FORMER senator Francis Pangilinan has vowed to “clean up” the mess at the Department of Agriculture (DA) by taking control of four attached agencies of the department where reports of corruption were rampant.
Pangilinan, who took his oath as Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization on Tuesday, said his marching orders from President Benigno Aquino 3rd were to do “house cleaning.”
“Ang sinabi ng ating Pangulo, I am here to help clean up these agencies. So kasama ang pag-address dito sa mga usapin ng katiwalian at itong smuggling [The President said I am here to help clean up these agencies. So I should also address graft and smuggling],” the former senator added.
Pangilinan’s appointment came amid reports on the alleged involvement of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in the P10-billion priority development assistance fund (PDAF) scam.
Alcala is facing charges at the Office of the Ombudsman for his alleged involvement in rice smuggling as claimed by activist lawyer Argee Guevarra.
But Pangilinan clarified that these issues have nothing to do with his entry into the Cabinet. Aquino, he said, did not mention anything about problems regarding the DA chief.
“Hindi binanggit ‘yung usapin ‘nung nasasangkot ang ating kalihim sa ilang mga sinasabing mga kaso. So hindi nabanggit ‘yon bilang dahilan kung bakit tayo in-appoint [He did not discuss Alcala’s cases. And he did not mention this as the reason why I was appointed],” Pangilinan added.
“But the marching orders are clear: to clean it up, so we will do what we can, as best we can to help in that respect apart from, of course, the overall picture. Ang pinaka-kabuuang layunin natin ay paano pataasin ang antas ng kalidad ng buhay ng ating magsasaka at mangingisda [Our main agenda is to find ways to improve the plight of farmers and fishermen],” the former senator said.
He explained that his primary focus will be food security. This, he noted, “can only be done when you secure your farmers and your fisherfolk.”
“So, the overall program is to address that, including corruption because [funds for farmers are there, only to be squandered],” he told reporters.
The former lawmaker said Alcala did not fail in his job of cleaning his agency, also noting that the DA is so vast with about 60 attached bureaus.
“So, he [Alcala] needs support and that’s why we’re here,” Pangilinan pointed out.
The former senator, who had headed the Senate committee on agriculture, was designated by Malacanang to be its point man who will coordinate the government’s programs under the National Convergence Initiative (NCI) in line with the six-year Philippine Development Plan (PDP).
Also on Tuesday, Aquino issued Executive Order 175, which transferred the National Food Authority (NFA), National Irrigation Authority (NIA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) from the DA to Pangilinan, whose office is directly under the Office of the President.
The President also issued Memorandum Order 70 that outlined Pangilinan’s functions.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. clarified that the President’s decision to appoint Pangilinan does not in any way reduce Alcala’s authority.
“The President wants the four agencies to devote intensified and focused efforts in attaining PDP goals. Secretary Alcala is expected to continue pursuing the full attainment of DA objectives with undiminished vigor,” Coloma said in a text message.
“Secretary Pangilinan’s appointment is an affirmative decision, not in reaction to issues that have been raised by some quarters concerning Secretary Alcala, who continues to enjoy the President’s trust and confidence,” he added.
According to the President’s order, the DA, NFA, NIA, PCA, FPA, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and all other government agencies and corporations are “directed to render full assistance and cooperation” to Pangilinan.
The former lawmaker said he has two years to achieve his goal, primarily because Aquino’s term will end in June 2016. Although Pangilinan does not expect full completion of his tasks, especially in curbing corruption in DA-attached agencies, he is hopeful that he would be able to curb graft.
“If we can do that earlier, kung pwede nating gawing mas maaga, bakit hindi [If we can curb corruption soonest, why not]? So I am given the mandate of doing what I can, together with the rest of the bureaucracy to address these concerns [in two years],” Pangilinan said.
He vowed to deal bluntly with the alleged rice cartel and rice smugglers.
“We investigated that when I was still in the Senate and it was clear from the report of the Committee on Agriculture that farmers’ organizations are being used by smugglers. We will not allow that to continue, and for smugglers to have control of the rice sector.” Pangilinan said he will not allow cartels to “dictate” rice prices and that he will allow legitimate rice importations if necessary.
“Our objective is to have a clean and just process of rice importations. That’s [one of]my marching order[s],” he added.
Efforts to curb rice smuggling will be best addressed in cooperation with the Finance department and the Bureau of Customs, Pangilinan said.
“These are all parallel efforts to address smuggling whether it’s rice or other items, steel and other products. So this is part and parcel of that big picture of addressing rampant smuggling in the last several years,” he noted.
Alcala welcomed the appointment of Pangilinan and said he looks forward to working with him.
“I’ve personally known Secretary Pangilinan to be a man of competence and commendable work ethic, having worked with him previously when he served as [chairman]of the Senate committee on agriculture and food on his last term,” he said in a statement.
Alcala noted Pangilinan’s natural love for farming and willingness to help bring about sustainable growth and prosperity in Philippine agriculture are “qualities that are truly commendable.”
“Thus, I am confident that he will be effective in his new role in public service, notably in President Aquino’s economic team tasked to formulate and execute strategies aimed at attaining more meaningful or inclusive socio-economic development,” he said.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) also welcomed Pangilinan.
“We hope that he will be a positive addition to the reform efforts and local food self-sufficiency drive of the Department of Agriculture, to the anti-smuggling initiatives at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and to the pro-local agriculture legislative agenda of the Senate agriculture committee,” Rosendo So, Sinag chairman, said.
“We also hope that he will be an additional voice to the legal mandate of the NFA and official position of the Solicitor General of the ‘no permit, no rice import’ policy,” said Ofociano Manalo, a rice farmer and member of Sinag.
At the height of the harvest season last month, Manalo also noted that farmers were able to sell palay at P22.50 to P24 per kilo. At the height of the rice smuggling, prices of palay were pegged at P17 to P18 per kilo.
According to Sinag, millions of rice farmers enjoyed unprecedented farm gate prices of palay for two cropping seasons. Also, the local rice industry is reaping the benefits of the joint efforts of the DA, BOC and the Senate agriculture committee in curbing rice smuggling and in supporting local rice production.
“As we prepare for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) next year, Sinag members are hopeful that Pangilinan’s appointment will inject a renewed sense of urgency to government’s efforts to help prepare the agriculture sector for the AEC,” So said.
“We also hope that Secretary Pangilinan will help in the efforts to unmask the perpetrators of the multibillion-peso PDAF, fertilizer fund and ACEF (Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund) scam who shamelessly plundered public funds intended to help the agriculture sector prepare for the AEC,” he added.
The official said ACEF was intended to help local agriculture prepare for the supposed benefits of trade liberalization. But because the funds were plundered, the sector got nothing to prepare for global competitiveness.
With James Konstantin Galvez