farm gate price of palay is nailed down to its price since 1990. 

Nagsusumikap kami pero wala naman kaming napapala” (We’re working very hard but we get nothing), said Aling Mira adding that she and thousands of farmers like her hope that the government will listen and take action to their demand of raising the farm gate price of palay.  “Sana unawain kaming mga mahihirap” (They should listen to us), she said adding that it has been decades that they feel the pain of the irony that the primary food producers in the country are the ones who are left hungry and poor.  Bulatlat

Table 5
Types of Usury


Rate of Interest per loan

Cagayan Valley

30 percent of total loan


30 percent of total loan

Nueva Ecija

1 cavan per P 1,000-loan


1 cavan per P 1,000-loan



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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