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​​Gov’t banks should give low-interest loans to farmers hit by El​ Niño

Photo by George Calvelo

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial candidate Win Gatchalian today called on the Aquino administration to direct government-owned banks to render financial assistance to farmers severely affected by the worst El Niño to hit the country in the last 18 years.

Gatchalian said the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) should be ready to give loans to farmers at very low interest rates and payable after their farmlands have recovered from the devastating effects of El Niño.

“Members of the agriculture sector needs state aid now more than ever to recover from the devastating effects of climate change,” said Gatchalian, who earlier aired his opposition to the planned merger of the LBP and DBP as the union will leave in limbo the country’s farmers who need government support amid the raging El Niño.

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“The DBP and LBP should give farmers low-interest loans which should be payable after they have recovered from the El Niño, which have cause one farmer to commit suicide amid growing debts and failure of his crops due to the prolonged dry spell,” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian was referring to the El Niño-related suicide involving one Jimmy Tamberya, a 37-year-old corn farmer in the 6th-class municipality of South Upi in Maguindanao, who took his own life after being depressed over the failure of his crops due to the prolonged dry spell. Tamberya, a father of three, also had his crops destroyed by rats last year amid growing debts.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), up to 30 provinces are expected to be hit by the onslaught of El Niño this year, which is worse than the El Niño that hit the country in 1998.

The continuing El Niño episode is expected to cost at least P3 billion in damage, with the damage reaching P14 million in Zamboanga City which was already declared to be under a state of calamity. As of January 31, there are already 17 provinces that experienced drought including Maguindanao, Sulu, Palawan, Aklan, and Samar.

Senators Grace Poe and Francis Escudero, the presidential and vice-presidential bets of Partido Galing at Puso that also fields Gatchalian as one of its senatorial candidates, have vowed to allot P300 billion for agriculture if elected into office.

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“We will give priority to the improvement of irrigation because I know that is the main problem of our farmers every time there is drought,” said Poe.

Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on trade and industry, had earlier warned that if the LBP-DBP merger is approved by the Central Bank, farmers will be forced to borrow money from loan sharks and thus will not be able to cut the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

The NPC senatorial candidate said the union will lead LBP astray into concentrating on commercial and investment services as it shifts to focus on universal banking, instead of serving its priority sectors: farmers, fisherfolk, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and micro enterprises

“The merger does not address the core issue which is the lack of access to credit. The emphasis on the transitioning towards universal banking means that the resulting DBP-LBP bank would not be focused on broadening access to credit to marginalized sectors such as the agriculture sector and the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector,” explained Gatchalian.