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"Gold Harvest"
Wilfredo Lomibao
Sunday Punch


"Weaving a bright future with water Hyacinth"
Rhoy Cobilla

Agriculture Story of the Year 
Henry E. Empeño
This story examines the Zambales mango industry and what it needs for viability.
2023 Agriculture story
Good as Gold

Zambales’s “Dinamulag” mango industry is doing well, but needs serious rethinking for sustained viability

IBA, Zambales — For nine days last April, residents and visitors alike shared in the revelry of the 2023 Dinamulag Mango Festival, this year’s reiteration of an annual event that was revived after being sidelined by the pandemic in the past two years.

The “revenge celebration” was expectedly bigger: more participation in the streetdance and float parade; better products display; wider range of cultural and sports events; and, for the first time, farm demonstration and tours—all to showcase the pride of Zambales, which is the “Dinamulag” or carabao variety of mango that is famous the world over for its delectable taste.

But beneath the oomph and hoopla of the mango-themed festival was a serious effort to bring awareness and urge action among stakeholders in the mango industry to further develop their business.

Governor Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., whose office oversaw festival preparations, pointed out that the nine-day event “created a stronger bond among various sectors in terms of planning and implementing activities and programs that require whole-of-community approach.”

He also stressed that the festival was meant to identify the many potentials and resources in the province that the government is now tapping to build a better, sustainable future for Zambaleños.

Aside from being a vehicle to show the world what local culture and traditions are all about, the Mango Festival, he said, should demonstrate “how Zambaleños define and work for their future, and what kind of Zambales we are building in the present.”


Mango (Mangifera indica) is the country’s national fruit, and there are three well-known varieties of it in the Philippines: carabao, pico, and Katchamita, otherwise known as Indian mango. But the one that has made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1995 as the sweetest in the world was the carabao variety, or the “kinalabaw” that Zambaleños grow as the “dinamulag”.

The more common carabao mango strains in Zambales are the Sweet Elena and Lamao. In Guimaras, they have the Super Galila, Talaban, and Fresco; while Ilocos has the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) Gold.

Fleshy and not fibrous, with smooth light-green skin that later ripens into deep yellow, the dinamulag mango is considered the gold standard among Philippine mangoes because of its unique flavor that combines sweetness with a hint of tartness.

Note that the Sta. Elena strain in Zambales at one time has been declared by Bureau of Agricultural Research of the Department of Agriculture as the sweetest carabao mango in the country. That was in 2003.

In 2016, however, Sta. Elena, which had a Brix reading (°Bx) of 18.98 was overtaken by the Guimaras Super Galila, which was marked at 22.3°Bx, as the sweetest. The Brix reading measures the dissolved sugar content.

Still, local growers attest that Zambales mangoes draw more buyers because of its taste.

“It’s not sweet as in sugary like mangoes from other places, but it has this different kind of linamnam (full flavor) that mango lovers come back for,” described Enrico Batungbacal, who has grown mangoes in Palauig, Zambales since 1988 after graduating from college.

“The best mango fruits are those grown in the northern part of Zambales—from Iba town (in the central part of the province) up to Santa Cruz, the northernmost,”
Batungbacal said, echoing a “fact” accepted by Zambales natives. “Any scientific explanation for it must be in the location,” he hastened to add.

The Batungbacal Farms, he said, grows mangoes of the Lamao strain—five strains, in fact, from Lamao 1 to Lamao 5—of the carabao variety.

He recalled that his father initially brought mango seedlings from Batangas and Los Baños, areas not particularly known for delicious mangoes. However, these bore
flavorful fruits.

On the other hand, mango seeds or cultivars from Zambales and grown elsewhere did not bear fruits as delicious as those harvested locally, Batungbacal pointed out.


A graduate of business administration, Batungbacal initially set out to properly set up in two years the farm that his father, a weekend farmer, started as venture in 1973. That “two years” had since continued from 1988 up to now.

Today, the Batungbacal Farms is a 120-hectare spread in a rolling land naturally fed by creeks in Barangay Bulawen at the eastern part of Palauig. The area has been planted to 6,000 mango trees, as well as guava, papaya and honeydew.

The fresh mangoes from the farm—duly marked with stickers bearing the Batungbacal Farms logo—had since become synonymous with quality Zambales mangoes and immediately became popular among clients in Alabang, where they were first sold commercially.

Batungbacal said his clients would be the ones to say that Zambales mangoes were the best.

“In terms of taste, there wouldn’t be any comparison with mango fruits from other places,” he declared, and that is even with Guimaras mangoes recently given the seal

as the country’s first geographical indication (GI), a marketing tool that is supposed to highlight the product’s distinctiveness.

“In the end, it would boil down to quality and taste. Zambales mangoes are tastier and we consistently delivery quality, which allows us to command the right price at any time,” he stressed.

Batungbacal said he is preparing to enter the export market next year, with direct buyers from France and Dubai already inquiring specifically for mangoes with the Batungbacal brand.


According to a report by the Zambales Provincial Agriculture Office (ZPAO) that detailed the state of the mango industry in the province from 2018 to 2022, mango production has gradually increased even as the number of trees and area planted to this valuable cash crop had remained virtually unchanged.

The ZPAO recorded total mango production at 12,944.22 metric tons in 2018 and slightly going down to 12,041.53 MT in 2019. However, it rebounded back to 16,838.74 MT in 2020, then to 19,686.71 MT in 2023, and 18,919.18 MT in 2022.

This was despite the fact that the area planted and harvested remained at 8,851 hectares in 2018; 8,835.7 has. in 2019; and 8,836.53 has. from 2020 to 2022.

In the last five years, the average number of fruit-bearing trees remained at 56 per hectare, with the total of fruiting trees at 492,638 in 2018; 491,901 in 2019; 494,901 in
2020; and back to 491,901 in 2021 and 2022.

The average yield per tree, however, significantly increased from 26.27 kilograms in 2018 to 24.48 kgs. in 2019; 34.23 kgs. in 2020; 40.02 kgs. in 2021; and 38.46 kgs. in

As such, Zambales was top contributor to carabao mango production in Central Luzon in 2022, with a total of 396,181 trees, or 29% of the total, and ranked number one in the region; 7,558 harvested area, or 30% of the regional total, and also ranked number one; and 16,476.31 metric tons production, or 47% of the total, with number one ranking.

The general trend was also observed at the Batungbacal Farms, where all-out production in 2018 yielded some 400 metric tons of mangoes from about 6,000 trees.

Even when production had to be controlled in the last three years because of the La Niña condition that also brought about greater risks from cecid fly infestation,
Batungbacal harvested 120 MT from just 1,000 trees. This made for an average harvest of 120 kilos per tree compared to just 66 kilos per tree during full production in 2018.

With quality at its premium, Batungbakal mangoes command a good price: small size at P650 per box of 5 kilos; regular at P750 per box; medium at P900 per box; large at P1,100 per box; extra large at P1,400 per box; and jumbo at P1,900 per box.

The bigger sizes get sold out first, Batungbacal said.


Aside from fresh mangoes, Zambales is increasingly being recognized for its dried mango and other fruit extracts. One of the more popular producers of these is Green Thumb, a backyard enterprise located in Barangay Lauis, Candelaria, Zambales.

Its proprietor Evelyn Grace told BusinessMirror that business continued to boom since she set up a backyard venture with her husband after getting married in 1987.

“We were married in June, acquired a lot, then planted mangoes trees in December to get this business going,” she said.

There were 12 trees remaining in their 2,200 square-meter lot, from the original seeded and grafted cultivars that started fruiting in 1991. At first, they sold fruits that were exported to Japan at a time when mango-buying stations were in vogue in Zambales and local growers competed to get their export quota.

“But we had the edge—from P10 to P25 more per kilo, because our products did not use any inorganic fertilizer, this showed in a better taste that the Japanese liked better,” Grace said.

At that time, she added, they used to harvest about 10 crates of 24 kilos each per tree. “And 90% of these made the grade for Japan,” she said.

Grace said that even during the pandemic, they had maintained their price for fresh mango at P300 to P350 per kilo in Manila because it was top quality.

Like Batungbacal, Grace revealed that quality is anchored on fruit maturity, which averages from 115 to 130 days after flowering. During harvest in the cold months of December to February, Grace said they waited for at least 120 days before harvest. In the summer months beginning March, fruits mature faster and could be harvested after 110 or 115 days.

From fresh mango exports, Grace then ventured into producing dried mango in 1988 upon the suggestion of a farm worker from Cebu.

“It took me five years to master the process through trial and error,” Grace recalled. And because she disliked the use of preservatives for her mango products, the Green Thumb brand of dried mango has a shelf life of only six months, compared to the preserved “for export” kind that could last up to two years.

Still, quality sells better, Grace said, as before the pandemic, her firm used to sell 1.5 metric tons of dried mango per year just to walk-in buyers, pasalubong centers, restaurants, and companies and government agencies that placed direct orders, sometimes for 30 boxes of 50 packs each at a time.

Aside from fresh and dried mangoes, Green Thumb also produces mango nectar, wine, vinegar, pickles, and chutney.

Now Grace has also started training mango stakeholders from other areas like Tarlac and Pampanga, teaching them how to manufacture various mango products.

“Sayang, if I kept the technology to myself,” she said. “If it would help others, and promote the mango industry more, why not share it?”


Despite the seeming resilience of the local mango industry, the golden pride of Zambales faces serious threats and challenges brought about by natural and man-made factors.

In terms of technology, the Zambales Provincial Agriculture Office identifies problems related to density planting, plant nutrition, pest management, and irrigation.

Threats, meanwhile, include climate change, pesticide pollution, heavy metals decomposition, high investment, and backyard planting.

In recent years, however, the most serious problem faced by local mango growers was cecid fly (Procontarinia mangivora) infestation, which causes the galling of young leaves, and, more damaging, mars the skin of mango fruits with brown to black,
scab-like spots that are commonly called “kurikong.”

“This has been hurting the industry in the past eight to 10 years,” notes Batungbacal, who limited mango production last year to just 1,000 trees out of the 6,000 in his farm.

“Because of the cecid fly problem, a lot of growers have stopped operation altogether because they have been losing for several years in a row,” he adds.

Aside from pest management, the type of farm production also impacts on industry yield, says Batungbacal, pointing out that the widespread practice of contract spraying does more harm than good.

“It’s only in the Philippines that we do this—getting a contractor to spray chemicals for 70% of the harvest, and leaving 30% of the production to the tree owner,” notes Batungbacal.

“What’s bad about this is that after harvest, the trees are left without care, no application of fertilizer, no trimming, as there is no more incentive for both owner and contractor to get rehabilitate the trees in between spraying. In the long run, this leads to low yield,” he adds.


In the Third Luzon Mango Congress held last April 28 in Botolan, Zambales, Senator Imee Marcos points out yet another weakness in the local mango industry—the inability to produce significant volume of mango products that could address demand for Philippine mangoes abroad.

She says that a recent China trip had revealed a huge demand for Philippine mangoes that the country simply cannot supply.

“How could we cope with the demand, when instead of increasing production we have 3.8% reduction of 10 to 12 metric tons a year since 2021?” laments the senator laments.

“Even Vietnam that only wanted to copy our mangoes previously, has overtaken us in production. The mangoes from Vietnam, as well as from India and Mexico, are no longer fibrous and are already aromatic like Philippine mangoes,” she adds.

She says that while the Philippines has been struggling with the cecid fly problem in the last 15 to 20 years, other countries have advanced their research and development and produced better mango varieties.

In face of the continuing mango pest problem, Marcos said there is a need to develop new, sturdier mango varieties, as well as further increase production and intensify marketing and promotion efforts.


As a high-value cash crop, Zambales mango has the opportunity to make it big because of its superb taste and high marketability.

Dr. Jhino Ilano, assistant director of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Export Marketing Bureau, unveiled opportunities for the mango industry in the recent Central Luzon Mango Congress, among them an unrealized export potential of $121 million in the next five years for fresh or dried mangoes, guavas and mangosteens.

Ilano also cited an unrealized export potential of $192 million in the next five years for products that included prepared or preserved edible plant parts; raw, steamed or boiled, or frozen fruits and nuts; fruit jams; and mixtures of nuts or dried fruits.

He said while mango export is dominated by countries like Thailand, with export quantity of 382,093 metric tons; the Netherlands (265,935 MT), and Mexico (429,391 MT), while the Philippines was at the tail-end with just 16,262 MT, the country’s export revenue had totaled $16.2 million for fresh mangoes and $55.7 million for processed mangoes in 2022.

The top mango importers, Ilano added, are the United States with 4.5 million metric tons; Netherlands, 2.1 million MT; United Arab Emirates, 847,700 MT; Germany,
808.025 MT; and the United Kingdom, 720,299 MT.

As of now, the Philippines exports most of its fresh mango to Hong Kong, with $9.9 million in 2022; South Korea, $3.4 million; United States, $1.1 million; Singapore,
$393,643; and Japan, $375,342.

Ilano said that the Philippines must take advantage of trends that are shaping the global mango industry, including increased global demand for mangoes due to its nutritional characteristics and properties; low penetration of the global market by tropical countries that produce mangoes; and the need for specific orchard management techniques due to climate change phenomenon.

He also said that among the top fastest-growing product categories with mango ingredient include air care, fragrances, paper products, hard surface care, dishwashing products, sweet spreads, toilet care, fabric care, sweeteners and sugar, and soap and bath products.


Given the challenges and opportunities to the local mango industry, mango stakeholders in Zambales, with the assistance of the provincial government, are eyeing better production in the years ahead by rethinking concepts in farm production and management, as well as retooling to better meet increasing demands.

Rethinking and retooling, for sure, would take time and increased inputs, but it is the only way to the future, opined Batungbacal, who was recently recognized by the Department of Agriculture as an outstanding farmer in the fruit category of the High Value Crops Development Program.

“It’s a good thing that Governor Ebdane gave the support of his administration to strengthen the local mango industry by forming the Zambales Mango Industry Board, because it paved the way for assistance from the various agencies like the DOST (Department of Science and Technology), DTI (Department of Trade and Industry),
TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), Department of Tourism, and the PRMSU (President Ramon Magsaysay State University),”
Batungbacal acknowledged.

Even the recent Zambales Mango Festival helped a lot by bringing people to mango farms for the mango-picking activities, and thus helping them appreciate mango farming, he added.

“Zambales mangoes are a gift to the world. We have a better product, and the only thing we need to ensure is better marketing and how to bring this better package to all

corners of the world,” Batungbacal told BusinessMirror during a tour of the farm on June 15.

He said the strategy for this would require a transition from contract farming to managed farms, where stakeholders, including contract sprayers, would join together to integrate and manage small farms and set up a mechanized system for spraying, irrigation, pruning, and harvesting.

“This could be done with high-density farming technique, which is also called slim hedge, with about 30 to 50 trees in one hectare,” Batungbacal explained.

In this way, he said trees are planted close together to form a hedge, which are pruned and kept at an ideal height of just four meters. This would not only promote easy sunlight penetration and easier spraying, but also result in efficient harvesting.

“We have here 6,000 trees in this farm in an area of 120 hectares. With high-density farming, 10 hectares alone could be planted to 6,000 trees! Imagine what that would do to the local mango industry,” Batungbacal enthused. (30)


[1-3] Zambales mangoes are sought after for their sweet-tarty taste, soft flesh and aroma

[4-5] Batungbacal Farms mango have their distinctive seal of quality

[6] Miss Palauig 2023 Alyssa Alday with a basket of mangoes from the Batungbacal Farms

[7] Green Thumb dried mangoes

[8] Other mango products made by Green Thumb

[9] Mango-themed streetdance in the recent Zambales Dinamulag Mango Festival

[10] Manang Shirley Velarde shows off premium quality Zambales mangoes at her stall in Iba, Zambales

“Skyrocketing sugar prices stroke industry liberalization
Cai Ordinario, Jovee Marie de la Cruz, Jovy Noelle Rodriguez
This is the bittersweet tale of skyrocketing sugar prices in the Philippines. Told from the perspective of two humble ice cream vendors in Palawan and a banana cue vendor in Manila, it dives into the causes of the sugar shortage. It discusses the ways forward from the perspective of industry experts, lawmakers, and economics.
Skyrocketing sugar prices stroke industry liberalization
CORON, Palawan and Manila—Many call it “dirty.” And they still eat it.

Just ask these fifty-something entrepreneurs: Zosimo and Nelson who know the dirty ice cream business like the back of their palms. But an essential ingredient—refined sugar—has brought bittersweet success to their business.

Zosimo and Nelson shared that the price of refined sugar rose just as fast it melted their profits. The brothers said times have changed, indeed, since their father, Maximo
Catapang, considered as the pioneering magso-sorbetes in the municipality of Coron, Palawan, gave birth to the enterprise a decade ago.

The stainless steel-bodied carts of Catapang Dirty Ice Cream has been a staple across the streets of the town proper of this island municipality that is home to 65,000 people and an annual haven to over 200,000 tourists. They, however, may see fewer carts of this 1960s-built ice cream venture as the Catapangs said they are taking “drastic measures” to cope with Covid-19 and rising sugar prices and ensure the business survives.

Nelson said they used to have seven carts. They trimmed this to two since the Duterte administration imposed mobility restrictions against Covid-19 in 2020.
“Malaki na ang binawas.”

He added they had to increase the boundary price collected from vendors from P2,500 to P2,600. Nelson said they have “measly” earnings because of the rising costs of everyday ingredients like sugar, ice and salt.

The Catapang family business earns from a fixed boundary price that their street vendors remit to them. Zosimo said their daily income has now been slashed to P200 from P500. Their two operating dirty ice cream carts holding four gallons consume about four kilograms of refined sugar each.

That is where it hits the most: Zosimo said a kilo of sugar that before cost P60—a dollar and a dime—now hits their pockets with P95, or nearly $2.

This is being experienced not only by the Catapang family business. Glazed, no caramel

THERE’S Medelyn Collorado, a street seller of “banana-Q,” short for two to three pieces of Musa saba bananas queued on a stick. Collorado said she had to cut the amount of sugar she uses: before the bananas were caramelized; these days they’re just glazed.

She said before, daily sales hit 250 sticks at P10 each and they pocketed P870 ($15.61 at current exchange rates) cleanly. These days, the 60-year-old vendor told the

BusinessMirror, she’s only able to sell a hundred sticks at P15 each and takes home only P390 ($7) each day.

Collorado said the price of brown sugar she uses in her banana cues have risen by half to P80 ($1.44) per kilogram from P40 kilogram ($0.72). This forced her to cut the brown sugar she uses to just 2 kilograms from 5 kilograms.

The country’s sugar (raw, washed and refined) prices have increased unabated since September last year.

In Metro Manila alone, the price of refined sugar has now averaged P90.85 ($1.63) per kilogram at supermarkets and P93 ($1.67) per kilogram at wet markets. Refined sugar prices in Metro Manila is now fetching as high as P115 ($2.06) per kilogram.

Odette’s impact

TO understand how sugar prices zoomed past the P100-per-kilogram level—the first in the Philippine history—we must go back to December 16, 2021, when Super Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) hit the country.

The sugarcane industry was estimated to have suffered P1.5-billion losses due to destroyed sugarcane and damaged sugar milling and refining facilities. The destruction

and disruption came as the sugar milling season was peaking and refineries were just barely starting to operate.

The aftermath of Odette was evident: prices of raw and refined sugar started to increase nationwide, especially in Metro Manila. Odette’s impact prompted officials to slash the total sugar production estimate for crop year (CY) 2021-2022 to 2.072 million metric tons (MMT) from 2.099 MMT pre-milling crop estimate. The sugar refineries association, meanwhile, revised its total refined sugar output to 837,400 MT from 878,600 MT

The Department of Agriculture (DA) instructed the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to consult industry stakeholders on the probability of a sugar importation program.

In a meeting last January, sugar producers to industrial users unanimously supported the proposed importation tack. However, the players debated the conditions and terms of the program, particularly on the eligible importers and arrival of shipments.

Local sugar producers wanted importation to be limited to the estimated shortfall in supply and shipments arriving in tranches after the milling season.

In February, the SRA issued Sugar Order (SO) 3 that authorized the importation of 200,000-MT refined sugar for industrial users, with half of the volume being bottlers’

grade (for use by beverage makers). No one expected that the worse was about to happen after the issuance of SO 3.

Delayed implementation

HOWEVER, sugar producers sought to stop SO 3 through the powers of the court, which issued two temporary restraining orders (TROs) and a writ of preliminary of injunction.

After the SO 3 was stopped in its tracks, sugar prices began breaking all-time highs every week. Raw and refined sugar supply were outpaced by rising demand and total sugar production was not high as expected.

The final sugar production forecast of the SRA was further trimmed to just 1.928 MMT, the lowest level in more than a decade. Sugarcane yield also dropped due to the ill effects of a persistent La Niña phenomenon that affected plantations.

By April, the SRA attempted to get a new sugar import program going with a higher volume of 350,000 MT, comprised of 250,00 MT refined sugar and 100,000 MT raw sugar to address the worsening supply shortfall.

However, the new sugar import program did not fly as the SRA resumed the implementation of SO 3 in May after it received a legal opinion from the Office of the

Government Corporate Counsel that SO 3 could still be implemented in other regions except Region VI, where the writ of injunction was issued.

“So, SRA went ahead and implemented SO3, but the damage caused by the delay in its implementation was already done and is being felt now,” SRA Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica said in a 3-page statement last June.

That month, the prices of refined sugar reached P90 per kilogram after breaking past the P70-per-kilogram mark in May. By July, refined sugar prices were as high as P115 per kilogram. The calculations and estimates of both the DA and SRA pointed to one scenario: the Philippines will run out of both raw and refined sugar this month.

Side by side neighbors’

TO see a “better” and “real” picture of the country’s sweetener industry situation, Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino said local sugar prices must always be compared to the sugar prices of the Philippines’s neighbors like Vietnam and Thailand.

If such is the benchmark, Tolentino pointed out, Philippine sugar prices have “undoubtedly” been more expensive than any other country for a long time now.

The reason is simple, Tolentino says: the sugar industry has been “administratively” controlled to “protect” local growers even to the “detriment” of anybody who consumes sugar, both ordinary Filipino consumers and food manufacturers.

“There are many food products in Thailand and Vietnam that contained sugar and yet they are cheap. Sugar is an input and therefore, the more expensive it is, the more expensive the product is,” Tolentino, a former agriculture undersecretary, told the BusinessMirror.

And if it is up to Tolentino, the protected days of the sugar industry must now come to an end, just like the rice industry four years ago.

“It should be opened like we how opened rice. Let us use the lessons from rice [trade liberalization] to deal with sugar [industry],” he said.

“If we are consistent with the idea of having people with competitively priced food and we are committed to the growth of the manufacturing sector, then we should liberalize the sugar industry,” he added.
Profit margins

SUCH insights from Tolentino fail to assuage people like Danilo V. Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI).

According to Fausto, their member-companies, which are food processors and

exporters, are already “hurting” from the high sugar prices. The affected export products include banana chips, biscuits, confectionary,

Fausto warned that the expensive sugar would further erode the country’s competitive advantage in certain food exports, which is already threatened by stringent competition from neighboring Southeast Asian countries with cheaper raw ingredients and materials.

“The price of imported sugar is 50-percent less than our local production. If you want to compete in the export market, you need to provide them with imported sugar–at least for processing of their products,” Fausto told the BusinessMirror.

Roehlano M. Briones, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, said he was surprised when he found out that the country’s refined sugar is now the second most-expensive sweetener in the world next to Oman. Briones said Oman is a country that imports virtually all its sugar supply.

He further said that the “unusually high” sugar prices would slash the profit margins of Filipino food exporters.

“These are low-margin products. Even if you say sugar is only about 10 percent to 15 percent of production costs, if its price doubled, then it would eat into their margin,” Briones told the BusinessMirror.

Eye on SRA

TOLENTINO said liberalizing the sugar industry would mean removal of the quedan system that classifies and segmentizes the country’s sugar production according to a specific market.

He argued that this classification makes sugar one of the most protected commodities in the country, with only a “favored” few benefitting from such system.

In 2019, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) commissioned Brain Trust Inc. to conduct an assessment on the country’s sugar industry. At that time, talks and plans of sugar liberalization were at their height.

The commissioned study showed that the SRA’s “tight control” over the sugar industry impeded its growth.

The study outlined various regulations enforced by the SRA that included restrictions on interisland shipping of sugar, mandatory production-sharing arrangement between planters and millers, and mandatory quedan system that segmentizes the use of raw sugar.

A key finding of the study was that liberalizaing sugar trade “appeared weak” back then, as it would only yield a modest net gain of about P2 billion.

The study estimated that liberalizing the industry would slash the profits of sugarcane farmers and millers by 57 percent while “consumers gain in welfare” would increase by 65 percent.
Elite benefits

THE liberalization of the industry would result in a “society gain” of about P7 billion to P9 billion every year, according to the study.

However, one concern rose: who would benefit the most? The study was clear: the rich more than the poor.

The study estimated that the lowest income group in the country would gain P262 million while the richest income decile would benefit as much as P1.6 billion.

“Should government wish to pursue sugar trade liberalization (even as the findings suggest that the case for it is weak at this time), it must be through a gradual easing of controls over sugar trade, to ensure that gains therefrom are equitable, and not unduly penalize the groups directly dependent on the sugar industry,” the study read.

Nonetheless, the study gavee recommendations to improve the sugar industry. These include the phasing out of the segmentation of the sugar market allowing for a unified quedan or warehouse system. Other recommendations were for the establishment of a

tripartite price management system to curb monopsony and incentivizing investments in state-of-the-art milling technologies.

Briones said they “were a bit more cautious in that study.”

“I think the solution for the sugar industry right now is to accept the tariffication formula,” he told the BusinessMirror.
Doing to learn

ATENEO Eagle Watch Senior Fellow Leonardo A. Lanzona Jr. called the high price of sugar a “plague” to the country—even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lanzona argued that the need to “open up” the country’s sugar market is to encourage competition and have a “more efficient” sugar industry.

“The sugar industry should have liberalized a long time ago. The industry is one of the most inefficient as it continues to be protected,” Lanzona told the BusinessMirror. “There is a great potential in this industry for scale economies, but it needs to learn by doing if it is to take advantage of the existing technology.”

He said both Filipino consumers and manufacturers will suffer the consequences of high sugar prices if the industry remains protected from foreign competition.

Lanzona noted that the liberalization of the sugar industry shouldn’t be patterned, however, after the rice trade liberalization (RTL) law since the two commodities have different value chain structures. For example, there are a lot of small-scale farmers in
the rice sector while players in the sugar industry are “large firms” that have “invested a lot of capital” for production, he explained.

“The goal here is to allow more foreign investment to come, even including those who wish to stay here and start their own operation. Farmers who plant sugar can now sell them to these new firms,” he said.

“It is not the same as rice where an inefficient NFA made it clear that importation is necessary. In this case, importation may not be the solution. The situation only needs a more efficient industry,” he added.
Joey’s views

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, an economist, said that as a “pro-growth” and “pro- consumer” policymaker, he is inclined toward the liberalization of the sugar industry.

But not anytime soon.

Salceda argued that given current global market conditions, the current difference between the local price and the landed cost of imported sugar is not “dramatic enough” for him to push for liberalization of the industry.

Based Salceda’s estimates, the price gap between the prices of local and imported sugar is just about 6 percent or P3.85 per kilogram; this, compared to rice, which had a price differential of 16 percent in 2019 when the latter was liberalized.

“If you import raw sugar, my estimates are that they would be just 6 percent cheaper because of tariffs and handling costs,” he said.

“But at least, companies that have stopped producing certain sugar-dependent goods would be able to resume producing such goods; if buying sugar in bulk has become difficult. Then again, that request must come from sectors affected,” he added.
Abandoned by government

SALCEDA admitted the sugar industry must be liberalized in the future for the benefit of most of the Filipino people. But this admission came with a price: accepting that the government abandoned the sugar farmers, too.

The lawmaker points to the ill implementation of earmarked funds for developing the sugar industry, like those under Republic Act (RA) 10659, or the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA), and the TRAIN law (RA 10963).

“We also have sins against the local sugar industry, mind you. The TRAIN Act, for example, provides for sugar industry development, but the SRA has not been able to

utilize the funds well, so the DBM [Department of Budget and Management] has not allocated a significant amount of funds for local sugar development,” Salceda said.

“In this particular case, there is government nonfeasance. So, we should try to solve that first before doing something that would hurt local industry,” he added.

A portion of the collections from the TRAIN Law, which includes excise taxes on sugar sweetened beverages, should be allocated for various government measures including the P2-billion programs under the SIDA Act of 2015, which aimed at developing the sugarcane industry and improving the lives of sugarcane farmers.

Step in right direction

FOR lawyer Roland B. Beltran, an incumbent Sugar Board member (representing the sugar millers), the productivity woes of the sugar industry could all be traced back to administrative “mismanagement.”

Beltran was referring to the “bad” implementation of sugar industry development programs, especially those under the SIDA law.

“The industry would not be in this situation if the projects prioritizing the improvement of the sugar industry were implemented properly. The sugarcane farmers need all the assistance today,” he told the BusinessMirror.

Beltran thinks that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s plan of revamping agricultural value chains to address their inequalities—from farmers to consumers—is a step in a right direction, particularly for sugarcane industry.

Beltran emphasized, however, that any liberalization effort doesn’t bode well for the President’s vision of boosting domestic food production and fixing erratic value chains.

“Sugar is not a sunset industry. I still have faith in the sugar industry given its resiliency. It will bounce back to its glory years as it had proven in the past and help perk up our economy,” he said.

“It is like having a house. Why will you buy the furniture first if you haven’t constructed your house?” he added.

Since 2016, the SIDA has been marred by underspending and underutilization, earning the ire of lawmakers and policymakers. The SIDA Act mandated an annual P2-billion allocation for the implementation of four interventions: block farm programs; socialized credit; research and development; and, scholarship and infrastructure support.

But the underspending and underutilization by SRA resulted in the annual slashing of the SIDA fund. During the 2019 budget deliberations, it was unearthed that the SIDA fund for 2020 could be only a measly P67 million, nowhere near the P2 billion mandated allocation, due to fund management issues.

From 2017 to 2022, the budget of SIDA was never restored to P2 billion. Worse, the SIDA fund from 2019 to 2022 has been below P1 billion and averaged at P606.130

million, with certain components of the program suffering as they had zero budget allocation.

Probable volume

PUNDITS are unanimous in proposing that the short-term measure to temper skyrocketing sugar prices is to expand the current importation program.

Industry sources and experts told the BusinessMirror that the additional import figure could range from 150,000 MT to as much as 350,000 MT.

The DA and the SRA held its first of a series of stakeholders’ consultation last week to discuss the country’s current sugar supply situation.

Agriculture officials are mum on the probable volume of the second round of sugar importation by the country pending the conclusion of the consultation with stakeholders and the physical inventory inspection of sugar mills and refineries nationwide.

“I think what we are looking at is a seasonal shortage of market supply by as much as 43-percent lower than usual demand. I estimated by looking at the sales volumes of raw and refined sugar by sugar milling companies,” Salceda said.

“They are able to sell much less, not because people are buying less, but because they do not have the supply, or so it seems. That is why we need the SRA audit to verify farmer claims that supply shouldn’t have collapsed by that much,” the lawmaker added.

Entrepreneurs’ woes

JOHN Lloyd Esparaguerra, one of Catapang’s sorbetes vendors, shared that he used to take home P1,000 after a day’s work. Today, that amount could only be earned within two days to three days—rain or shine.

However, Esparaguerra has to shoulder the P200 for ice and salt to keep the ice cream from melting.

“Iyon ngang P200 pandagdag na sana na kita namin kaso no choice ka rin dahil matutunaw naman iyong ice cream kapag hindi bumili ng asin at yelo.”

He explained to the BusinessMirror that he used to sell six scoops of dirty ice cream on a cone for P10 and eight scoops for P20. Today, he sells these for less a scoop at the same prices.

“Yung dating 6 scoops ngayon 4 to 5 scoops na lang for P10, ‘yung dating 8 scoops

ngayon 7 nalang for P20.”

The Catapang brothers said they don’t see further increasing their boundary price any time sooner as there’s lackluster demand. They just wish the government would intervene in the high sugar prices and make the situation easier for vendors like them.

Zosimo said there are rumors of hoarding, which should be looked into by government officials.

“May nababalitaan akong hoarding; eh iyan dapat pakinggan ng gobyerno. Dapat iminimize nila iyong hoarding.”

Collorado wishes that she, too, can just hold off price increases in the future. However, her hands would be forced to do so to make ends meet.

If we do not increase our prices, nothing will happen to us, Collorado said in Filipino. You cannot even recoup your minimum labor, she added.

Collorado said she’s now selling corn on the cob and drinks, aside from banana-Q.

She also hopes the government would have projects to help vendors like her to clamber from usurious debts.

Our capital is from 5-6; if we cannot pay daily, we must pay double in the following day, Collorado told the BusinessMirror.

“Ganon talaga kakapit talaga kami sa patalim, ang hanap-buhay talaga namin ngayon ay puro utang.”

Reckoning with liberalization

FORMER Tariff Commissioner George N. Manzano said the government may have to weigh a lot of factors in liberalizing the sugar industry: first, the displacement of sugar producers, and second, the current market environment amid the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

Manzano pointed out that “crafting” a policy on the sugar sector is “always complicated” since the price of sugar is “more distorted” compared to rice. The industry structure of

sugar is different from rice since the former has been under a more stringent quantitative restriction regime, he added.

“There are social costs to liberalize the industry as this will displace sugar producers as well as the farmers,” he said. “With the pandemic still in the air, it may not be prudent to create shocks through liberalization at the moment, in my opinion.”

United Sugar Producers Federation (Unifed) President Manuel R. Lamata said liberalizing the sugar industry would easily “kill” it and would be a disaster for the Philippines in the long run amid global food security concerns.

“Every country is holding on to what they use to export to protect their people. If you no longer have an industry to go back to, then our people won’t be able to eat anymore,” he told the BusinessMirror. “The high sugar prices is temporary; the cause of this is the deliberate mismanagement [by] the government.”


“Rey John Basco's Journey to Empower Coffee Farmers”
Genory Vanz S. Alfasain
Sunstar Davao
The winning work is about a young agriprenure who leads by example by sharing his knowledge to help other coffee farmers in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao.
Rey John Basco's Journey to Empower Coffee Farmers

Rey John Basco is convinced that coffee farming can be a profitable venture. Drawing inspiration from his father's work in the field, Basco believes that coffee has the potential to not only improve their financial situation but also that of other farmers in the region.

Basco hails from the town of Senator Ninoy Aquino, commonly known as "Kulaman," in the province of Sultan Kudarat. According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority for 2021, Sultan Kudarat province is the top coffee producer in the Philippines, accounting for 35 percent of the country's total coffee production. As a result, it attracts investors, particularly coffee companies, who source the majority of their coffee from Basco's town and its neighboring municipalities.

"In the early 2000s, our family used to trade for a large company. However, before becoming an independent coffee producer, we realized that such an arrangement was not sustainable in the long run," Basco recalled.

In pursuit of greater opportunities, the Basco family established their brand, Seven R Coffee, in 2012. The name was inspired by the first initials of the siblings’ first names and their mother’s.

They began by selling commercially graded coffee, roasted using a traditional method with a stainless drum. By 2015, they had completed all the necessary documentation to fully operate as a business.

Although he grew up around coffee, Basco pursued a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems at Sultan Kudarat State University. In 2018, while still in college, he decided to venture into the coffee business. He started with no land or farm of his own. His father first planted 1,000 hills of coffee, and eventually, he began to source it from other farmers.

Basco's interest in coffee grew even stronger when various interventions were introduced, including technical support from the Department of Trade and Industry and the ACDI/VOCA-PhilCAFE project. These interventions aided their coffee farming and production efforts, underscoring the importance of producing high-quality Robusta coffee.

Basco was fortunate to receive various coffee training opportunities, including earning a Q Processing Professional certification. This achievement made him one of only three Q Processing Professionals in Region 12. This certification is designed for individuals who work regularly with the post-harvest processing of coffee. The course was facilitated by the Coffee Quality Institute in collaboration with the ACDI/VOCA-PhilCAFE Project.

Armed with his newfound knowledge of coffee, Basco is eager to share it with his fellow coffee farmers and producers. However, he acknowledges that he has encountered difficulties in imparting his knowledge, particularly to older farmers who are still attached to traditional agricultural practices.

"Many of them won’t believe me because I’m still young and have not proven anything yet in the local coffee industry. Despite this, I remain resolute in my determination to share my knowledge and contribute to the improvement of coffee farming practices within my community," he said.

One effective method of persuading older coffee farmers to adopt good agricultural practices is to participate in prestigious coffee competitions, such as the Kape Dose Coffee Quality Competition and the Philippine Coffee Quality Competition (PCQC). These events provide an opportunity to showcase the benefits of modern farming techniques and their impact on the quality of the coffee produced.

The Basco family achieved great success at the 2023 Kape Dose Coffee Quality Competition. Rian Vonn Basco was awarded the title of Best Fine Robusta in the region, with a score of 84.33. Cipriano Basco placed 6th with a score of 83.58, while Edna Basco came in 9th with a score of 82.67. Rey John Basco himself secured the 12th position with a score of 81.42.

Basco first participated in PCQC in 2017 and was awarded the Best Washed Process in the Robusta category. In the 2022 PCQC, he secured 3rd place in the Robusta category, and in 2023, he achieved 8th place. These consistent results demonstrate his ability to produce high-quality Robusta coffee that can compete on a global level.

Basco was honored with the CQI Merit Award at the 2023 Philippine Coffee Expo's closing ceremony on June 4th at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. He was recognized as an "Exceptional Coffee Processor" for his significant contributions to the Philippine coffee sector. Basco was among the Q Professionals who received this prestigious award.

Basco was also allowed to showcase his coffee at various international expos, including the 2022 South Korea CaféShow and the 2023 Specialty Coffee Expo in Portland, Oregon. These events provided him with a platform to share his passion for coffee and connect with other industry professionals from around the world.

Now that they have established a name for themselves through their participation in various competitions, the Basco family has been able to boost their brand and ensure its sustainability. They are committed to maintaining the high quality of their coffee and are actively educating their suppliers on best practices. By doing so, they hope to continue producing exceptional coffee that meets the highest standards.

On October 29, 2022, Seven R Café opened its doors in Tacurong City. The café serves locally produced coffee and aims to promote the local coffee industry.

Basco acknowledges that there is still much room for improvement and development in their coffee farming and production. He does not claim to be successful. Instead, he wants to remain grounded and focused on helping the coffee industry. As a 24-year-old agripreneur, he still has a lot to contribute to the industry.

"I envision that we will become one of the biggest producers of Robusta coffee in the country. I want to help promote Sultan Kudarat coffee and be able to help the farmers. This will provide job opportunities in the local community, particularly for IP youth and farmers."

By purchasing coffee cherries from farmers at a premium price, he helps them increase their income, provided that they produce high-quality cherries. To buy fresh cherries within the Sultan Kudarat province, he requires additional capital. He has established a direct market in Manila and other parts of the country. He is working towards exporting coffee from Sultan Kudarat to the global market.

Despite being recognized for his efforts and having established a strong network in the coffee industry, Basco recognizes that there is a need for a steady supply of coffee as demand has risen in recent years.

"It is important to never stop learning about coffee and how to handle it. The coffee industry is constantly evolving with new techniques and methods. It is essential to stay up-to-date to produce the best possible cup of coffee," he said.

“Bulacan Moves to Protect Poultry Farms from Bird Flu”
Carmela Reyes-Estrope
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The material tells of how commercial and backyard Bulacan poultry farms are advised to protect themselves against bird flu from migratory egrets.
Bulacan Moves to Protect Poultry Farms from Bird Flu

Raisers told to ‘bird-proof’ facilities as disease likely caused by migratory egrets February 14, 2023

AT RISK | Ver San Pedro, chair of Barangay Lugam in the City of Malolos, shows off the eggs produced in his poultry farm in this November 2021 photo. Commercial and backyard farms in Bulacan province are cautioned against the possible bird flu infection after the type A subtype H5N1 strain of the disease was detected in Sta. Maria town.

CITY OF MALOLOS, Bulacan, Philippines — Commercial and backyard poultry farms in the province of Bulacan have started taking measures to prevent being hit by the highly pathogenic avian influenza or bird flu T after a commercial farm in Sta. Maria town lost at least P6.2 million due to the disease, officials said on Monday.

In an interview, Dr. Voltaire Basinang, Bulacan provincial veterinary officer, said laboratory results conducted by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) on Jan. 31 showed that the samples taken from the commercial farm tested positive for the type A subtype H5N1 strain of bird flu.
He said the tests were carried out after at least 80 chicken layers on the infected farm died between Jan. 17 and Jan. 25, which alarmed the farm owner.

Basinang said more than 17,000 chicken layers on the farm were depopulated between Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 to contain the viral infection.

The losses incurred by the farm only covered the cost of culled chicken layers and did not take into account the potential revenue losses, according to Basinang.

Migratory birds, such as egrets (Egretta garzetta), that visit Bulacan’s wetlands were suspected to have caused the avian flu infection, Basinang revealed.

All commercial and even backyard poultry farms were already advised to “bird-proof” their areas and facilities to prevent the entry of wild birds into their farms, he said.

“The high-technology bird-proof approach uses tunnel ventilation, wherein the chickens are kept in cages that are fully air-conditioned,” Basinang said.

Tunnel ventilation is designed to maximize air movement that helps cool the birds and remove dust, especially during hot weather, while preventing contact with wild birds.

Surveillance zone

A kilometer-radius surveillance zone was enforced around the infected poultry to check if other farms had also been affected, Basinang said.

“We did not impose quarantine on the other poultry farms because chickens from the infected area were immediately culled,” he said.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Central Luzon, including Bulacan, accounted for one-third of the country’s chicken production last year.

In the first half of 2022, the PSA said the total volume of chicken production in Central Luzon reached 325,523 metric tons, reflecting a 19.5-percent increase from the same period in 2021.

As of July 2022, there were 26 registered commercial poultry farms in Bulacan, data from the BAI showed.

Gov. Daniel Fernando on Monday called on the province’s poultry industry to strictly follow and abide by safety measures given by the local agriculture and veterinary offices in their towns and cities to prevent a similar incident.

On Jan. 8, 2021, the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that the World Organization for Animal Health had declared the country free of bird flu after controlling the outbreaks of H5N6 in a commercial layer poultry farm in Pampanga province, and backyard poultry farms in a village in Rizal province.

But the country lost its bird flu-free status more than a year later after outbreaks of the H5N1 strain were reported in Bulacan and nearby Pampanga province.

More than 42,000 quails and ducks on farms in the provinces were culled at that time.

Human infections

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said H5N1 is deadly to animals and can infect humans on rare occasions. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, reported there had been 26 H5N6 human infections reported in 2021.

The recurrence of the H5N6 strain, which also struck the country in 2017 and 2020, was confirmed by the DA on July 10, 2020, after a commercial poultry owner in Pampanga reported the sudden drop in egg production, cyanosis (dark bluish or purplish coloration of the skin and mucous membranes in chickens) and mortality.

A month later, a similar case was detected in a backyard farm in Rizal province, which affected about 500 free-range chickens and 300 Muscovy ducks.

In July last year, at least 350,000 chicken layers were culled in Pampanga’s Sto. Tomas town after the detection of the H5N1 strain in samples taken in Barangay San Bartolome from June 24 to June 27.

Outbreaks of bird flu struck Pampanga on a large scale in 2017, with revenue losses reaching P198 million, and on a minimal scale in 2021.

Several quail farms at the villages of Dalayap and Mangga in Candaba town, and San Antonio in Mexico town, both in Pampanga, were also infected with the H5N1 strain in February last year.

“Garbage area-turned-vegetable garden feeds community in Bacolod City”
Erwin P. Nicavera
Sunstar Bacolod
A look on how a community vegetable garden has positively impacted the lives of fisherfolk in Barangay 1 Bacolod.
Garbage area-turned-vegetable garden feeds community in Bacolod City

At first glance, a crowded neighborhood near a river and coastline will fill one’s eyes when visiting Barangay 1 in Bacolod City.

But who would imagine that inside a small community hides a unique attraction. Down an alleyway going to the barangay’s Purok Bolinao looms a garden where wide-variety of vegetables grow.

Dubbed “Gulayan sa Barangay 1,” this community vegetable garden established by the barangay council along with partner-organizations from the public and private sector has been helping fisherfolk here for over four years now, especially when the unprecedented coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic came into existence.

Trash to vegetables

Spoils were left in the area following a dredging project at a river sometime in 2017. Huge volumes of foreign wastes, mostly plastics, were also washed ashore in an almost a hectare coastal area.

In June 2018, when the new set of barangay officials assumed post, they started changing the image of the place. From a dirty garbage area, they developed it into a green and sustainable community vegetable garden.

Punong Barangay Cesar Rellos Jr. recalled that since he was a kagawad, he had already envisioned transforming the space into an area for urban farming.

Instead of letting the informal settlers occupy the idle lot, the official met with the residents and urged them to help as the barangay plans to utilize it into something useful for the community.

“We believed that there’s money in the vegetable garden thus, we converted this garbage area to a vegetable garden mainly for the residents,” he added.

The barangay initially developed the 1,000 square meters of the entire 9,550 square meters area.

They planted it with vegetable crops like okra (ladies finger), saluyot, alugbati (malabar spinach), malunggay (moringa), sitaw (string beans) and ampalaya (bitter gourd). The seeds and planting materials that they used were either bought or donated by some friends.

In order to involve the community, the barangay council tapped as project partners and beneficiaries the members of the Barangay 1 Bacolod City Fisherfolk Association. The group is composed of 86 member-families who were the ones planting and growing the vegetables at the community garden.

“Instead of buying vegetables from the market, they can get it here for free,” Rellos said.

One of the challenges faced by the group was the higher acidity level of the soil because the area is near the sea. It was difficult for them to grow some of the vegetables.

But through the help of the City Agriculture Office, they were able to overcome such a challenge. In 2019, the local government provided them with various farm inputs like vermicast, garden soil and seeds.

A year later, under the urban gardening program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) - Western Visayas, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” passed as a community vegetable garden. The agency then provided additional support services like nursery, farm equipment like shredder, and other inputs like vermicast, garden soil, seeds and seedlings to the group.

Both the members of the barangay council and fisherfolk association were also given free training on urban farming for five days. With this, they were able to sustain the garden and increase the number of planted vegetables here.

‘A big help’

When the pandemic hit the world, the community vegetable garden helped a lot,

especially in serving as a source of food for the fisherfolk members, their families as well as their neighbors.

Rellos said the pandemic has taught them the importance of food security. In terms of livelihood, the vegetable garden has in fact augmented their income from fishing.

“They no longer need to spend for their vegetable needs,” he pointed out, adding that the garden is also addressing the need for healthy food for the community, especially during this crisis where people need to boost their health.

Barangay 1 has a total population of about 5,700. Most of the residents rely on fishing as their source of living.

But since fishing is also seasonal, vegetable gardening helped many of the households to cope with the challenges brought by the pandemic including loss of jobs and income opportunities.

One of them was the family of 62-year-old Sandra Barte, who is also a member of the fisherfolk association.

“Gin-engganyo gid kami ni Kap. Cesar nga magbulig tanum kay ini kuno nga garden para man ini tanan sa amon [Kap. Cesar really encouraged us to help in planting as, according to him, this garden is also for us],” Barte said.

“It’s really a big help for the poor families like us,” she said, adding that what is good with this garden is that we can get fresh vegetables from here whenever we need for free.

For 45-year-old Lorvein Canales, president of the fisherfolk association, their role is simply to sustain the garden and encourage other residents to also venture into vegetable farming rather than just engaging in fishing.

Canales admitted that, at first, they lacked knowledge and skills on urban farming. But by actively involving themselves in the training provided by the DA, they eventually widened their perspective about agriculture.

Also, their interest was awakened particularly on the potential of farming as another livelihood opportunity aside from fishing which they have been used to for a long time.

“Farming has really helped us, fishermen, a lot,” he said, stressing that “the peak fishing is not all year round, most of the time within four to six months only, so we need to look for another source of income in order to feed our family thus, we engaged in vegetable gardening.”

Initial gains

Through the hardwork of the barangay along with the entire community, they now felt the positive result of the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.”

In 2022, the group was able to produce a huge volume of crops at the community vegetable garden.

From January to November this year, they were able to harvest 80 kilos of eggplant, 20 kilos of pechay, 40 kilos of okra, 20 kilos of patola, 19 kilos of black beans, 10 kilos of pepper (paitan), and more than a kilo of ginger, among other vegetables which they were able to sell just within the barangay.

These are on top of the vegetables that the association members are getting for free for their household consumption.

Thus, from being just the source of food for the residents, the community vegetable garden is now giving an income generation opportunity for the fisherfolk association and its members.

“From that time, I saw that we can actually plant more when the entire community unites. I realized that a single vegetable plant can be multiplied through the hardwork of our residents,” the punong barangay said.


In July this year, through the help of a non-government organization (NGO), farming technology reached the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.” The innovation was aimed at improving the initiative to help more members of the community.

The development of integrated urban farming among local communities has been the advocacy of Bacoleño Ian Fred Solas, owner of IF Green Technologies.

The innovations and best farming practices that they have started in their urban farm at Barangay Pahanocoy are being shared by their startup company to other barangays in the city.

Solas said he was tapped by the officials of Police Station 2 for a collaboration between projects of the barangay councils it covers including that of Barangays 1 to 10, 17 and 18.

“The police chief wanted to help the families of the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) by providing them livelihood opportunity,” he said, adding that they also tapped as
partner-institution the Carlos Hilado Memorial State University in Talisay City to address the need for financial literacy of the project-recipients.

Of the 12 members of the Association of Barangay Councils of Police Station 2, the farming technology of Solas’s group first reached Barangay 1 as it already established

an integrated urban farm.

In the bid to help the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” boost its production, they introduced the aquaponics technology to the community vegetable garden.

Solas said aquaponics technology is a design or innovation in agriculture where the fish being grown inside the farm collaborates with the plants.

The fish waste or ammonia is being converted by the bio filters into nitrates that will serve as a fertilizer for the plants. So it’s a cycle system as the plants also provide oxygen to the fish. It’s chemical free, he said.

The garden has also started using a hydroponics system and vertical gardening.

Solas said the hydroponics system is a solution-based or soilless farming method while vertical gardening is employed to ensure higher yield even in a limited space.

“The major advantage in this farming technology is having no extensive farm work aside from only about two percent mortality rate of the products,” he added.

Also, the barangay does not spend for chemical fertilizers as the vegetables are organic and naturally grown.

As they start utilizing the aquaponics technology, hydroponics and vertical gardening the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” initially grew 700 heads of tilapia given by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and planted 756 lettuce seedlings.

It was also able to save from the electricity expenses because the nursery and other garden facilities are being energized by the solar power system donated by the BFAR.

“We are making this garden as a demo farm or a model area where all other barangays in the Bacolod City can see that a project like this is possible,” Solas said, stressing that “if Barangay 1 was able to successfully convert this garbage area into a sustainable community vegetable garden, other barangays can also do the same especially those with wide areas potential for urban farming.”

For his part, Rellos said they are thankful to the organization for extending their help by bringing their technology to the barangay’s community vegetable garden.

Ensuring a healthy community

Aside from providing food to the members of the association and their families, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” project also aims to ensure the health of the community. Thus, they are making sure that the vegetables grown here are free from chemicals fertilizers.

But, they also recognized the need to ensure its sustainability in order to increase more

people in the barangay.

That is why, Rellos said, the barangay council is really making sure to allocate funds every year mainly for the maintenance of the community vegetable garden.

Also, the barangay is giving much focus on sustaining the active involvement of the residents, young or old, in order to make the vegetable garden self-sufficient.

As of this writing, the fisherfolk association has generated a savings worth P12,000 from the vegetables that they have sold. In order to keep the amount intact, the members are the ones working for the farm.

The association president said that if they really need to tap the help of others who are not yet members of the group, they are paying them with vegetables harvested from the garden.

“Our assurance in the association is that we, members, will continue to unite and help others for this project which is not only for us but also for our children and their children in the near future,” Canales said.

Looking forward

Through the help and support of the government and private organizations as well as

the unity among the members of the community, the group is optimistic that the community vegetable garden can further increase the number of people it can serve.

Aside from planting more, they look forward to establishing new community vegetable gardens in other areas at the barangay. Through this, they hoped to make the entire Barangay 1 a food sufficient barangay.

As a former president of the fisherfolk association, Rellos said, he saw that his constituents need not just fishing, but also planting vegetables.

Moreover, the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” had also previously been a source of vegetables cooked by a school for its feeding program, which is something that the council would like to continue.

It also plans to adopt a “Gulayan sa Paaralan'' by supplying the vegetable seeds and seedlings needed by the schools in establishing their own vegetable garden. They are also willing to share their best practices with other barangays in the city through the conduct of training.

The group also expressed optimism that many other residents would embrace and give importance to farming, especially that Covid-19 pandemic still prevails, so that the push for a healthy community will further gain boost.

Rellos admitted that the illegal drugs problem had been prevalent in the barangay before. But it has been slowly addressed now, he said.

Through the community vegetable garden, they are also looking at helping the residents who previously used illegal drugs by giving them the opportunity to work at the “Gulayan sa Barangay 1.”

“We will help them to earn so that they will not go back to their illegal activities,” Rellos said.

The “Gulayan sa Barangay 1” is now being considered as a model farm by the local government in its bid to replicate the former’s best farming practice to other barangays.

The dreams that they planted about four years ago are now producing positive results. Their success, an inspiration to others.*

“Gintong Ani”
Shyla Francisco
TV5 Network Inc
This story depicts the financial struggle of farmers in Paracale, Camarines Norte who resorted to gold panning their farmland due to the high cost of feeds and fertilizers. It shares their plea that the future of their livelihood be as bright as gold.








”Imbes na palay muna anihin ginto muna inaahon para kami makaraos kesa naman sa wala pang binhi mahal pa wala kaming gawa di lalo kami tengga.”






Imbes na may araro at kalabaw na katulong ang magsasaka, daig pa nila ang kalabaw dahil buong araw sila lang ang nagtatrabaho makakuha lang ng kahit katiting na ginto. Pero gano kahirap ba ito kumpara sa pagsasaka. Tara alamin natin!






SHYLA: ligtas ba yung ginagawa nyo kumpara sa ibang paguhukay at mina?

KUYA MAR: ligtas kasi bukod sa mababaw, wala naman kami ginagamit na kemikal.







number 1 po ang pagsasaka nakakapagpahinga kami pag may palay po (Dennis starts breaking down)
SHYLA: ay bakit po.

DENNIS: Tatapatin ko na po kayo hindi po ako nakapagaral kahit pangalan ko hirap ko isulat kaya ako magsasaka. kung tutuusin di ako magkakabud, ang hirap po mam magkabud, nakita mo sitwasyon kanina halos nilalagnat nako, kagabi di na ko nilalagnat.










Basta siguruhin na mabalik sa dati ang sakahan para mapakinabangan ng mahabang panahon.
SHYLA: di naman naapektuhan lupa noh?

CRISANTO: hindi naman siguro mam walang kemikal na nilalagay, sa ngayon alam ko may pamamaaraan na di na gagamit ng mercury




“ 'Agri @ Home' The RMN DZXL 558 Special Report”
Zhander Cayabyab
Radio Mindanao Network, Inc. (RMN) DZXL 558
This work explores how the COVID-19 pandemic enabled many Filipinos to explore home gardening as 'plantitos' or 'plantitas,' while others ventured into urban agriculture.

ZHANDER CAYABYAB INTROSPIEL: During the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Filipinos have ventured into planting ornamental plants. This is the reason why they were dubbed as “plantitos” and “plantitas” (word play of plant and uncle/aunt). Meanwhile, some have ventured into urban gardening. Good day folks! I am your host, Mr. Zhander Cayabyab. Let’s listen to these success stories of vegetable gardening, aquaculture, and cultivating food in urban areas. This is “Agri @ Home” The RMN DZXL 558 Special Report!

(Lettuce of Payatas)
ZHANDER VO: Who would have thought that in the midst of the now closed Payatas dumpsite in Quezon City, a luxuriant lettuce farm would emerge?
RICARDO: Hi, I am Ricardo Artillero, and I own this mini greenhouse in our rooftop.
ZHANDER VO: Ricardo Artillero Junior, much better known in their community as Utoy, started a mini lettuce plantation in their house in 2022. He uses hydroponics, a technique of growing plants using water instead of soil.
ZHANDER: So that’s water underneath the lettuce?
RICARDO: Yes, that’s water and not soil.
ZHANDER: Can we see what’s inside? (gets some lettuce)
RICARDO: I put water inside the styrofoam containers.
ZHANDER VO: He learned the hydroponics technique through watching videos on YouTube.
RICARDO: I am fond of watching videos online, and then I saw some hydroponics tutorials on social media.
ZHANDER VO: When he was just starting in this hobby, he gathered some scrap styrofoam tuna boxes from the wet market.
RICARDO: I sell fish in the market. When I wanted to start hydroponics, I just collected some scrap styrofoam boxes that were already thrown away. I had no budget back then. What I did first was the Kratky method (stagnant water inside the boxes where the plants are suspended).
ZHANDER VO: Ricardo was doing D.I.Y. or “do it yourself” method back then. He punched holes on the styrofoam lids to create grow beds where the vegetables are to be suspended. He plants the lettuce seedlings on each plastic cup. He recalls having less than one thousand pesos (PHP 1,000) as his first capital.
RICARDO: I bought the seeds, nutrient solution, and coco peat online. I did not spend on the styrofoam boxes as they were from the trash bins. Then I created the grow beds from scrap.
ZHANDER VO: When he was able to successfully grow the first batches of lettuce, Ricardo gathered up some money to expand his greenhouse. He bought some plastic pipes and a water pump that would circulate the nutrient-filled solution. This is called the NFT or Nutrient Film Technique. Compared to the Kratky method, which uses stagnant water, the water in N.F.T. recirculates through the pipes.
ZHANDER: You did this set-up alone?
RICARDO: Yes, I was the one who built this NFT.
ZHANDER: You used PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes.
RICARDO: For the NFT, we usually use tubular pipes.
ZHANDER VO: Ricardo says that setting up a hydroponics garden is not that easy especially for starters.
RICARDO: I just used scrap ultraviolet plastic sheets as roofing for my greenhouse. There were times that these were destroyed by strong typhoons. Also, when I was just starting, all the plants have withered and died. I needed to learn more about hydroponics, so I watched as many YouTube tutorials as possible. From then on, I learned from my mistakes and eventually got back successfully.
ZHANDER VO: A single harvest takes more than a month, until it’s time to harvest and sell the vegetables.
RICARDO: Last week I was able to sell the lettuce. I normally get forty pesos (PHP 40.00) per head.
MONTAGE: (Vlog 1) What’s up, hydroponics friends! I will teach you how to germinate seeds. (Vlog 2) Good morning, I’m here again. (Vlog 3) What’s up guys?
ZHANDER VO: The good news is Ricardo is now vlogging on Facebook and YouTube through his channel dubbed as “Bakuran ni Utoy” (Utoy’s Garden) to teach netizens who want to learn and prosper in hydroponics like him.
RICARDO: This is my advice for those who want to try hydroponics. You will experience failure; it’s but normal for beginners. Just keep moving forward; try to learn the right steps. Just focus on your goal. Eventually you will become successful in this endeavor.
ZHANDER VO: Mr. Jose Diego Roxas, an agriculturist and currently the spokesperson of the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry, started doing hydroponics as a student.
JOSE ROXAS: Probably I got so frustrated when I plant vegetables on soil. Plants become stunted. I started with SNAP (Simple Nutrient Addition Program) hydroponics, which is a technology that we use in the University of the Philippines Los Baños. I started planting lettuce, as we would always recommend. I also tried planting pechay (Chinese cabbage), then tomatoes. Hydroponics has long been practiced around the world. It becomes a bit popular as more and more Filipinos are doing it.
ZHANDER VO: The Department of Agriculture offers programs for those who want to venture into hydroponics.
JOSE ROXAS: We have controlled environment agriculture in the Department of Agriculture office. Once in a while, we open this to the general public so they could see and learn how controlled environment agriculture works.
ZHANDER VO: Even jails and correctional facilities in the Philippines are establishing hydroponics gardens to teach persons deprived of liberty (PDL) how to grow vegetables using the hydroponics system. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has built hydroponics gardens and conducted seminars in Makati City Jail, Taguig City Jail, Cagayan De Oro City Jail, Libmanan District Jail in Camarines Sur, to name a few.
ZHANDER VO: Some high school students in Navotas National High School are busy planting seeds for their hydroponics garden. Students are being taught how to grow vegetables using this method.
ZHANDER VO: When the Taal Volcano erupted last June 2023, Fely Dinglasan, a resident of Batangas, said that the vegetables in her hydroponics garden were destroyed by volcanic ashes. In her Facebook post, Fely apologized to her customers as she cannot deliver vegetables on time for she needs to replenish first the destroyed lettuce. It will take her at least a month to regrow what was lost, as long as the Taal Volcano will stay calm.
ALBERT: In the nipa hut, though small, the vegetation there is varied (an excerpt from the folk song “Bahay kubo, kahit munti. Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari”)
ZHANDER VO: Climate Change Commission (CCC) Commissioner Albert dela Cruz encourages the general public and government employees as well to practice and promote edible gardening.
ALBERT: We already have a resolution that discourages the planting of ornamental plants in government offices. As much as possible, we should practice edible planting. Yes, your roses are beautiful, but don’t ask for a papaya from me if you’re cooking chicken stew.
ZHANDER VO: Dela Cruz says that though flowering plants are beautiful, it’s better to plant vegetables that people could eat.
ALBERT: Yes, ornamental flowers are blatantly mesmerizing to the eyes. But vegetables like squash and sponge gourd have flowers too that you could eat. Aside from that, you could eat their fruits. These are edible materials for food security.


ZHANDER VO: The residents of Alpas Housing Site in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan are seemingly preoccupied in building their aquaponics system. Aquaponics is an urban agriculture technique quite similar to hydroponics, but it also involves aquaculture. This is a 2-in-1 set-up: a vegetable garden merged with a fish pond.
DR. CORONADO: Hello, I’m Dr. Armin S. Coronado…
ZHANDER VO: Dr. Armin Coronado, the Director of the Research Institute for Science and Technology of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, says their group saw the need to build additional sources of food and income for the residents of Alpas Housing Site. Residents here are informal settler families that were relocated in Bulacan. This is the reason why they built an aquaponics set-up here in partnership with the Research Institute for Human and Social Development, which is also under PUP’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Extension, Planning, and Development. The non-governmental organization (NGO) Dana Asia funded the aquaponics project.
DR. CORONADO: Aquaponics is an integrated fish and plant farming. This means that in this system or technology, we can grow and harvest two types of agricultural produce—one is fish, and the other one is vegetable.
ZHANDER VO: Dr. Coronado and his group have been going back and forth to Alpas Housing Site to oversee the aquaponics training of the residents. This aims to provide informal settler families sustainable development by giving them food and livelihood through urban agriculture.
DR. CORONADO: In the aquaponics system, we have recirculating water flow. As you can see, at the bottom tank we keep the fish here. The fish produce waste materials through their feces. These waste materials are to be converted to nitrate through the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that we put in the filter. The dirty water passes through the filter, and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria shall transform nitrogen and ammonia to nitrates. These nitrates shall pass through the water tubes leading to the vegetable grow beds on top. These will now be the nutrients that our vegetables will absorb for them to grow abundantly.
ZHANDER VO: Margarita Hernandez, one of the beneficiaries, says that aside from having a new pastime, they now have a source of additional income.
MARGARITA: It feels like having a baby that we need to nurture. When these fish and vegetables grow, we can sell them in the market.
ZHANDER VO: Girlyn Obenza, chairwoman of the residents’ cooperative, says that their members are excited to harvest the agricultural produce.
GIRLYN: Who would’ve thought that we would own something like this? I actually boast about this aquaponics to the other cooperatives here. I am very grateful because someday, these will add income to our members.
ZHANDER VO: Melanie Fernando and Gloria Quijan also expressed their excitement in gathering and selling fish and vegetables.
GLORIA: For the residents here who don’t have anything to eat, we can give them some. Thanks to the donors, we now have fish and vegetables to tend to.
MELANIE: No, we won’t give them away for free! We can sell them at a lower price.
GLORIA: Yes, indeed. But I suggest that during our first harvest, we can give them away for free. I believe that we should distribute the first harvest for free so that our next produce would be more bountiful.
ZHANDER VO: The Polytechnic University of the Philippines is now studying on what other types of vegetables and fish that they could put in the aquaculture system. They are also planning to set up more aquaponics systems in various adopted villages of the university.
ZHANDER VO: Bureau of Plant Industry spokesperson Mr. Jose Diego Roxas says that aquaponics is more challenging than hydroponics because of the fish and plant elements.
JOSE ROXAS: The aquaponics system has some sets of complications, if I may call them as such. It has a fish component. You have to research and learn how to grow fish, and at the same time, you need to know how to grow vegetables. It’s a bit challenging than hydroponics.
ZHANDER VO: According to the Department of Agriculture, having hydroponics and aquaponics at home may not be able to supply food source on a national level because growing fish and vegetables through these is not large-scale. However, hydroponics and aquaponics may help supplement food source to households or even barangays or villages.
JOSE ROXAS: Hydroponics and aquaponics are not a total replacement to the local agricultural production. These are augmentative. This means that these may help suffice food source in certain areas. We at the Department of Agriculture always advocate for production as a whole. We encourage having edible gardens so that there’d be supply of food particularly vegetables on a household level.

ZHANDER VO: In San Mateo, Rizal, a resident named Albert Estabillo was able to grow a mushroom farm in their garage.
ALBERT: Hi, I am Albert F. Estabillo, and I am the owner of the Randjohn Mushroom Farm.
ZHANDER VO: Albert started spawning mushrooms in their backyard in 2015.
ALBERT: I started with a few fruiting bags. Then I attended some seminars, and was able to establish a mushroom farm.
ZHANDER VO: A workmate encouraged him to pursue this business.
ALBERT: Our doctor informed me about a mushroom growing seminar and asked me if I wanted to attend.
ZHANDER VO: Albert is a registered nurse by profession. He meticulously keeps the mushroom spawns sterile so as not to contaminate production.
ALBERT: (Demonstrates how to generate mushrooms) We need to get a tissue sample from a fresh mushroom. We will cut this mushroom in half, and from the center we will get a small tissue. We will place that tissue to a medium, like seeds. And from there we could produce the filial zero or F0, also called mother culture.
ZHANDER VO: He uses sorghum seeds as media to spawn the mushrooms.
ALBERT: I do the tissue culture here in this room. Earlier we got tissue samples from a fresh mushroom, right? We will place those tissues in this bottle, and then it will become filial zero. We also call this the mother spawn. And from that mother spawn, we can generate more and more. I can produce 30 bottles from one mother spawn.
ZHANDER VO: This is the RandJohn Mushroom Farm—named after his two brothers, Randy and John.
ZHANDER: (Introduces Randy, Albert’s brother) I have with me is Sir Randy, and he will teach us how to assemble a mushroom fruiting bag.
RANDY FERRER: (Demonstrates how to make a fruiting bag) This mixture has four components—sawdust, rice bran, lime, and sugar.
ZHANDER: We have to fill this plastic bag with that substrate.
RANDY: Yes, and it should be compact.
ZHANDER: So I have to use this bottle to compress the substrate?
RANDY: Yes, and after filling that up, we shall place a ring which will serve as the opening of the plastic bag.
ZHANDER: After placing that ring…
RANDY: We will place cotton or cloth ball at the opening so that the mycelium could breathe. The mushroom will grow here.
ZHANDER: After assembling this fruiting bag, I can proudly say that I can start a mushroom business. But I think it’s best to just buy ready-made fruiting bags to spare me from that effort! (laughs)
RANDY: These fruiting bags are now ready for steaming. We will steam them for ten (10) hours.
ZHANDER: Ten hours long?
RANDY: Yes, we will steam these bags for ten hours to remove all contaminants and bacteria to ensure that our mushrooms will grow.
ZHANDER VO: When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, some mushroom growers discontinued their business. But Albert says he is thankful because despite the pandemic, some Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) including seafarers still bought spawns from him. There were also a few who ventured into mushroom farming inside their homes.
ALBERT: Since we are living in Metro Manila, we don’t have large garden lots. Some of those who bought from us placed the fruiting bags in hallways and apartments. I instructed them to put wet cloths around the fruiting bags to keep the mushroom petals moist. There were some who placed the fruiting bags beside their kitchen sink, around 20 bags. Now, they are already harvesting the mushrooms.
ZHANDER: For their personal consumption.
ALBERT: Yes, for personal consumption only.
ALBERT: (Demonstrates harvesting and watering) Harvesting the mushroom is very easy. It’s like pinching an ear. And if you are going to water the fruiting bags, just get the water hose and spray thoroughly.
ZHANDER: That fast?
ALBERT: Yes, mushrooms need moisture. But you also need to water its surroundings, the growing house, the walls, and floor. You also need to water the back part of the fruiting bags.
ALBERT: We sell each bag for twenty-five pesos (PHP 25.00).
ZHANDER: After harvesting the mushrooms, will they sprout again so I could gather some more?
ALBERT: Yes, you are right. Based on our experience, you can repeatedly harvest from a single fruiting bag within a span of six months. Five days after the first flushing, more petals will grow. You can also do a lot of things with oyster mushroom like mushroom chicharron (chips), mushroom bagoong (paste), and mushroom atchara (pickled).
ZHANDER VO: Albert says they now have a wide variety of mushrooms in their farm.
ZHANDER: You told me a while back that you experienced a breakthrough?
ALBERT: Yes, in one of the trials we were able to spawn a rare wild mushroom called “Kalaw.” They grow in the wild but we were able to cultivate them. We also have Ganoderma mushrooms, which is being used as food supplement. This one here is a pink mushroom.
ZHANDER: Are all these edible?
ALBERT: Yes, they are all food source.
ZHANDER VO: Albert is also supplying spawns and helping those who want to start a mushroom business.
ALBERT: Probably the biggest mistake of Filipinos venturing into businesses is that they want to get ahold of the return of investment right away. That’s very, very wrong. We need to invest on time as well. Just keep heart and there’d be a great chance to earn big time.

ZHANDER VO: In the mountains of Alfonso, Cavite, twin brothers Carlo and Paulo Dumael successfully established a vertical mud crab farm or colloquially known as ‘crab condo.’
CARLO DUMAEL: Hello, I am Carlo Dumael, the farm manager of Highland’s Crab.
PAULO DUMAEL: I am Paulo Dumael, assistant…(forgets his designation) Sorry, sorry, sorry! Take two!
CARLO DUMAEL: (Second take) Hello, I am Carlo Dumael, the farm manager of Highland’s Crab.
PAULO DUMAEL: I am Paulo Dumael, the assistant farm manager of Highland’s Crab.
ZHANDER VO: They built the crab farm in their backyard in 2021.
CARLO: We underwent training in Pampanga. We started with 500 crab boxes at first. But now, we have 672 boxes full of crabs.
ZHANDER VO: In the traditional way of crab farming, crabs are raised in ponds with mud and brackish water. But in Highland’s Crabs, the Dumael brothers are using Recirculating Aquaculture System or RAS technology. Crabs are placed in individual boxes, placed vertically as if they are in apartments or condominiums.
CARLO: This type of aquaculture is being practiced in many countries for so long a time, but usually for fish farming.
PAULO: (Instructing Zhander how to feed the crabs) Just give the fish to the crab. Be careful as the crab might grab your tongs, though.
ZHANDER: I was shocked when it immediately grabbed the food!
PAULO: For the crab fattening process, it takes three to four weeks for the juvenile crab to get fat. For larger crabs, it takes a bit longer for them to get fat.
ZHANDER VO: Maintaining a vertical mud crab farm is a tedious task. The brackish water must flow through a proper filtration system.
PAULO: We remove ammonia from the water through our filtration system. We have separate filter stages here to assure we have clean water so the crabs would survive. The first filter compartment has shells in it. Then the water passes through these lava rocks. We also culture the naturally occurring bacteria in the water. We need to do this before putting crabs inside the boxes, or else they will all die. We get our seawater from Batangas. Then we mix them with freshwater to create brackish water.
ZHANDER: For those who want to do crab farming at home, can they improvise? Say for example, using styrofoam boxes?
CARLO: Yes, they may use those. Or, they may also use tubs or crates. But you know, if they want to stock up many crabs for commercial purposes, the Recirculating Aquaculture System is the most efficient. This is easier to clean and maintain. Also, you may put various sizes of crabs in here.
ZHANDER: (Jokingly) In Tagalog, we have crab classifications like male, female, and “gay” crabs, right? Isn’t that a little bit sexist?
CARLO: (Laughs) No, it’s not. Generally, male crabs have triangular abdominal flaps. They also have larger pinchers than females. While female crabs, like this one, have rounded abdominal flaps.
ZHANDER: They say that “gay” crabs are more delicious?
CARLO: “Gay” crabs are scientifically female crabs. But they don’t breed yet because they are still juvenile or virgin. Their abdominal flaps are oval-shaped, narrower than those of the female crabs. Its aligue or crab fat is so soft that it melts in your mouth, similar to the yolk of a salted duck egg.
ZHANDER: So, technically speaking…
PAULO: “Gay” crabs are actually female crabs, or virgin crabs. We just call them “gay” in Tagalog.
ZHANDER: (Jokingly) I told you this topic is topic is sexist!
CARLO: Crabs are nocturnal animals. They live in dark places that’s why we keep them in these boxes without any light source.
ZHANDER VO: Though the Dumael brothers are living in the highlands and there are no fish ponds here, they were able to pull this business through.
CARLO: In their natural habitat, crabs live in brackish rivers. They will eat anything. The ultimate problem there is, sometimes they may eat garbage. We don’t know what’s under the mud. They may also eat rotting carcasses of other animals. Crabs are literally scavengers. They will eat trash. But in this vertical mud crab farm, we can control what they eat. We are assured that they only get fresh and clean fish to eat. If the seafoods that we eat are also eating clean, then we are assured of our safety as well if we consume them.
ZHANDER VO: Aside from the crab farm, they also opened a small restaurant in their backyard offering various crab delicacies—fresh from the adjacent farm. They also offer seminars for those who want to venture in this kind of business.
EXTROSPIEL: The success of venturing into urban agriculture is not comparable to a mushroom that will instantly pop out from nowhere (Filipino traditional quote: “susulpot na parang kabute”). Crab mentality, or pulling others down for you to succeed, is also not an option. If you want to succeed in doing urban agriculture, you need to protect and nurture it with love and patience. You’ll see, the seeds of your labor will bloom abundantly. Until next time, this is Zhander Cayabyab, reporting for RMN DZXL 558 Special Report.


“Unknown to many, tobacco farming thrives in Sarangani”
Bong Sarmiento
This work explores how the COVID-19 pandemic enabled many Filipinos to explore home gardening as 'plantitos' or 'plantitas,' while others ventured into urban agriculture.
FEATURE: Unknown to many, tobacco farming thrives in Sarangani

ALABEL, Sarangani – From a simple bahay kubo, Jacquilyn Cobol-Layan and her family now live in a modest concrete house that took about a decade to finish, largely from the fruits of tobacco farming which, unknown to many, has been thriving in this coastal town since the 1970s.
She and her partner, Arnel Layan, in fact, belong to the second generation of tobacco planters in this municipality, the seat of the Sarangani provincial government.
Tobacco farming in this town originated from Negros Oriental, after several farmers from the Visayan province migrated to this part of the south four decades ago, lured by the government’s program enticing settlers to Mindanao or what it referred to then as “The Land of Promise.”
Until now, tobacco farming continues to thrive and has been benefiting dozens of families in Barangay Spring, about 10 minutes ride from the población of Alabel on motorcycle, the main mode of transportation in this first-class town with a population of at least 88,000.
“If not for tobacco farming, we would not be able to live in a concrete house. We built this slowly over the years. After we harvest tobacco, we would buy some construction materials for our dream house,” Jacquilyn said in Cebuano.
Almost every day for six months a year in the last nine years, Jacquilyn would accompany her partner Arnel to go to their farm to take care of their tobacco plants. Jacquilyn has four children from a previous relationship. They are with their father. Arnel has two children living with them from his former wife. Jacquilyn and Arnel have no children of their own after nine years of living together since she’s ligated.

All their respective children are still studying, between Grades 6 and 11. “Tobacco farming helped us send them all to school,” Jacquilyn said, adding that she sends allowance regularly to her children from their farming livelihood.
“Daily attention”

Tobacco is meticulous to cultivate and requires “daily attention,” Jacquilyn stressed, noting “Halos di na gani mi kasimba (We can barely attend church services).”
It was Arnel who first learned the rudiments of tobacco cultivation from his father Agapito Layan, Sr., who taught the farming techniques to his children.
Of the seven Layan siblings, six pursued planting tobacco. From planting, it takes six months to harvest, and at least 18 days for curing, then off to the market.
“The income from tobacco farming is way better than corn farming. I raised my family mostly from tobacco farming,” said Agapito, smoking a paper-wrapped tobacco grown in his half a hectare farm.
On a good harvest, Agapito revealed he could earn P150,000 from tobacco, which, according to him, is three times the net income from corn.
For the first-class or those in the upper part of the tobacco plant, a bunch of 100 leaves is bought by their buyer at P600.
Agapito plants tobacco once a year and after harvest, would either plant corn or vegetables to complete the annual farming cycle.
Corn, which can be harvested after four months, is capital intensive in terms of the inputs, the reason why Agapito stuck to tobacco farming in four decades.

Tobacco can be ratooned but the yield becomes less compared to planting new seedlings, he said.
Although tobacco farming did not make them rich, Agapito, with the help of wife Antonia, stressed it allowed them to sustain the basic needs of the family and paved the way for their seven children, now all with their own families, to study until high school.
Agapito and Antonia, who are in their 60s, both smoke. But they do not buy cigarettes sold in the neighborhood stores. They smoke using tobacco produced from their farm, explaining it does not have a negative effect on their health unlike the cigarettes that undergo the manufacturing process.
In a briefer, the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) said that while tobacco “is pinpointed as cancer-causing, it is considered by many as a panacea for many ailments. It may yet be the plant of manifold use as research continues to discover industrial and pharmaceutical products from the leaves as well as from its by-products.” The Philippines approved Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 to regulate the use, sale and advertisements of tobacco products.
The law does not ban the cultivation of tobacco. According to the NTA data, tobacco is widely grown in the Luzon provinces of Ilocos del Sur, Ilocos del Norte, Isabela, Abra, La Union and Pangasinan.
Grown in Mindanao

In Mindanao, tobacco is grown in Bukidnon, Maguindanao, Misamis Oriental, North Cotabato, Sarangani and Zamboanga del Sur, it added.

In 2021, the value of tobacco produced in the Philippines amounted to around 5.71 billion pesos, market and consumer data provider Statista ( said in a report published in September 2022.
Agapito said they continue to plant tobacco since there is a local market for it in General Santos City and in Sarangani province, as accompaniment for betel nut
or “mama” chewing aside from the unprocessed tobacco popular in remote villages or in the hinterlands.
According to him, the only chemical they apply to propagate tobacco is pesticide to kill the worms.
The weeds are being pulled out manually as spraying them with herbicides will kill the tobacco plants, Jacquilyn said while touring this journalist in their farm, which is just near Agapito’s.
The Layans who are into tobacco growing – seven in all – each maintain a farm ranging from one-fourth to one-half hectare.
A few blocks away from the Layan compound, another veteran tobacco farmer, Buenaventura Pales, 66, shared how the crop helped him and his wife raise their four children, who all finished high school.
“I am a son of a tobacco farmer. My father used to work in a large tobacco plantation in Negros Oriental until he brought us here in the 1970s,” Pales narrated.
The fifth of eight siblings, Pales said their parents also brought them up from the sweat of tobacco farming.
Pales said two of his children have followed in his footsteps as a tobacco farmer.


“It is not easy to grow tobacco, it is labor-intensive, but I’m proud that we managed to make it sustainable until now,” he told this journalist.
Pales said the emerging shoots of the tobacco plants must be removed manually so the older leaves will grow thick and tasty.
Ever since the locals cultivated tobacco, they have not had a problem with planting materials since the existing plants bear seeds they can propagate.
The seeds are sowed in a bed of soil and fully covered from the sun by available farm materials such as coconut or banana leaves. If there’s no rain, they are watered daily until the sprouts come out and replanted manually in the field after about 45 days.
Aside from pesticides, Pales said he applies urea to fertilize his tobacco plants. According to him, he would not stop planting tobacco until he has the strength to do farm work.
“My father stopped planting tobacco when he was 80 years old,” Pales said.

But local tobacco farmers here are apparently out of the radar of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) National Tobacco Administration.
“We hope the concerned government agency will extend assistance to our tobacco venture,” Pales appealed, the same plea that Jacquilyn aired.
“There’s no government help extended to our tobacco production in the village,” Jacquilyn said.
Shiery Chris Zulueta, Alabel Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) Agriculture Officer 1, admitted the tobacco farmers have not received assistance since the DA’s thrust, as well as the local government unit’s, is focused more on boosting food production.
Food farmers as priority

“Unfortunately, tobacco farmers here are not the priority. The priority is the food farmers,” she said.
But last year, they received DA assistance in the form of corn seeds and fertilizers in line with the food production thrust of the government, Jerson Nerez, MAO Agriculture Administrative Assistant 2, said.
Local tobacco farmers need easy access to long-term financing, the provision of farm inputs to boost their production and marketing assistance, Jacquilyn said.
“Kaya man namo bayran pag pinautang mi gikan sa pagtanom ug pagbenta sa among tabako (We can afford to pay the loan from the proceeds of our tobacco harvest),” she noted.
Like other small farmers in the country, the tobacco farmers here also raise farm animals such as ducks, chickens, cows and carabaos, among others, to help them tide over during hard times.

“The Onion Story”
Jervis Manahan
This online material peels the layers of problems of the Philippines’ onion industry.
The Onion Story: Peeling the Layers of Problems in the PH Onion Industry

Intertwined problems have long plagued onion farmers, who fear that these layers of unresolved issues will become a cycle of crises for the industry, similar to what beset the country starting late 2022.

BONGABON, NUEVA ECIJA — Fresh out of high school in 1985, Victor Layug started farming onions in the hopes that it would lift his family out of poverty.
But nearly four decades since, the same problems plaguing the onion industry remain mostly unsolved; rather, according to farmers like Layug, they have only worsened.
Despite onions being a predictable commodity, with a specific planting season in the calendar and specific regions suitable for production, farmers have to contend with layers of challenges year in and year out.

When Layug started farming 38 years ago, planting onions was more affordable. By end of harvest season, he would not just break even, but earn considerably.
That changed in the late 2000s, when inflation made farming a tougher enterprise. Cost of agricultural input rose, particularly fertilizers in 2008 during the global financial crisis.
“Buhat pa noong 1985, pagka-graduate ko ng high school, nag-umpisa na kaming magsibuyas. Noong 1985, ang pataba noon halos P200 lang, ngayon inaabot ng

P2,400. Ganon kalaki ang diperensya. ‘Yung butong P2,000 [dati], umaabot na [ngayon ng] P7,500 per can. Ang inuubos naming, 10 can per hectare,” he said.
For many farmers today, maximizing a hectare of land for onion farming would entail around P300,000 — a huge sum for agricultural workers who earn modest wages.
This situation, Layug said, usually plunges farmers into debt before they can start planting their crops.
“Kung minsan nangungutang, kung minsan nagtitira ng sadyang pampuhunan namin, o nag-aalaga kami ng hayop ta’s kailangan ibenta para mamuhunan. Ang magsasaka kapag nalugi ng dalawang beses, ang unang ibibenta niyan sa unang beses, kalabaw. Sa susunod na pagkalugi, isasangla na [ang] lupa. Maaaring mawala na [ang] lupa sa pagkalugi,” he explained.
Simply obtaining onion seeds can be costly for farmers like Layug. As the Philippines does not have native onion seeds, they have to be imported.
“Imported ‘yung seeds, not because ayaw nating mag produce, but because ‘yung climate natin does not provide for seed production ng onion,” explained Jose Diego Roxas, spokesperson of the Bureau of Plant Industry. “Kung magpo-produce man tayo ng seeds dito, it will take so much investment, na hindi na worth it.”
Farmers need at least 10 cans of seeds for every hectare of land. Aggravating that initial cost has been the rising price of fertilizer, Layug pointed out.

The high price of agricultural input has forced some onion farmers in Bongabon to switch to planting cheaper crops like corn and lowland vegetables, or opt for a different means of livelihood altogether, according to the town’s mayor Ricardo Padilla.
The result: the “shrinking” of onion farms in the Bongabon, which has long been regarded as the “onion capital” of the Philippines. According to Bongabon LGU, they used to plant onions in as much as 2800 hectares of land in 2016. Last planting season, only 1800 hectares of land were used to plant onions.
In 2016, a big portion of the town’s arable land was devoted to onions. Since then, what was once an expansive farming area for onions has significantly shrunk, said Padilla.
“Medyo bumaba ‘yung hectares ng nataniman ng sibuyas. Dati kasi ang Bongabon ay nakakapagtanim ng 2,800 na sibuyas, pero dahil sa taas ng investment sa sibuyas, ‘yung mga farmers, pinili nila na magtanim ng iba. Ngayong taon na ito, bumaba ang taniman, naging 1,800 na lang. Ang karamihan ng mga nagtatanim ng sibuyas ay hindi naman masyadong mayayaman, ordinaryong tao lang," the mayor explained.
Bongabon, also home of the country’s onion festival, has ironically seen a considerable decrease in onion production due to these factors — and more, including the feared armyworm which can wipe out an entire farm overnight.

In Bongabon, the worst fear of farmers is a tiny insect locally known as “harabas,” or the armyworm.

Armyworms are so ferocious that even the most experienced farmers are wary of them. A single attack of the armyworm can result in an entire farm of onions disappearing within a day.
“Ang talagang problemang hinaharap niyan ay ‘yung tinatawag na armyworm. ‘Pag nadaanan, in one night, ubos ang sibuyas,” Padilla said.
The pest is so troublesome that it was pointed as a reason for a steep fall in production in 2016, when an outbreak of armyworm happened in Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, and Tarlac.
Aside from the dreaded “harabas,” farmers also have to contend with the weather. Onions, due to being sensitive to rain, are planted only during the dry season.
Rains cause some onion plants to rot. They trigger “anthracnose” and other fungi, which affect the output of farmers like Daniel Alfaro. During this year’s planting season, he lost at least 30 bags of onions due to the fungal disease.
Alfaro, who also serves as a consultant of Bongabon’s Municipal Agriculture Office, explained: “Ito ‘yung tinatawag natin na nag ‘spaghetti’ siya or twister. Kapag ‘yan ay nag spaghetti na, ‘di na maglalaman ‘yan, nabubulok na ‘yung bulb niyan, ‘di na siya
pi-puwede. Parang bacteria ito, kapag nabulok ito, lahat mahahawa ‘yan, lalo na kapag ikaw ay nag irrigate na. Lahat ng madadaanan ng tubig mo, mahahawa.”
“Napakaganda ng dahon ng sibuyas, [pero] kapag tinamaan iyan ng tubig ulan, namamahay sa dahon ng sibuyas. Kung halimbawa ito ay aani ng 200 bags, nabawasan na ng 30-40 bags. Malaki [ang] epekto. Lalo ngayon, napakamahal ng input, labor. Lahat ng ilalagay mo, mahal,” he added.

The Bureau of Plant Industry said it has an entire division doing research to help farmers control pests. That research, however, have yet to be cascaded on a larger scale, so farmers have been generally supportive of the plan to create an Onion Research Institute, to help them weather problems such as pests and fungi brought by rains.

Crops that do reach harvest season will then have to be stored properly — yet another layer of challenge for farmers who don’t have access to cold storage facilities.
These warehouses are designed to freeze onions at 0 degrees Celsius. If properly stored, onions get an extended shelf life of up to eight months.
Since onions are harvested only once a year, an ample amount need to be stored in cold storage facilities to supply markets in the latter months of the year.
Cold storage, however, comes with a price: For the cold storage in Bongabon, it’s P270 per bag for six months, higher than the 2022 rate of P210.
Some farmers, including Layug, cannot afford the additional cost of storage, on top of their agricultural input. He explained that they would rather sell their produce immediately after harvest, to recover their expenses and pay their debts.
“‘Yung katulad naming maliliit na magsasaka na may kalahating ektarya hanggang isang ektarya, walang kakayanan na mag stock para umabot ng August o September ‘yung aming mga pananim. ‘Di namin kayang mag storage. Sa haba ng panahon ng

aming paghihintay, marami na kami nautang na gamit. Doon kami nahihirapan, kaya ‘di namin kaya mag storage,” Layug said.
Only traders who have the financial means to buy onions from farmers and pay storage fees get the chance to store and sell them months later, Layug noted.
In Bongabon, there is only one operating cold storage facility, and it’s privately owned. Two more are being constructed, as of February. One will be owned by the local government of Bongabon; while the other, which is funded by the PH Rural Development Project, will be run by farmer cooperatives. Other cold storage facilities are in the nearby Palayan City, which is less-than-an-hour travel by land.
The existing cold storage facility in Bongabon, operated by Teresa Ilagan and Company, was built in 1963 but only started storing onions in the ‘80s. It opens mid-February of each year, during the peak of harvest, and can store 210,000 bags of onions.
During seasons with good harvest, the warehouse is filled to the brim, according to Larry Santa Maria, who runs the day-to-day operations of the facility.
“Kapag ang production ay maganda, napupuno ito. Ngayon, hindi lang ito napupuno kapag nasira [ang] sibuyas. Walang ikakarga, hindi mapupuno. Pero ‘pag maganda ang harvest, puno talaga to,” he explained.
In the case of Teresa Ilagan and Company, the stored onions are pulled out in staggered batches to supply markets in Metro Manila.
“Based sa observation ko, ang paglalabas nila, staggered, base sa order ng market sa kanila. Hindi bultohan. Totally empty na [ang storage] by the end of October. Wala nang

laman ‘yon. Base nga sa contract namin, hanggang 6 months lang kami, sa August. Ang extension, depending sa availability ng stocks,” Santa Maria said.
In the entire Philippines, there are 70 cold storage facilities, 10 of which are in Nueva Ecija. Most are in Metro Manila, totaling 27, while the rest are in other onion-producing provinces: eight in Cavite; five each in Bulacan and Cebu; three in Davao del Sur; two each in Pangasinan, Misamis Oriental, Laguna, Rizal, and Occidental Mindoro; and one each in Pampanga and Tarlac.
That number, however, is not enough to store the onions that are simultaneously harvested in the same month, according to Cold Chain Association of the Philippines President Anthony Dizon.
“Ang design ng cold storage ng sibuyas, para sa sibuyas lang, ‘di mo puwedeng magamit sa ibang commodity. Ang aming sariling pagtaya, ang total capacity ng cold storage para sa sibuyas, nasa 100,000 tons all over the country. Kung local production ng sibuyas ay 200,000 tons na sabay-sabay aanihin, at ang storage capacity mo ay
hindi aabot ng 200,000 tons, obviously magkakaroon ng shortage,” Dizon explained.

The Department of Agriculture constructed one cold storage facility in 2022, and plans to build six more in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Nueva Ecija, and Mindoro, according to the Philippine Chamber on Agriculture and Food in 2023. However, agricultural stakeholders said these might still not even be enough to house the annual harvest.

Aside from the lack of storage facilities, another pressing problem is the annual shortage of locally produced onions. The Philippines is not self-sufficient when it comes

to local onions, as Filipinos consume more than farmers produce, data from the Department of Agriculture shows.
With a population of over 100 million, the Philippines needs more than 300,000 metric tons of onions to meet the demand.
In 2022, the Philippines produced only 283,000 metric tons, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry. Lower figures were logged in previous years.
To fill this gap, the government imports onions, mostly from China and the Netherlands, during the last quarter of the year, as local supply only lasts until around September.
But with leadership changes in the Department of Agriculture in 2022, the agency decided to rely on local production.
“Historically, nag-iimport tayo ng sibuyas kasi alam natin na merong times na mababa ang production. This time around, we decided to do otherwise. Hindi mag-iimport and rely on the local production. Dahil doon, tumaas ang presyo,” Roxas, the plant industry bureau’s spokesperson, said.
The government resumed importing in January 2023, when price of onions skyrocketed to as high as 600 pesos per kilo.
Bongabon farmers and residents slammed this as an ill-timed decision, as the imports arrived at the onset of local harvest.
When news about importation came out, farmgate price of onions dipped. And when the imported onions arrived, the price of local onions gradually decreased.

For the likes of Geronimo Rocafort, whose life-long livelihood has been farming onions, the move to import the commodity had a huge impact on the what was supposed to be his family’s earnings.
“Dalawang taon nang hindi maganda ang kita. Ngayon sana umaasa ang farmer na kumita nang maganda-ganda. Tapos nag angkat — bagsak ang presyo namin,” Rocafort said.
Rocafort is not alone in lamenting the government decision to import onions; Bongabon farmers all had to grapple with the plunging value of their local produce.
The Department of Agriculture has time and again defended the import move as a market-corrective measure to temper the retail price of onions for consumers.
The government allowed the importation of around 21,000 metric tons, but the Bureau of Plant Industry reported that in actuality, only around 3,500 metric tons of imported onions arrived last January 23.
For the farmers, however, this was still a big-enough volume that drastically affected their livelihood.

From the farm to markets and eventually the kitchen, onions go through many steps before being served on the table — and the price increases with each.
Farmers spend money for labor, as they hire farm workers to separate onion bulbs from the plant. Through agents, farmers then sell their harvest to “buying stations,” which are

owned by small-time traders. Here, onions are bought by traders at prevailing farmgate prices.
“Ang nag-di-determine ay ‘yung market,” explained Greg Pesa, who owns a buying station. “Iyong binibigay sa’ming presyo, ‘yun lang din ang nagiging basehan namin, kung magkano kayang bilhin sa palengke. ‘Pag sinabi ng ahente na ganitong presyo, sasabihin namin sa mga suki sa Divisoria, ‘Kaya niyo ba ‘yung ganitong presyo?’”
Another buying station owner, Guillermo Pesa, expounded: “Itatawag muna sa hinuhulugan kung magkano [ang] kuha. Itatawag muna sa Divisoria, ganu’n. Kaya alam na agad [ang] ipipresyo. Kasi kukunin nila ang labor at truck, hakot sa bukid, aawasin lahat sa presyo.”
From here, onions are sorted. Good ones are separated from the rejects, which are sold at lower prices. Traders at buying stations have the option to bring the produce directly to a “bagsakan” — the likes of Divisoria or Balintawak — or store them at cold storage facilities.
At this point, the onions have gone through several middlemen — a factor in the price increase of the commodity, according to Department of Agriculture spokesperson Kristine Evangelista.
Without these steps, onions could be sold at much lower prices. This is evident in the structure of the government agency’s Kadiwa program, where farmer cooperatives can sell directly without middlemen. At Kadiwa centers, produce can be sold at 20% less than the retail price in markets, Evangelista said.
In Bongabon, sans middlemen, onions are sold during harvest at 10-20 pesos per kilo.


Farmers do not have the power to set the price of onions, and in most harvest cycles, they even incur financial losses. The retail price of onions is also not directly
proportional to a farmer’s income, Rocafort pointed out.

The onion farmer said they consider themselves lucky if they get to earn P100,000 at the end of harvest season. This might seem as a fair and reasonable amount, but that’s already their total profit for the entire year.
“Sa aming kalagayan ngayon, mas marami ang hindi kumita, karamihan nalugi. Dito sa 2,000 square meters na ito, nalugi ako ditto ng halos P40,000. Ang problema namin, kapag kami ang nalugi, napipilitan namin isangla o ibenta ang mga ari-arian namin para mabayaran ang utang. ‘Pag naisanla namin ‘yung lupa, wala na kaming pagtataniman,” Rocafort said.
Due to repeated instances of losing income, Layug understands why his children are aiming for a job other than farming onions like him. Layug himself has had to find other sources of income, including dairy production.
“Hindi na po nangarap ‘yung mga anak kong magtuloy sa pagtatanim ng sibuyas o pagsasaka, at ang kinukuha na nila ay hindi na pag aagrikultura,” he said.
Rocafort agreed: “Sana naman magkaroon ng pagkakataon ang mga magsasaka na magkaroon ng marangal at masayang pamilya.”

The Onion Roadmap of the Philippines indicates that the government aims to increase onion production to achieve self-sufficiency in 5 years, or by 2025.
Various interventions are being planned, such as increasing the size of land devoted to onion farming and introducing higher-yielding varieties, as well as more advanced technology.
Among the steps so far taken by the Bureau of Plant Industry is distributing free seeds to help farmers cope with rising costs.
“At present, ang plano talaga as we’ve been doing is giving away input like seeds na high-yielding variety, subsidies, and all that. Meron ding kino-construct na cold storage facilities again to minimize ‘yung losses ng ating farmers. Iyon ang solutions — dadagdagan ang cold storage, ili-link ang farmers not just to our markets, but also to our institutional buyers,” Roxas said.
Until those plans are put in place, onion farmers said the future remains bleak. Layug said he fears that lack of action from the government will lead to their layers of problems becoming a cycle, every growing and harvest season.
Worse, that cycle might just mean losing more farmers — not just in Nueva Ecija but in other onion-producing provinces like Ilocos, Mindoro, and Isabela — with the possibility of the Philippines becoming import-dependent.
“Pangamba ko po, baka dumating ang araw na wala nang magtanim ng sibuyas at [ang] mangyari, puro inangkat na po ang ating produkto,” he said.
“Ayaw namin sapitin na ang sibuyas, puro importasyon.”


“Vape Bill: Unresolved debate on vaping’s risks, benefits now to reach Duterte’s table”
Cristina Eloisa Baclig
The article presents a balanced view of the Vape Bill through showcasing both sides of the debate.
Vape Bill: Unresolved debate on vaping’s risks, benefits now to reach Duterte’s table

RESTRICTED USE A customer checks out vape flavors at a store in Pasay City, which has banned vaping in public areas.

(Second of two parts)

MANILA, Philippines—While President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to decide on the future of the proposed Vaporized Nicotine Products Regulation Act, or the Vape Bill, proponents of the bill and endorsers of vaping push for its passage amid an outcry from health experts and youth protection advocates.

The pending Vape Bill, which passed the House of Representatives and the Senate— with both versions reconciled by a bicameral conference committee—seeks to regulate vaporized nicotine (vape) and non-nicotine products as well as novel tobacco products.

The bill is currently up for Duterte’s signature after the House of Representatives ratified in January the report of the bicameral conference committee which reconciled the disagreeing provisions of Senate Bill No. 2239 and House Bill No. 9007.

On April 19, however, acting Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar said in a press briefing that Malacañang records office has yet to receive a copy of the Vape bill.

The bill, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, is also expected to encourage smokers to shift from unhealthy cigarettes to “alternative less harmful products”, such as vape or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

However, certain provisions in the bill have been questioned by no less than the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Education (DepEd), as well as medical experts, and groups of concerned citizens.

Those against the passage of the bill pointed out that it might weaken the already existing measures on smoking—including RA 11346, RA 11467, and EO No. 106—and the grim impact of the bill on Filipino youth.

Among the things pointed out were the lowering of the age of access to vape from 21 to 18 years old, as well as allowing more flavors—which experts said might further entice or appeal to children and non-smokers.

Still, despite calls to veto the vape bill, supporters urge Duterte to sign it into law, citing what they believed as the advantages of the pending bill. Some supporters have also previously answered some claims made by opposing groups.

Supporters counter complaints

Although the bill lowers the age of access to vape or vapor products from 21—as currently stated by RA 11467 and EO 106—to 18 years old, Recto said the bill “is never intended to adopt a new lifestyle, especially for minors, who are prohibited from having access to these products.”

Contrary to previous claims by the DOH, DepEd, and medical experts that more youth will be put at risk once the bill is passed into law, House Deputy Speaker Rodent Marcoleta said the Vape Bill has ample safeguards for youth protection.

“Out of the 30 provisions of the entire bill, half of it is for prohibition, especially (for) minors who should not be given access to these products,” he said.

The health and education departments, as well as groups of medical experts, have also aired concerns on a provision in the bill, which only restricts those with “flavor descriptors” that are “proven to unduly appeal” to youth.

This was in comparison to existing laws, which banned vape flavors other than plain tobacco or menthol—in an effort to prevent enticing minors to use vape.

“The flavors, that’s why we don’t want them, it’s not because of the injury, it’s because it entices children, it was developed for kids. Because no adult will smoke blueberry flavor

or ice cream,” Dr. Rolando Enrique “Eric” Domingo, former director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), told VERA Files.

Flavors such as cotton candy, chocolate, or any fruity flavors are just among the over 15,000 vape flavors currently available and accessible in the market—which Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, executive director of the multi-sectoral Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), said are marketed as “beginner-friendly” by some retailers.

To address such concerns, Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing, one of the authors of the Vape Bill, said they are cognizant of the concerns related to flavors when they drafted the bill.

“The Vape Bill is very restrictive when it comes to flavors. We understand that flavors should not be used to target minors and non-smokers,” she said.

Rep. Sharon Garin, chairperson of the House Committee for Economic Affairs and a member of the House bicameral conference committee, said the pending Vape Bill complements existing regulations such as RA 11467 and EO 106.

“With the passage of the Vape Bill, we are solidifying the provisions of RA 11467 and Executive Order 106 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte and in particular, banning the sale of e-cigarettes with flavors other than menthol and tobacco,” said Garin.

“We made sure that every aspect of regulation for these products were included in the bill including the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, use and advertising. We did not leave any stone unturned and even included the provisions under EO 106 issued by the President,” she continued.

“More importantly, we made sure that this bill has teeth for enforcement by including severe penalties for violators thereof – something that we don’t have at present under RA 11467 and EO 106,” the lawmaker added.

In a statement, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who sponsored RA 11467, urged proponents of the bill to refrain from claiming that the measure will be beneficial to the youth—which the senator described as a “blatant lie.”

“The proponents say that their bill [solidifies] the provisions of RA 11467 and Executive Order 106 by strengthening the flavor ban on e-cigarettes. If that was the case, then they should have just kept the provision of the Sin Tax Act – which limits vape flavors to plain tobacco and plain menthol only,” the senator said.

“Instead, they provided wording that allows hundreds and thousands of flavors to flood the market. How will they even regulate all these flavors? In the US, 55,000 flavors were rejected by the US FDA for failing to provide evidence that they protect public health,” she added.

Not peddlers of ‘fake news’

Last month, Garin also reacted to claims by the health and education sectors—both of which opposed the Vape Bill—and said that the opposing groups spread “misinformation” about the bill.

“I don’t understand the misinformation being spread by some sectors that this bill overturns the ban on the use of flavors that appeal to minors and other restrictions under EO 106. This is fake news. Except for the age requirement, the Vape Bill does not repeal the provisions of RA 11467 and EO 106. It actually strengthens it,” Garin said.

She also called out what she described as misleading reports, saying that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will continue to have exclusive jurisdiction and regulate vapor products with health claims under the Vape Bill, while the Department of Trade and Industry will regulate vapor products without health claims.

In a statement, members of the Sin Tax Coalition slammed the lawmaker for calling sectors who oppose the bills as bearers of fake news.

“On the contrary, the supporters of the Vape Bill are the ones using false information and spreading unverified and controverted studies to favor their narrative that the Vape Bill is pro-youth and pro-health,” the statement read.

The group further asked Garin to refrain from spreading “false news.”

“The Vape Bill is far from being a harm reduction strategy. The bill is what we should call fake news. Anti-health politicians claim that the Vape Bill will finally regulate vaping. That is patently false. The truth is, vaping has always been regulated by the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) through Republic Act No. 11467 and Executive Order No. 106.
The new Vape Bill does not ‘strengthen’ regulation as claimed by Representative Garin.“

“We wish that our anti-health politicians conduct further research before issuing statements that turn out to be false.”


Supporters of the Vape Bill said that once approved, it will give access to around 16 million Filipino smokers to alternatives to smoking—such as vape, e-cigarettes, or heated tobacco products (HTPs)—while providing strict safeguards to ensure that minors and non-smokers do not have access to these products.

“The logical conclusion is that vapor products will save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers or at the very least reduce their health risks. Therefore, regulation and not prohibition is key. This is what the vape bill seeks to do,” said Dr. Fernandez.

Dr. Arleen Reyes, past president of the Philippine Dental Association, echoed Dr. Fernandez’s sentiments, adding that banning vapor products could only lead to a worse smoking problem in the country.

“I don’t agree that we should ban vapor products. If we do that, we will lose this public health opportunity to end the smoking epidemic. Let’s not forget, smoking kills close to 100,000 Filipino smokers every year. That is around 300 Filipinos per day. A ban on vapor products only perpetuates the use of cigarettes that endangers the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” said Dr. Reyes.

Former smokers also said vapor products have helped them throw away their habit of smoking tobacco products.

“It took me a very long time to stop smoking. Without vapor products, I would not have been able to fully stop. The reality is many smokers will try to stop smoking, but will never be successful. That is what the WHO data says,” said Dr. Telesforo Gana, past president of the Philippine Urological Association and past chair of the Philippine Board of Urology.

“Smoker’s lives matter too. We should not look at them as statistics. We need to have pragmatic solution to end the smoking epidemic. I hope the Vape Bill can be that
solution so we can save the lives of 16 million Filipino smokers,” he added.

Vape users who supported the bill also believe that using vapor products are far less harmful than smoking cigarettes, thus making it a better alternative, especially for those who are trying to quit smoking.

“The science supporting vaping and heated tobacco as less harmful alternatives to cigarettes can’t be denied anymore. Progressive countries including the US, the UK, New Zealand and many more have embraced these non-combustible alternatives, following extensive scrutiny by their respective public health institutions,” said Joaqui Gallardo, spokesman of Vaper AKO.

“More and more adult smokers who had no success in quitting smoking before have finally found what works for them to kick the deadly habit. A UK study concluded that non-combustible alternatives are twice as effective compared to nicotine replacement therapy in helping smokers quit,” said Anton Israel, president of the Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP).

Israel added that “more than a million papers have already left smoking behind with the help of vapes and heated tobacco products.”

Marcoleta said the passage of the bill is expected to result in a drop in the number of smokers in the Philippines.

“As seen in other countries, smoke-free alternatives significantly contributed to the drop in the number of smokers. This is our gift, our legacy to the Filipino people,” he said.

Still very dangerous

The DOH emphasized that vapor products “are harmful and not risk-free and should be regulated as health products due to their toxic substances and effects”

“Vape liquids and its emission contain chemicals such as nicotine, propylene glycol, carbonyls, and carbon monoxide that are either addictive, toxic or can cause cancer,” the health department said.

“Additionally, studies have shown vape use increases the risk of using other known addictive substances such as cigarette use, alcoholism and even marijuana use. There is also growing evidence of the harmful effects of using vapes both to the user and those exposed to its emissions, including its potential to cause cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems and explosion injuries,” the department added.

On its website, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes, may contain varying amounts of nicotine and harmful emissions.

“E-cigarette emissions typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users, and non-users who are exposed to the aerosols secondhand. Some products claiming to be nicotine-free have been found to contain nicotine,” said WHO.

“Evidence reveals that these products are harmful to health and are not safe. However, it is too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of using them or being exposed to them,” it added.

Similar to smoking cigarettes, ENDS users may also have a high risk of heart and lung disorders. They can also pose significant risks to pregnant women and non-smokers.

Moreover, WHO warned that children may swallow liquid used in ENDS such as vape or e-cigarettes. Instances of devices leaking as well as injuries such as burns through fires and explosions have also been associated with ENDS.

Are e-cigarettes or vapor products more or less dangerous than conventional tobacco cigarettes?

“It is difficult to generalize on the risk to health of ENDS as compared with cigarettes or other tobacco products, as this is contingent on a range of factors. Both tobacco products and ENDS pose risks to health.,” said WHO.

“The safest approach is not to use either,” it added.

When asked about the role of ENDS in smoking cessation, WHO said:

“The scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of ENDS as a smoking cessation aid is still being debated. To date, in part due to the diversity of ENDS products and the low certainty surrounding many studies, the potential for ENDS to play a role as a population-level tobacco cessation intervention is unclear.”

To “truly help” tobacco users quit and strengthen global tobacco control, WHO advised governments to “scale up policies and interventions that we know work.”

These include tried and tested interventions including:

● Brief advice from health professionals

● National toll-free quit lines

● Cessation interventions delivered via mobile text messaging

● Promoting nicotine replacement therapies and non-nicotine pharmacotherapies for cessation in areas where it is economically feasible.

Harmful impact

A commissioned survey conducted by Pulse Asia last year showed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos, or 77 percent of 1,200 adult respondents, believe that e-cigarettes pose a “serious health hazard” to users.

At least 15 percent said it is a minor health hazard, while two percent said it is not.

But what are these health hazards exactly?

According to a 2021 study published in International Journal of Environmental

Research and Public Health, around 40 percent of e-cigarette users reported

experiencing vaping side effects on a daily basis.

Some of the common e-cigarette side effects include:

● burning or scratchy feeling in mouth, lips, and throat

● cough

● dizziness

● dry/sore mouth and throat

● headache

● heart palpitations

● shortness of breath

● sleepiness

● weakened taste

Vaping, according to consumer advocacy organization Drugwatch, can also cause serious side effects, albeit rare, such as:

● nicotine addiction

● severe lung injury

● seizures

● cryptogenic organizing pneumonia (COP), formerly known as idiopathic bronchiolitis obliterates with organizing pneumonia (BOOP)
● popcorn lung

● strokes

● heart attacks

In November 2019, the DOH received an official report on the first case of E-cigarette or Vape-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) from a private pediatric pulmonologist based in the Visayas.

According to the case report, the patient was a 16-year-old female adolescent who had been using e-cigarettes for six months “while concurrently consuming combustible cigarettes, referred to as ‘dual use’.”

The patient, who was admitted to hospital in October that year, "initially presented with sudden-onset severe shortness of breath, required oxygen supplementation and ICU admission. Upon admission, the clinical impression was initially considered to be infectious in nature."

“All e-cigarette users should seek immediate medical help, and ask their doctors for ways to quit these harmful products. No e-cigarette product should be accessible to young children and adolescents, who are uniquely susceptible to the harms of e- cigarettes and nicotine. I urge non-users not to even try e-cigarettes at all,” then Health Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo stated.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also emphasized that e- cigarette aerosol is “not harmless ‘water vapor’.”

The e-cigarette aerosol that users breathe from the device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:

● nicotine

● ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs

● flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease

● volatile organic compounds

● cancer-causing chemicals

● heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead

“The aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can expose both themselves and bystanders to harmful substances,” the US CDC said.

“It is difficult for consumers to know what e-cigarette products contain. For example, some e-cigarettes marketed as containing zero percent nicotine have been found to contain nicotine.”

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