COTABATO CITY: The secretary of the Department of Agriculture has expressed his misgivings on a move by the House of Representatives and the Senate to create a Department of Fisheries separate from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) at present as one of the bureaus under the DA.
DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he was asked in separate interviews regarding his position on the issue, which they said came about as a result of neglect of the government of the fisheries sector.
“I do not want to sound sarcastic but if every sector in agriculture would be separated simply because it does not receive enough attention and support, then what would stop people later on from proposing the creation of the Department of Vegetables, Department of Animals and Department of Chicken?” Pinol asked.
According to the DA secretary, he has very serious misgivings on the proposal to create a new department.
He said he is not keen on a Department of Fisheries because:
1. The creation of a new department runs counter to the advocacy of President Rodrigo Duterte for a leaner, less bureaucratic and more effective government.
2. A new department would entail additional expenditures for government as the current budget of P7 billion a year for the BFAR, which is under the DA, would have to be increased.
3. Compartmentalizing specific concerns adds up to the bureaucracy and would render difficult the task of consolidating programs and projects that would contribute to greater food production.
4. Inter-agency coordination has always been a problem. When the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the National Food Authroity (NFA) and the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA) were separated from the DA on orders of then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the synchronization of programs and projects became very difficult.
5. In many provinces, especially those with coastal areas, farmers are also fishermen. The Fisheries department will have its own intervention for the fisherman who then will present himself to the DA as a farmer and get another project.
To address rice farmers’ problems on water and the repair of irrigation canals, the DA has to coordinate with NIA; to intervene in the problem of Basilan on Cocolisap, DA has to work things out with the Office of the Cabinet Secretary and even the introduction of livelihood projects and new crops to coconut farmers whose farms were devastated by the infestation presents a complicated problem.
Piñol cited situations where the DA will use its livelihood funds and undertake interventions to assist coconut farmers who are technically not covered by the Agriculture department’s concerns because they are supposed to be served by the PCA.
And then there is this situation now where the rice and corn farmers are complaining that the buying price of their produce has plummeted but there is nothing much that the DA could do because the NFA is not under its direct supervision, he added.
The fact is that the DA is not even a member of the NFA Council, which decides whether to import rice, an activity which could adversely affect the interest of the Filipino rice farmers supported by the Agriculture department.
Pinol said before the Department of Fisheries proposal, the DA had started a program to develop fisheries, aquaculture, mariculture and even the seaweed industry.
A strong campaign against illegal fishing and the rehabilitation of the seas as sources of fish have been implemented.
To fully rehabilitate the seas, the DA-BFAR will implement a nationwide three-month closed fishing season to allow the fish to breed and multiply.
Then in order for the fishermen to earn a living during the three months that there will be no fishing in coastal waters, the DA will introduce livelihood projects like hog raising, poultry raising and nursery operations growing mangrove tree seedlings.
“So you like to separate Fisheries from the DA?,” Pinol asked.
“Who would provide the livelihood projects for the fishermen?Who would make sure that the hogs, poultry and the seedlings of mangrove trees are marketed?,” he further asked.
“As the DA secretary, I have assumed the role of the Top Salesman of agri and fisheries products by conducting worldwide promotional fairs. Should I leave behind high-value aquatic products because it is not part of agriculture?,” Pinol also asked.
He said the creation of the Department of Fisheries is a knee-jerk reaction to a simple problem of a neglected sector.
Besides, if indeed the fisheries sector was neglected, this new administration surely is not to blame.
The fisheries sector is an area of special concern of his department, according to Pinol, a former provincial governor of North Cotabato.
Retired Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Eduardo Gongona is one of the DA undersecretaries and concurrently the national director of BFAR.
Pinol disclosed that almost 2,000 fishing boats have been distributed for free to the poorest fishing families all over the country.
Establishment of ice-making and cold storage facilities will follow.
Through efforts of the DA secretary, who sits on the board of the Land Bank of the Philippines in behalf of the farmers and fisherfolk, loans will now be made available to fishpond and fish cage operators.
“This may seem trivial but when you separate Agriculture from Fisheries, how would we classify the seaweed farmers? Is seed weed farming an agriculture or aquaculture activity?” Pinol said.
“The name of the name now is connectivity not disconnectivity. It must be convergence and not divergence,” he added.