THE regional integration next year offers the perfect opportunity for putting in place the programs that would lift agriculture from mediocre growth. More than the need to make the sector competitive (and prevent the embarrassing scenario of Thailand/ Vietnam dumping into our shores most of our food needs), an agricultural renaissance would be a directed, dedicated agenda against hunger and poverty. A Great Leap Forward for the rural areas, so to speak.
An energetic, forward-looking government would have put in place by now the strategic preparations – the requites – for the integration. Even if these required defying policy orthodoxy and reviving the supervised food production programs such as the Masagana 99 and the Maisan programs of the yore. So what if these programs would require the BSP to open a special rediscounting window for state-sponsored food production programs?
We are a nation of impoverished small farmers whose principal support systems include cheap credit and pumping funds into the food production mainstream. We can defy the current policy orthodoxy that agri credit should be treated without favor.
So what if the agricultural extension workers – now mostly working as gofers for mayors and governors – are drafted anew to oversee the food production programs. The heyday of agriculture, something we have to recapture, was this scene: extension workers in Enduros guiding the farmers on everything – from land preparation to proper fertilizer and pesticide use.
But is there any effort from the Aquino government to craft workable and creative policies to prepare the agriculture sector – the most vulnerable – for the 2015 regional integration?
None and this is what we are witnessing. The two co-secretaries of the agriculture department are seemingly unmindful of the vulnerabilities of the agriculture sector under the integration. The two secretaries living in la-la land, in over their heads on what to do to prepare the sector for the integration next year.
Proceso Alcala often invokes “ organic farming.” Francis Pangilinan apes his boss, Mr. Aquino, and routinely hectors the nation on integrity – if he is not busy leading raids against suspected rice smugglers. As if “organic farming” and suing smugglers would save the agriculture sector from certain ruin next year, a ruin which would be surely dealt by the more prodigious food producing neighbors.
Question. Why are these two policy clowns still in the cabinet despite their inability to craft policies in broad and liberating strokes? The answer is simple enough. They are docile and loyal to the president. They would rather flourish in groupthink and save their skin rather than offer fresh policy perspectives, or, if needed, contradict the president.
Have you noticed that there are no bold thinkers and dissenters in the Aquino Cabinet? I often see the irony in this: The Cabinet members have a preferred apps in their smart phones. It is called Groupthink.
Groupthink, as we know, is immune to fresh ideas and does not tolerate dissenting views, no matter how relevant.
Have we yet to realize that even the “ best and the brightest” are often dulled into submission by the overpowering call of Groupthink. Take the case of the well-credentialed former lawmaker who joined the cabinet – Joseph Abaya.
Mr. Abaya, were we to judge him on his academic and professional c.v., was trained to do well in his chosen fields. He trained at Annapolis like Jimmy Carter and the late Alejandro Melchor, then easily added a law degree after a masters in engineering. He could easily fit into the overachievers David Halberstam described in his book “The Best and the Brightest.”
As transport secretary, however, he can’t even run trains on time. The MRT 3, the public face of urban mass transport, is now known for kilometer-long queues, tragic accidents, service of impossible mediocrity. If not brazen corruption and cronyism that attend its public bids for services and maintenance.
The preferred land transport policies, regulating and not enhancing mass transport, are throwbacks from the 19th and 20th centuries. Ours is the only country in the world that still gives cars and private vehicles preferential road use. We are only the country in the world in which welfare of commuters is not even part of transport policy discussions.
What happened to this academic overachiever? The answer? He succumbed to the convenient and uncontroversial groupthink.
Jericho Petilla, a former provincial governor, was expected to bring fresh policy insights into the energy sector given two things. He comes from a region with geothermal power. As governor, he was a hands-on manager of a province struggling to transition from underdevelopment into being a part of the economic mainstream. There was this expectation that he would bring fresh problem-solving insights into the energy department.
Petilla has been neither a secretary with bold and exciting ideas nor an energetic problem solver. His recent claim to fame has been scaring the president of a 900 MW power supply shortfall in the summer of 2015, and on which scary scenario did the president ask Congress for the grant of emergency powers. Industry experts said that the worst-case scenario is a supply shortfall of 31 MW, which is manageable after all.
So what do we expect from a Cabinet that is stuck in orthodoxy, immune to bold ideas and allergic to dissent ? It is a Cabinet that can be aptly named Groupthink Inc., the most uninspiring cabinet in recent history.
What happens if you are a free thinker in a cabinet of Groupthink Inc.? Mr. Aquino will tell you “you are free to leave.”