Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

Marcos should fire himself from DA

Jan 18, 2023, 12:09 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Writer/Columnist

It has been a chain of supply shortages—first pork, then fish, then sugar and now onions and eggs—and their common solution: importation. This administration never seems to run out of justification to import (and perhaps abet smuggling of its favored businessmen) in the guise of controlling food inflation and making supplies affordable to consumers. But such imports are ill -timed, to say the least, when harvest is already being expected to kick in.

There is simply no coordination between marketing (traders, hoarders, logistics companies and ultimately the wet markets and groceries) and the producers (farmers of various food commodities and fishermen) and methinks everything is a product of guesswork. And there is no planning involved at all, so we experience such erratic supplies.

Why not, the President who vested it upon himself to be agriculture secretary remove this hat and give it to someone who has been there, is knowledgeable about food economics and production and market planning, like say Arsenio Balisacan, who is now the secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority.

So many people under him can take over that portfolio but what we do need is someone like him at DA. He has been there as Undersecretary for Policy and Planning from 2000 to 2001 and served as OIC at the Agricultural Credit and Policy Council, during which time he served as chief negotiator in the World Trade Organization.

Balisacan's abilities as an institution builder are most exemplified by what he has done to bring the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), a center of excellence of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), where he served as director and chief executive in 2003-2009.

PhilStar columnist Boo Chanco is in fact one of those recommending him to DA so that cluelessness will be erased and replaced by astute planning, well thought policies and execution.

Inquirer columnist, former NEDA Secretary Cielito Habito in fact broached the idea of Marcos firing himself from DA

Undersecretary Leo Sebastian, then the President’s supposed alter ego, had earlier been ignominiously fired—now belatedly absolved—for actually doing the right thing to stem surging sugar prices. We can’t fire the President, of course, but perhaps it’s time that he be “fired” as agriculture secretary—which means that he finally appoints a capable and effective full-time leader for the beleaguered Department of Agriculture (DA). It is, after all, so central now in the nation’s single biggest economic challenge: food price-driven inflation surging faster than in our close and comparable neighbors—implying that we can’t hide behind the excuse that global forces beyond our control are to blame.

Habito says that In and out of the department, we hear that the DA is in a state of paralysis, with no one making critical decisions, for fear of “doing a Sebastian.” True or not, I‘ve known DA to be a fundamentally dysfunctional organization, and this is actually the single biggest obstacle to the invigoration of our languishing farm and fisheries sector. I’ve come to be convinced that the organization itself is broken. And with some bad eggs who may be numerically few but positioned to cause significant damage, the result has been a sector that has been a drag to the Philippine economy.

Just like Habito, I initially appreciated Marcos’ announcement of assuming the DA post but he has been a dismal failure himself in this sector. I don’t even think he has extensively and sincerely talked to any farmer organization, spent a half day with them immersing with them, because he can’t be under the sun so long and he goes for the sumptuous party foods and wines that can’t be found in farm settings.

He would rather visit other ‘more exotic’ and ‘exciting’ farming nations like Vietnam than go to Cabanatuan or Samar to talk to fisherfolk and farmers. He would not even visit our countrymen who are still suffering from long-drawn floods from so much continuous rains. He is a president who would rather socialize with the elite because that was his upbringing. He can’t stand the hoi polloi.

So forget about him doing something for agriculture and for us lowly consumers, who have to suffer from skyrocketing food prices. Everything is spoon fed to him and he does not even dirty his hands with kitchen tasks.

Habito asks: What exactly needs fixing? I’ve been in recent discussions on this as I’m directly involved in initiatives to improve the agriculture and fisheries extension system, i.e., the modes of delivery for improved technology, techniques, and practices to raise farmers’ and fishers’ productivity. This is in fact DA’s foremost challenge now, as our high food prices trace to low production and productivity, abetted by decades of excessive trade protection. Yet the department is not organized to do this crucial function well. Its leadership structure does not even reflect the prioritization of research and extension as a key responsibility. The former position of undersecretary for policy, planning, and research has been renamed to replace the last word with “regulation,” suggesting to my naughty mind that regulation is more important than productivity in the department’s thinking. They seem to be behind on the new thinking on “R4DE” (research for development and extension) highlighting the importance of integrating the three. More importantly, DA should be working through the provincial local government units (LGUs) as coordinators of field extension. But its structure, budget, and performance indicators do not enable an effective DA-LGU interface to make this mode of service delivery happen.

Much more needs fixing in the DA. Agriculture is far too important to be left to the DA alone, and all major stakeholders must take part in mapping the road ahead. We need a multisectoral Agriculture Commission—like the Education Commission that Congress has created (but still to convene)—to take a long, hard look at the way forward for Philippine agriculture.

And the first milestone is the thorough reform and revamp of our broken DA, he concluded.


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