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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, September 12, 2018
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with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

Agriculture’s golden age

Rock & Refuge

Three years ago, Secretary Manny Piñol proclaimed that under President Rodrigo Duterte we shall see the “Golden Age of Philippine Agriculture.”

Today, he is asking us to eat rice infested with weevil (“It’s safe!”) or rice combined with corn (“its healthier!”). Runaway vegetable prices? He strongly suggests planting a garden for these. And when prices of siling labuyo (hot peppers) skyrocketed to at least a thousand per kilo from P400 per, his response was he will distribute seeds for these so everyone can grow them and not be bothered by the rising prices. Fish supply wouldn’t be affected, we are importing galunggong (round scad) from China, fished most probably from our own waters in the West Philippine sea.

A Facebook meme I saw the other day quipped: We have large tracts of land, yet we do not have enough rice to feed our people; We live in an archipelago but we import our fish.

Isn’t that a sad commentary of where we are? Does that even approximate the golden age of agriculture Piñol said we will have under Duterte?

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would have been funny that Piñol now blames the country’s economic manages for the inability of his department to feed us. Government itself blocked the plan to usher in the golden age of agriculture it promised us 3 years ago?

In a senate hearing on the rice crisis, he said the country’s economic managers, cut his budget. Never mind if the cut will still be made next year not this year when the rice and food crisis started raging. Never mind if the budget he is talking about is 62.5 billion this year and P55.9 billion next year. He did not say how much of that budget goes to rice production but faced with hunger because of his department’s incompetence, we’d like to know: where do they spend these billions? Whether 62.5B or P55.9B, it is a huge amount; how could this fail to even stimulate the production of the nation’s staple?

There, that’s only job Piñol is supposed to do: stimulate, just stimulate, food production. It doesn’t require him to promote weevil rice by publicly eating it himself, it mandates him to produce weevil-free rice from our farms. Because come to think of it: if we cannot produce the most basic commodity we eat, what does that make of us? What is even worse here is that, while the present DA cannot stimulate rice production, it cannot also do such a simple thing as advance planning; else, we shouldn’t have this rice crisis now. If they monitor the country’s rice production, they should have imported rice early enough. As it happened, we had rice shortage before they even started applying for an importation permit. Now, to address this, Malacañang has come up with the great idea of appointing a Customs official whose only job is to sign rice importation permits! You know, to fast track things. Revolutionary.

With all these, you just have to ask: how long does this government think the rice crisis will continue? The idea of a Customs official dedicated to signing import permits is scary. Does this mean we will be importing rice for a long time?

Actually, many of the things we are hearing are scary; they seem to indicate we won’t in fact solve the rice problem for a loooong time. Just take Piñol’s latest pronouncements. Aside from encouraging us to eat pest-infested rice, he is also promoting the rice-corn version of our staple. And planting our own gardens to mitigate the skyrocketing prices. (It will take at least two to three months for plants to grow to maturity, so we’ll have to bear the heavy prices that long at least).

Given Piñol’s also daily interviews and encounters with the media, not to mention an entire press corps following him wherever he goes, he has not spoken one bit about a long-term plan for rice and food. Its all about importation of rice and fish; mercifully, vegetables are not on the government shopping list – or is it already there. Piñol had not even discussed a roadmap, or a plan, which can take us to the golden age of Philippine Agriculture. Or was he even serious when he announced that dream three years ago?

By the way, where is the President in all these? Does he know we had rice lines again, some 30-40 years since we had them under Ferdinand Marcos? Has he asked Piñol what the DA plans to do to address the food problems?

Does this government even hold Cabinet meetings and if they do, do they discuss our present problems? Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, according to Piñol, has told him rice production is not a government priority.Is that the official government position, and does the President approve that?*

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