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.