On 02 April 2019, Senatorial Candidate Erin Tañada urged the government, ahead of the upcoming national elections, to focus on an agricultural sector reeling from damage caused by the worsening dry season: “While everyone is distracted by dragon tattoos, Polo Delta, Alpha Tierra and celebrity sex videos, our farmers are dying, both literally and figuratively. Nakakalimutan yata ang mga magsasaka natin. Kung hindi sila pinapatay ng pulis, pinapatay sila ng El Niño at ng mababang presyo ng kanilang mga produkto.”

“As a starting measure, we should immediately take an inventory of all available irrigation water, engage as much cloud seeding as possible, determine which croplands are still salvageable and concentrate and prioritize those for irrigation water,” the former Congressman said.

Tañada urged local government units to utilize the billion-peso People’s Survival Fund (PSF) to mitigate the effects of El Niño, “The money is there, we just need to educate local governments and sectoral organizations as to how the fund can be accessed and utilized. Sayang kung hindi magamit ngayong kailangan na kailangan.”

Tañada was the principal author of Republic Act No. 10174, which created the PSF. The law allocates PHP 1 B annually through the Climate Change Commission for programs aimed at increasing the resilience of vulnerable sectors to climate change, such as prolonged drought caused by altered weather patterns.

Yesterday, the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that the damage caused by El Niño to the Philippine agricultural sector had exceeded 5.05 billion pesos. The DA said that 177,743 hectares of agricultural land and 164,672 farmers have been affected by the lack of rain, resulting in 276,568 metric tons of lost production, mainly rice and corn.

Despite these agricultural losses, however, the farm gate price of palay or un-milled rice dropped for the fourth straight week to PHP18.98 per kilogram, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Lower prices were also observed for well-milled and regular-milled rice across the board. The farm gate price of yellow corn grain was likewise down.

The decline in the farm gate price of rice has been attributed to excess supply caused by the existing inventory of imported rice. Last year, the National Food Authority (NFA) imported around 2.5 million metric tons of rice, the highest volume since 2008.

Meanwhile, in Metro Manila, El Niño has caused a water shortage affecting half of the Metropolis’ residents; and this despite the city’s water concessionaires amassing more than 120 billion pesos in profits over the past ten years.

Last month, the Manila-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities warned that things were only going to get worse. They warned that changing weather patterns could lead to a dramatic decline in rainfall over several areas of the country, particularly Central Mindanao.

Tañada said a long-term water management plan was necessary to avert risks due to changing weather patterns and climate change: “If you talk to the experts at the National Hydraulic Research Center, if properly managed and developed, we have enough water to meet projected demand until 2050. The problem is that each time a new administration comes in, parang nakakalimutan ‘yung plano. Back to square one. Our model should be California. It has developed its reservoirs to such an extent that they have enough stored water to meet their needs for 2 years, even assuming zero rainfall. Sana ang Pilipinas din.”

LORENZO ‘ERIN’ TAÑADA III is the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He either authored or pushed for bills that helped improve the working and living conditions of Filipino workers and farmers and their families. Some of the more significant legislative measures advocated by Erin were: Peoples’ Survival Fund, Universal Healthcare Act, Condonation of SSS Penalties on Delinquent Contributions, among others. He intends to champion a nationwide minimum wage standard, apart from the Coco Levy Fund, when elected to the Senate.