• Weakest economic sector is where Administration has been laziest

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    Those who veer away from the inane side of policy-making and have looked at the Asean Integration next year with real seriousness, the identity of the sector that would suffer most from the economic integration of the region is not even a puzzle. It is the agriculture sector. And it is called “loser.”

    Of course, there are people like Mr. Manny Pangilinan, whose deep corporate pockets acquired the majority shares of Roxas Holdings recently. Though he has been a fount of moneymaking wisdom, many people really doubt his optimism on the viability/competitiveness of the sugar sub-sector once the integration is in place.

    As a high school kid who worked weekends as a pahinante for trucks that hauled sugar to Pasudeco and Pasumil (nobody minded child labor then), I knew the glory days of the industry. As an adult I was also witness to the gradual but steady decline of the sugar sector after 1974, the lapse of the Laurel-Langley Agreement. The Laurel-Langley gave Philippine sugar preferential access to the US market, and that was the time the sugar barons of impossible wealth ruled the country.

    The lapse of the L-L jolted the sugar barons out of their complacency and stupor. But it was too late. So for the life of me, who has lived in “atbuan,” or sugar farms, all my life, I do not know of a single reason why Mr. Pangilinan acquired the sugar-based Roxas Holdings.

    Except for Mr. Pangilinan’s optimism, the general consensus is this: The integration will hit hard on every agricultural sub-sector. Except for one or two survivors, or a very few winners. Farmers and producers of rice, sugar, corn and the major cash crops will be wiped out by a tsunami of cheap imports that would be dumped tariff-free or with minimum tariffs.

    Our dairy industry is barely existing so it won’t feel the impact of Asean integration. Our hog and poultry sub-sectors are already familiar with how efficient Thailand is. There is Thai-based agri-conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods, which has been producing animal feeds for the mass market. And raising hogs and broilers, through contract growers, in Central Luzon. (Trivia: The common-law husband of ousted Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra used to be an executive of CPF. ) The operations of cattle feeders, once a major activity in the agriculture sector, is a dying one.

    WE already know this: patis and toyo from Thailand and elsewhere have been crowding out our own in the domestic market. Lanzones are available off-season because Thai producers have cornered a sizable share of the lanzones market.

    The poultry sector devoted to egg production may survive. But, there is a big but, only because the fragility of the product will make it hard for Asean producers to dump eggs into the country.

    A few winners and survivors may emerge in this general environment of gloom and doom but who and what they are, we do not know.

    The environment is one of gloom and doom. What is being done, at the official level, to prevent the embarrassing scenario of our seaports being clogged by ships carrying agricultural products from Thailand, Vietnam and the like? And the scary scenario of Filipino farmers leaving the farms to join the NPA? A relevant question, indeed, as Mr. Aquino has been president for four years.

    The answer? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

    The head of the column applies. The sector most vulnerable to the Asean integration is the sector where the Administration has been doing the laziest work. Except for the occasional lip service, Mr. Aquino has no concern for agriculture.

    Proof? Just look at the leadership of the Department of Agriculture. We all know that the agriculture sector is in dire need of policy maestros, leaders in the mold of the late Paeng Salas, leaders with a deep grasp of the broad problems and the nitty-gritty concerns of the sector. Who are at the helm of this so-vital agency under Mr. Aquino?

    There is a secretary and a co-secretary. The secretary is Proceso Alcala, a public works contractor-turned-politician. He was a colleague of Mr. Aquino at the HOR where they sat near each other. Procy Alcala, while he has no intellectual depth, has a sense of humor and Mr. Aquino laughed along with Procy’s jokes while at the House.

    Mr. Aquino, to everyone’s surprise, named him agriculture secretary in 2010. As a farmer, my reaction in 2010 was this: Mr. Bean goes to DA. But the joke was on us, the struggling farmers who cannot even make both ends meet. The sector needed no comic relief but utmost seriousness.

    Mr. Aquino recently added a co-secretary after a stink was raised on the operations of DA corporate agencies, from the National Food Authority to the various agencies used as conduits for the Napoles scam. In the person of Francis Pangilinan, a former city councilor and congressional loser. His marriage to “megastar“ Sharon Cuneta propelled him to the Senate.

    In contrast to Mr. Alcala, Pangilinan has no sense of humor whatsoever. Like President Aquino, he likes to hector people on the need for integrity in government. But his spiels on integrity cannot hide his cluelessness on the most serious and pressing problems of the agriculture sector.

    In lieu of real accomplishments, the DA has been resorting to statistical hype and bluster.

    In a comedic scenario-drawing, Mr. Alcala promised rice self-sufficiency by 2013. In 2014, the scheduled rice imports is roughly 1.2 million metric tons but more will be imported. The corn sector is always boasting of surpluses but yellow corn, the country’s second most important crop after rice, has been steady at P10 to P13 per kilo price. There is even a boast of a surge in dairy production—the height of official chutzpah.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Pangilinan has been busy plotting on how to finally oust Mr. Alcala and crown himself the undisputed King of Elliptical.

    Meanwhile, the more efficient agricultural producers in the Asean are salivating over the prospect of flooding the huge Philippine market of over 100 million people with their goods come 2015.

    mvronq@yahoo.com

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    7 Comments

    1. The government invests very little in agriculture for the simple reason that whatever money is invested in it is already considered a loss.

      Past and present administrations speak with two mouths. One mouth is saying that investments are needed in agriculture to boost efficiency and productivity but hypocritically alots a small portion of our budget. While the second mouth is saying that they’re willing to sacrifice philippine agriculture to the Leftists and foreign interests via agrarian reform for the political survival of P-Noy.

      AS we speak the national average age of our farmers is 57 years old. They have an educational average of only grade 4. they have no business experience. No modern farm equipment but a carabao to use against the highly subsidized-mechanized plantations of ASEAN. Half of what we eat is imported and we transformed ourselves into the perennial top importer of rice in the world. Entrepreneurship as well as agri investments have fled this sector all for political reasons. This is how screwed up we are.

    2. So true. This administration is all about bribes and using bribes to get hings done. It is funny, they seem to be against stealing money but in favor of just it away in the form of bribes. There never was a plan for improvement of the lives of Filpinos. Being nice, maybe there was but it was soon forgotten with the push to keep increasing the PDAF and creating illegal budget systems. Agriculture, the poor, the high VAT on the poor, the power sectors, and many more sectors need immediate help. But this administration has no plan and has morons in place to develop a plan. Utter incompetence are the words to describe this administration.

    3. The agricultural sector of economy has long been neglected even during the time of Pres. Cory. I remember when we are still with the NIA in 1986, our budget was immediately reduced and Cory diverted some of our funds to the development of her Tarlac home province and likewise other funds given to her pet projects. Unlike during the time of Marcos, NIA projects were all in full blast because Marcos wanted our country to be not only a rice sufficient producer but also exporter.

    4. True enough. This is the greatest blunder that Aquino had ever committed by appointing former Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to the agricultural sector.What does he know about agriculture? Can he recognize what is “kangkong”, lettuce or “kamunggay” in the flea markets? I doubt. After the fall of Saigon, the new communist government lost no time in sending their young and brightest agricultural students to Los Banos to learn the techniques and rudiments of modern agriculture. Now, instead of exporting rice to Vietnam, we are the ones importing rice from Vietnam. In the US, agricultural products in big Asian malls are coming from either Thailand, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and other Asean countries. The only Asian products we see in these big malls are milk fish coming from the province of Sarangani, Cotabato. A pitiful sight! I can’t really understand why is this happening to PH.

      • Here in Australia even milkfish (bangus) is imported from Taiwan who learnt how to farm the fish from Filipino technicians.Even the lowly nata de coco is now mostly produced in Vietnam,Indonesia & Thailand after learning it from Pinoys.Our problem is not only the lack of govt support but the complacency and lazyness in our country where quick profits are more important than the long term results.

    5. I think the President’s policy is to give more preference to industries that are run by his rich elite friends and then let the agri sector bleed dry until all the farmers go abroad to find greener pastures, remit more money to contribute and raise the level of GDP. Booming industries that are service oriented plus the ever rising growth of BPO’s and the high remittances of OFW’s will make the president happy while the poor people under the sector of agriculture, local manufacturing and transportation continue to fend for themselves. Si Noynoy talaga ay may pusong bato para sa mga mahihirap. Yung CCT program niya ay pang cover up lang.