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Villafuerte lauds House agri panel

May 7, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 204 views

For fast-tracking deliberations on bill revitalizing salt industry

CAMARINES Sur LRay Villafuerte on Sunday lauded a House committee for fast-tracking its deliberations on a substitute bill aimed at boosting domestic salt production, in support of the Marcos administration’s drive to save this dying industry.

Villafuerte, National Unity Party (NUP) president, noted that a technical working group (TWG) of the House committee on agriculture and food has been working double-time on the draft substitute bill proposing a comprehensive plan to revitalize the salt industry.

This substitute measure being drafted by the panel is a consolidation of six same-topic bills, including House Bill (HB) 7357, which Villafuerte had introduced with fellow CamSur Reps. Luis Miguel Villafuerte and Hiyoshi Anthony Horibata plus Bicol Saro Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan.

“Considering the expansive coastlines of the Philippines, it truly baffles us why our archipelago was reported in 2021 to be producing only 7% of the national salt requirement and importing the other 93% equivalent to around 550,000 MT,” he said.

“Hence, we are hoping that new legislation would enable our moribund salt industry to become competitive once more in both the domestic and international markets,” Villafuerte said.

“Our goal is for the Congress to help the Marcos administration revitalize the local salt industry by providing it with the right government support services for its protection and direction, specifically those that involve production and development,” he added.

Villafuerte expressed the hope that the committee would be able to endorse to the plenary soon enough a final bill revitalizing the salt industry, in time for its House approval before the 19th Congress ends its first regular session on June 2.

The revival of the salt industry is one of the priority measures of President Marcos.

Both chambers of Congress are on their six-month summer break and are to reopen on May 8.

Villafuerte traced the local salt-making industry back to the 18th century, saying there was a time when Las Piñas and Malabon were the top salt producers before Pangasinan eventually became the country’s leading area for salt production.

Among the topics discussed by the TWG during its recent second meeting were the identification of priority areas for salt production, requirements for the exportation of local salt, possible tax breaks and the implementation of the salt iodization law (Republic Act or RA 8172.

During that second TWG meeting, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Demosthenes Escoto said one of the goals in reviving the industry is to raise domestic production of salt, which is 11% locally produced and 89% imported.

Escoto had supported the proposals to reclassify salt as an agricultural commodity instead of as a mineral, and to place the salt industry under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DA)-BFAR.

At the same meeting, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Ignatius Rodriguez did not object to this proposal to place the salt industry under the jurisdiction of the DA-BFAR.

In HB 7357, Villafuerte and its three other authors have proposed the creation of an interagency Philippine Salt Industry Development Council (PSIDC) to craft a five-year masterplan to expand areas devoted to salt-making, boost domestic salt output, promote investments in this sector and market Philippine products made from this essential nutrient, among others.

Villafuerte traced the local salt-making industry back to the 18th century, saying there was a time when Las Piñas and Malabon were the top salt producers before Pangasinan eventually became the country’s leading area for salt production.

As proposed by Villafuerte’s group, the PSIDC shall craft a Philippine Salt Industry Development Roadmap (Roadmap) comprising programs and projects for the development and management, processing, utilization, business development, and commercialization of Philippine salt.

This proposed PSDC shall provide the overall policy and program directions and coordinate the activities of the various agencies and instrumentalities to ensure the implementation, accomplishment, periodic review and enhancement of the Roadmap.

Villafuerte said he and his fellow authors have proposed that the roadmap focus on expanding salt-producing areas, ensuring sustainable production and harvesting in these areas, promoting investments in salt industry development programs, advancing market access for Philippine salt products locally and internationally, and providing continuous training and capacity-building in salt industry development.

They proposed, too, that the roadmap aim to extend technical and financial assistance for the development, processing, commercialization and marketing of Philippine salt products; require the use of locally-produced salt in the fertilization of coconut farms by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA); provide technical and financial assistance in the local design and fabrication of high-capacity processing equipment for this industry; and develop categories of salt-farming areas into places for artisan salt production, gourmet salt production, iodized salt production and salt ecotourism sites.

Villafuerte had traced the decline of the salt industry to the following:

• Ratification of the Philippines of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994, which was seen as the reason for the influx of cheap salt imports;

• Enactment of RA 8172, or the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN) Law in 1995, which required the addition of iodine to salt to address the country’s micronutrient malnutrition’

“The capital requirement for the machinery and technology for salt iodization was a heavy burden for local salt makers, leading many of them to drop one by one and shift to other livelihood sources,” said the authors in their bill;
• Rapid urbanization, which led to the conversion of more and more salt-producing places into residential and industrial areas; and

• Erratic weather patterns caused by climate change, which have been adversely affecting salt producers who are very dependent on weather conditions.

Villafuerte and his group have proposed that local government units (LGIs) work with the DA, BFAR, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Science and Technology-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) and National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI) in identifying appropriate areas for local salt production in their respective localities.

Among the incentives that Villafuerte and his fellow bill authors have proposed are the following:

• The Board of Investments (BOI) shall classify salt farms as preferred areas of investment under its Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) subject to pertinent rules and regulations;

• Salt farm owners, and processors and other related businesses shall be exempt from the payment of import duties for imported machines and equipment subject to pertinent rules and regulations;

• Salt farm owners in public lands shall be exempt from the payment of forest charges that may be imposed by the national government and other fees or taxes imposed by LGUs;

• Salt farmers and processors shall be given priority in accessing credit assistance and guarantee schemes being granted by government financial institutions (GFIs); and

• Salt farm development and their equipment shall be covered by the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC).

During the year’s first meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) last Feb 13, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and other Cabinet officials drew up with congressional officials led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senate President Juan
Miguel Zubiri a list of 10 bills, including this salt industry development bill, for the 19th Congress’ priority passage before it adjourns sine die on June 2.

Villafuerte had co-authored several of these 10 priority bills, including the LEDAC-listed measures creating the Medical Reserve Corps, Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control, and Virology Institute of the Philippines; implementing the Mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and National Service Training Program (NSTP); and condoning the unpaid amortization and interests of the loans of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).