September 26, 2023

Has the country benefited from the time Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. staked his leadership on agriculture?
After recently appointing the secreta-ries of the departments of Health and the National Defense, there are opinions that it is also about time for the President, who remains as concurrent Agriculture secretary, to appoint a full-time head of the agency.
On one hand, we have to acknowledge the President’s appointment of himself as head of possibly the most demanding Cabinet post as a crucial and courageous move. It is symbolic of his concern for the sector.
It means the sector responsible in providing one of the most basic needs of Filipinos will be a topmost priority under the Marcos administration.
Since no less than the President is at the DA’s helm, we believed and hoped the generally sorry state of the country’s agriculture will significantly improve, farmers’ plight will be addressed, prices of basic commodities produced by farmers will become affordable or would at the least remain stable, and the skyrocketing price of putting food on the plate of every Filipino would ease.
We knew it cannot be done overnight, given the many problems at the agency that have only become complex and passed on unsolved by previous administrations. Still, we somehow expected there would be some improvement in having the Pre-sident in command of the agency closest to the masses and food producers.
The disappointment felt when prices of onions began pinching our pockets early on the President’s term last year, along with the decision to import rice due to alleged dwindling inventory, has placed many of us, especially those in the minimum wage bracket, in the pit of misery.
When prices of sugar followed suit, with hints of anomalies in the plan to import the commodity and allegations of hoarding, we found it hard to chase away the bitterness of being given hope things would get better, just to be let down again by unkept promises.
In farming towns, we see farmers of crops that are not classified as high-va-lue continue to struggle in producing and marketing their products, since it is below the priority list for support programs provided by the government.
As observed in the Cordillera and other farming areas nationwide, farmers are aging, and only few from the younger generation are opting to choose agriculture as a career.
For a time now we have been seeing agricultural areas being converted for residential and commercial purposes, with one striking picture taken in Bontoc, Mountain Province sadly depicting “the last of the payews” or rice paddies as it turns into the color of concrete.
But we go back to the fact that the problems besetting the agriculture sector are not simple. We appreciate the concern of the President for the sector that even had him put his position at stake, but it is clear we need an expert to handle the concerns at the DA, someone competent and could focus on the job with full attention.
In explaining his reason to remain as concurrent DA secretary, the President said he is in a better position to pursue reforms since nobody can say no to his command. But heeding his orders all the time by everybody does not guarantee getting things done properly. What will give us a fighting chance at reforms is putting the right person on the job.
It is a matter of expertise and having an officer who can devote all his attention to the multi-faceted concerns at the DA, starting from the structure of the agency itself to the pressing issues that need to be solved in order for the country’s goal of being food self-sufficient can be achieved.
With all the other problems of the country laid on his table every day for him to worry about, the President should make an intelligent choice.
What we need is for the President to put the best person at the helm of the DA, one who can devise policies that are borne out of competence and deep and clear understanding of the agriculture sector, and one could make sound advice to the President, who, anyway, makes the final decision.