ONE of our front page stories on Thursday is about the worldwide shortage of farm workers. In our country this is mainly because of bad governance—wrong policies for the agriculture sector (which for some statistical quirk includes the fishery sector) and massive corruption in government agencies in charge of agriculture. Both of these result in perpetuating the poverty of the farmers and fishermen and the low incomes of non-corporate agri-businessmen.
The neglect by the Aquino administration of the agriculture sector is indicated by the incredible untruthfulness and mental dishonesty of the few paragraphs President Benigno Aquino devoted to this largest sector of our political-economy. Those paragraphs also reveal how small the agriculture sector is in the President’s mind and how incompetent he and his officials must be in farming matters—or how unconcerned they are with the millions of Filipinos in this sector and in the rural areas.
About half of all of us Filipinos live in rural—farming or fishing—areas. And 70 percent of the poor families in our country are rural. The average income of Filipino farmers, whose average age is 57 years, is only $50 a month, working on his 1.5-hectare farm.
The continuing maltreatment of farmers and fishermen by the government is a big reason for the rising discontent of the masses.
The latest figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show that the poverty incidence among fishermen is 39.2 percent, and among farmers, 38.3 percent.
Corruption and inefficiency are rife in the agriculture department and in agencies tasked to help and manage the government’s work for the farming sector, this is one reason Mr. Francis Pangilinan was brought in to serve as a virtual super-DA secretary beside Mr. Proceso Alcala.
That the agriculture sector did not get the billions of pesos appropriated for aid to farmers and agri-businesses, irrigation projects and the like is easily proved by the fact that in the PDAF scam of Janet Lim Napoles, the most common fake NGOs used to steal money were supposed-to-be those for farmers, peasants and agricultural workers.
During the Arroyo administration one of the biggest corruption scandals was the P728-million fertilizer scam that made the name Jocjoc Bolante notorious. This large political figure in his Visayan region was the Undersecretary of Agriculture of the Arroyo regime. The scandal produced a martyr-heroine of journalism, Marlene Garcia-Esperat, whose investigative anti-corruption exposés led to her murder while she was having dinner at home with her children.
Under President Aquino, the most infamous of the P500 million (at least) of PDAF/pork barrel funds went to non-existent or paper NGOs. The Commission on Audit has pinpointed the National Agribusiness Corporation (Nabcor), which is supposedly an organization officially linked to the Department of Agriculture, among the largest conduits of money that poured out of the government.
Apart from the plunder PDAF and DAP money that should have benefited farmers, the smuggling form of corruption gravely injures the agricultural sector—and sinks our rural families deeper in poverty. The smuggling of rice, other agricultural products, like garlic, meats and poultry, into our country devastates our farmers, hog- and poultry raisers.
These corrupt deeds harm our whole economy, but the rural areas most of all. They are worse in some ways than supertyphoons like Yolanda because they are insidiously present, like cancer.
Smuggling has grown under President Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan regime. Will he end smuggling for good in the less than two remaining years of his presidency?