The President was reported to show his disfavor over retired police or military officers heading the agriculture department. “We need experts in agriculture,” the President said. Fine!
But agriculture has a very wide expanse that covers fisheries and aquatic resources, where our maritime domain is much bigger than our land hectarage—arable or not. Agriculture embraces plants, animals, fishery, including implements and other factors of production. Included also are research, development, and extension (RDE).
Today, the DA is also concerned with honeybees and their product—the nectar. Even game cocks and pigeons are regulated by it.
So, expertise in what field?
Lately, the sector had seen a succession of highly- touted experts. We had three (3) in a row, since the real farm boy Secretary Manny Piñol of Mindanao was eased out by oligarchic trojan horses out to control the sector.
Just recently, the DA secretary was a researcher par excellence but under his watch, the DA earned the unsavory reputation of Department of Importation. He was succeeded by another provisional shepherd—a TOYM awardee in agriculture but he figured prominently in the wrong side of the Senate’s probe on the sugar fiasco. Currently, a former Agriculture secretary who was previously director of the Bureau of Plant Industry. But he is now too old to tame or put in check the vaulting persona of the different heads of the department’s regulatory agencies.
So what agriculture-related expertise should the DA secretary excel—plant, animal and livestock, meat and meat products, fishery and aquatic, dairy products, fertilizers and pesticides, agronomy, farm management, research, organic agriculture, or climate change?
Will expertise in any of the above fields qualify him for the plum post DA? Will his advocacy in urban gardening make him an effective DA chief whose priority focus has shifted to fish importation, or grains production? Or, will an expert in animal husbandry qualify him as DA chief whose marching order includes climate change, adaptation, and resiliency?
My take is you cannot have them all.
But one needs superb leadership ability, not a doctorate degree in any of these agriculture-related subsectors or industries. Effective leadership is what DA needs, more important than a masters or doctorate degree in any of the fields embraced by its wide expanse. An effective leadership with a modicum of bureaucratic savvy.
A leadership with a fair grasp of governmental pathways to enable the department steward to the right direction and march along the cadence of the Chief Executive.
Marcos does not lack this kind of people in his stable—some are still his father’s loyalists while some had adequate experiences in the executive and legislative departments, political affiliations notwithstanding.
Among them is Jonathan dela Cruz, former DOLE Assistant Minister, former diplomat during Marcos Sr’s watch, former Partylist congressman, and former newspaperman post Senior’s era.
House Minority Leader Marcelino Libanan, 4Ps Partylist from Samar —the third biggest island whose agricultural potentials are yet to be harnessed. Or, Rodante Marcoleta, another partylist representative, whose nationalistic bias and deep grasp of the bureaucratic pathways can make DA run full throttle.
An effective and full-time leadership of DA is crucial for the ebb and flow of local factors, side-by-side with the unrestrained sway of capitalistic or agri-preneurial interventions alongside RDE, and the support or participation of LGUs. These are what we need to balance the clashing interest of local production vis-à-vis importation.
Former Senator Panfilo Lacson can also be a good steward for DA. If re-engaged, Lacson will bring with him the dynamics of anti-agricultural smuggling, his proven ability to put together clashing interests of silo-minded experts into one development roadmap, in a graft-intolerant DA.