Nation over self

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Especially at this time of pandemic, we should put the nation over self, and not what is most convenient for us at the time. We should show what other nationalities, like the Japanese and Koreans, demonstrate: an admirable sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Here is a Sept. 8 interview we had with Arsenio Tanchuling, Alyansa Agrikultura president. He had been elected three times for a total of nine years as coordinator of the Asean Fish for Justice, and former fisheries committee chair of the public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries, attached to the Department of Agriculture:

Q: Why do you appear listless today?

A: They are now importing subsidized fish. If they are not following some laws, which has happened before, this is very harmful to our own fisherfolk, who constitute the poorest sector in our country today.

Q: What laws?

A. First, there is a global international trade agreement that countries should not export largely subsidized products. In the absence of a level playing field, how can our nonsubsidized fisherfolk compete? For example, there was a year when China spent $46.5 billion in fishery capture subsidies. We need this level playing field, since we have been losing our livelihoods because of unfair trade.

Q: What else?

A: There is much fisheries smuggling which not only deprives us of tax revenue to support our pandemic needs, but also poses unfair competition to our fisherfolk. In the few instances that they are found out, they go unpunished. Earlier this year, I heard that 12 fish containers were caught in Subic, but no one was charged. There are many kinds of smuggling that harm us.Q: What kinds of smuggling?A: Outright smuggling, where the Department of Agriculture does not even know of the products’ entry. Also, misclassification to underpay taxes, which also results in cheaper fish which we cannot compete with.Q: You mentioned imported fish going into the wet markets, not just to the fish processing plants. What is the problem with this?

A: It is in wet markets that the local fish are sold. Imported fish should at least follow the law, such as proper labeling, and often, no labeling at all. This misleads the consumers and denies them the proper comparison with our own fish.

Q: What are your proposed solutions?

A: The government should enforce laws against unfair subsidies, outright smuggling (specially where the photo sanitary requirements are missing and threatens consumer health), and no proper labeling often found in wet markets. The latter is obvious, and yet there is no enforcement to the detriment of our fisherfolk.

Q: But this may result in higher prices for fish.

A: This is the problem. We have the wrong approach of consumer convenience first, instead of nation first. For example, when we have a fish supply shortage, the easiest solution is to import instead of helping our fisherfolk improve their production with an effective supply chain, which is mostly absent today. Worse, unscrupulous elements import without following the law. It is time government enforces the law. In addition to this regulatory function, the government should provide short- and long- term development solutions, such as promoting aquaculture effectively.

Q: How about the bigger picture?

A: We should push for policies for fisherfolk social protection, such as access to health services and decent living conditions. On the consumer side, they should not take advantage of law violations. If prices increase as a result, they should realize that fisherfolk deserve higher incomes, and consumers should buy local. If prices are too high for some, they can substitute locally produced products like poultry, which is in need of more purchases because of imported subsidized chicken parts.

The above interview should make us reconsider our preference for doing what is most convenient for us, even if it means purchasing products that violate the law. As Tanchuling suggests, we should now think nation over self, buy local and provide the jobs to our people instead of to other nationalities. With a new sense of nationalism and patriotism, our people can now jointly work for the better future we deserve. INQ The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary of DA AND DTI.