WE can’t really fault the two Jokers at the Department of Agriculture for the failure to prepare Philippine agriculture for Asean economic integration. Planning wisely and on time is beyond their intellectual reach. Mang Procy (Proceso Alcala) had deep grounding in public works construction before taking the predictable route of running for Congress. And had the supreme luck of being seated near the future president at the HOR.
The Kiko (Francis Pangilinan) was a small-time politician and radio-TV bloviator before he struck big-time by marrying a wealthy and famous singer-actress, his easy path to the Senate. Few actually remember the story that he, an ex-councilor who lost the congressional race to Sonny Belmonte, was stuck in limbo before his marriage to the immensely wealthy singer-actress. So young and with nowhere to go.
Mang Procy struck gold with the seating arrangement at the HOR. The Kiko married “The Mega.”
The professionals at the DA who really trained hard on everything from rice culture to farm mechanization to agri-economics have been placed in the back burners by these two clueless Jokers who have made it a point to appoint their own flunkies and gofers to oversee the professional civil servants. The job of the flunkies? Make it a point to make life hard for the hard-working career people at the DA so they don’t outshine their clueless bosses.
In and around the Vasra/Sanville areas (the housing districts near the DA central offices) I often encounter DA professionals who scream “Bring Back Ding (Panganiban)!” or “Raise Sonny (Escudero) from the Grave!” Ding Panganiban and the late SHE 111, Salvador H. Escudero 111, were former DA secretaries who rose from the ranks and had agri and vet med degrees respectively. They were both loved and respected by the scores of professionals they literally grew up with. The nostalgia for the two leaders who knew what DA work was all about – and knew the names of all the janitors and drivers at the DA HQ – is in part an expression of frustration over the two Jokers currently serving as co-secretaries of that vital agency.
In a governing context that does not count small farmers – or small people for that matter – as citizens of the realm, Mr. Aquino has not kept track of the utter mediocrity of the DA over the past five years. 2010 should have been the start of the serious preparations for the Asean economic integration because of one given – the agriculture sector is the sector most vulnerable to the brutal wages of the regional economic integration.
Without the preparations and without good leaders at the DA, the farming sectors warned, the Philippine agriculture sector will be bludgeoned by the exports of the agriculturally-advanced countries, most notably Thailand and Vietnam. But instead of appointing a Paeng Salas-type leader, Mr. Aquino named his contractor-friend as DA secretary, then added a celebrity and LP party mate as co-secretary.
Even with the understated figures on agricultural imports (the figures of the customs bureau are half the real import figures as tallied by the UN-affiliated agencies), it is clear that the Philippines is now gaining the notoriety as the main dumping ground of the more prodigious agricultural producers. And we don’t just import rice and yellow corn and most animal feed ingredients. We import toyo, patis and lan zones and atis.
To the continuing anguish of the agriculture sector, and the small farmers who are DA’s natural and primary constituency, El Nino will strike hard starting October and will last until April of 2016. It will be several months of total dryness. While the usual apparatchiks will speak about its impact on power supply, the horrific impact of El Nino will be on the agriculture sector.
With cheap diesel, emergency power generation units can be immediately positioned across the country for cheap electric supply. But how do you imagine farming and even aquaculture without water?
The DA has known of this upcoming farming apocalypse for some time now. And, as announced by Mang Procy himself, the DA is now adequately funded with so much resources at its disposal. Yet nothing was done to carry out the massive construction of small water impounding systems that will store the rainwaters up to September. And carry out other complementary moves to ease the horrific impact of the coming el Nino.
Just like the breathtaking mediocrity that attended the preparations for the regional economic integration, the DA is entirely blank and clueless on how to prepare agriculture, especially the challenged small farmers, for several months of brutal dryness.
Late this year, the inevitable will take place. Farmlands across the three major regions will turn into parched, inutile farmlands. The level of hunger and want in the forgotten farming areas will intensify. Already, the public face of poverty and want in the country is the rural area of subsistence farmers and you can just imagine to what degree the El Nino would further dehumanize and destabilize their lives.
I have a guess on how Mang Procy and The Kiko will react to this human catastrophe. Mang Procy will give his standard reply. More organic farming. And The Kiko will just parrot the favorite mantra of Mr. Aquino – more integrity.
Mr. Aquino, true to form, will not even censure them for their breathtaking incompetence.