Aside from not giving agricultural farmers the financial, technical and market assistance for the longest time, the Department of Agriculture has practically insulted all Filipino farmers by allowing importations of most every food item they can produce.
For every perceived shortage of vegetable, meat, sugar, eggs, fish, garlic and rice, voila import orders and certifications are fast churning out from the offices of the DA and appropriate bureaus, as easily and without consultation with stakeholders.
It seems like DA does not trust farmers to produce the required product volumes but it also has undermined the capacity of farmers to promote their products—such as the case in September 2022 when Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban blamed garlic farmers for not knowing market conditions.
We have been importing growing volumes of rice for so many years; corn; wheat; all kinds of meat (the biggest of which is pork, beef and eggs), sugar (which we lacked late last year and for which an able undersecretary was maligned along with three board members of the Sugar Regulatory Administration).
Shockingly, now our onions are sold in local markets at over P500 a kilo —hovering to P750 before Christmas—which forced the DA to buy from suppliers and sell at Kadiwa Centers for P170 a kilo, which consumers scrounged and fell in line for but which is now suspended pending a new MOA to be forged between DA and suppliers.
Both chambers of Congress have stepped in and so with the Ombudsman and other offices. The DA is now being interrogated at all fronts, leaving it no time to put in even one hour to map out serious plans for the benefit of farmers. It deserves to be investigated and castigated for it abandoned the farmers far too long.
What I can’t understand now is why the DA—with its regulatory and supervisory powers—can’t even command the suppliers of onion to just give them the volumes that consumers queueing at Kadiwa centers need.
And then, as always, DA (now also headed by the President) belatedly approved the importation of 21,600 metric tons—which should be in the country on January 27 (considering the long process of ordering, buying, importing and clearing the shipments at Bureau of Customs) would be impossible to meet.
Therefore, the shipment that would be ordered and paid for now will arrive in February, just when local onion growers would be harvesting their crop. How callous of DA and such insult again for the farmers.
Having covered the DA too long—on and off but never forgetting to keep myself updated of its goings-on--- the DA had become a moribund agency since the devolution to the local governments and it had become a paper agency with such a huge budget that it had proved to be incapable of spending wisely. It had very low utilization of funds for mechanization and organic farming.
And at the rate it had been recommending importations, why not—as suggested by some legislators—attach the DA as a bureau of agricultural importation to the Department of Trade and Industry —since its singular function now is approving importations of most agricultural products.
This would be in keeping with the President’s goal of streamlining the bureaucracy.