Incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has asked National Irrigation Florencio Padernal and other high-ranking officials of the Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (OPAFSAM) to resign to give Duterte a free hand in choosing new heads for the agencies.
“That’s what they should do . . . they are co-terminus with the President. That goes for everybody,” Piñol said in a telephone interview with The Manila Times.
He also challenged other department officials and personnel “who do not share President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision for the Filipino farmers” to resign, saying that they are free to leave and find another job.
Piñol issued the statement after an NIA spokesperson allegedly questioned Duterte’s promise of free irrigation water for farmers, saying it could adversely affect the operations of the agency.
NIA, which is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), collects P1.8 billion to P2 billion in irrigation fees annually. The agency is heavily reliant on these irrigation fees for employees’ salaries and allowances, as well as funding for operations and maintenance of existing irrigation systems nationwide.
“People in government who still do not know President Duterte’s character better read this. When Duterte makes a commitment, it is a promise which must be fulfilled, and I as his alter ego in the agriculture department will make sure that it will be realized,” he stressed.
“What got my goat last night was the fact that the issue of the Presidential promise of free irrigation was already discussed during the transition meeting I had with the heads of the four agencies under the OPAFSAM which was also attended by outgoing Presidential Adviser Edel Guiza,” he added.
Piñol also said that he instructed Padernal to come up with a strategy on how to ensure that the presidential promise is fulfilled.
“I remembered telling Padernal, the issue of free irrigation for the Filipino farmers is a presidential commitment and it is non-negotiable. Find a way to make sure it is implemented by 2017,” he said.
“To hear a statement from the NIA questioning that commitment is not only irritating but also a manifestation of the malady afflicting people in government – that is the failure to think outside the box to help people. As an old Pilipino saying goes, Kung gusto, maraming paraan; Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan,” he added.
He also stressed that there something wrong with the way the NIA is being managed, noting that many of its top officials may have forgotten NIA’s mandate – to provide irrigation to produce food for the people.
“There are people in government who think that they are bigger and higher than the people they are supposed to serve,” he said.
“If you find this hard to understand and difficult to implement, I will place a big garbage can in front of my office on July 1. You could throw in your resignation letters in that trash can and leave government,” he said.
The incoming DA chief also reminded government employees, especially those who will work with him in the Agriculture department and its attached agencies, that they here not to lord it over the people but to serve them.
“When I was in Cagayan Valley last week, I received a complaint from Department of Agriculture regional director Jun Alviar that the NIA in Region 2, in spite of repeated requests from the farmers, has failed to release the water to irrigate the farms,” he said.
He said that the early release of water is very critical because of the threat of La Niña by November, adding that it is a must that the rice farmers are able to plant by July.
“In my exasperation, I told Alviar to relay to the NIA director my request for him to release the water as requested by the farmers or else my first official act as Secretary of Agriculture on July 1 will be to fire him,” he said.
The problem, however, was that the National Irrigation Administration and three other agricultural agencies—including the National Food Authority (NFA), Philippine Coconut Authority and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA)—are not directly under Piñol’s supervision.
To recall, those attached agencies of the Department of Agriculture (DA) were placed under the watch of OPAFSAM, which is directly reports to the Office of the President.
Asked whether he wants to retake control of the four agricultural agencies, Piñol backtracked in his earlier pronouncements, saying that it is up to President Duterte to decide.
“I was already instructed by the President to draft a memorandum explaining how [the transfer]would ensure well-coordinated policies. I don’t want to preempt the decision,” he said.
In May, Piñol was firm in his call for the rescinding of an executive order that transferred agencies to OPAFSAM, saying that the DA could not function effectively if the operations are compartmentalized.