Competence
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2019 - 12:00am

The farmgate price of rice was reported to have gone down to as low as P12 a kilo and there are those blaming the newly passed Rice Tariffication Law. Yet, it couldn’t have been a factor because NEDA has just issued the implementing rules and regulations for that law.

If this news is true, NFA must go to the farmers and start buying their rice at their higher price. NFA is mandated to keep a buffer stock under the new law by buying from farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has not been happy with the new law. In fairness to Secretary Piñol, he has also said that he is committed to successfully implement the law. Now is the time to prove he means that.

Secretary Piñol, a former sports-writer turned politician, must work double time to regain even the President’s trust in his capability.

In a recent gathering of public prosecutors in Palawan, the President recalled how in one Cabinet meeting, a very enthusiastic Piñol asked for his go-signal to give him a free hand to implement plans that will push forward the country’s agriculture sector.

“He told me, ‘Mr. President, I guarantee’ — in his English twang — ‘that maybe if we can start immediately, at the end of the year, I can predict that we will be even a rice-exporting country,’” Mr. Duterte related, according to the Daily Tribune, one of Metro Manila’s broadsheets.

The President continued: “So, everyone exchanged glances. Bingbong (Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea), then (Finance Secretary) Sonny Dominguez. He was agriculture secretary of Cory. Dominguez whispered to me, ‘He’s all air.’”

If you ask some of Piñol’s Mindanao constituents, they may just agree that the agriculture secretary is all air.

According to mindanews.com, intended beneficiaries of the secretary’s flagship project to distribute Solar-Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) are disappointed.

Piñol wrote on his Facebook page on March 30 that since huge dams take years to construct, “the most logical option” that would quickly respond to the threat of El Niño would be the “sustainable small irrigation projects like the Solar-Powered Irrigation System, ram pumps where these are applicable and even windmill-powered water pumps.”

At an average cost of P6.7 million each unit, Piñol initially targeted to build 169 units across the country.

On Oct. 11, 2018, the state-owned Philippine News Agency reported from Iloilo City that Piñol announced during the Food Security Summit there that President Duterte “has committed P41 billion for the establishment of solar-powered irrigation system in the Philippines in the next three years.”

Since then, the secretary had been talking about P44 billion needed to build 6,200 SPIS to irrigate half a million hectares, purportedly to boost the country’s rice production. That’s more than four times the money allocated for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under the Rice Tariffication Law.

Unfortunately, mindanews.com reports, Piñol’s pet project is a failure. Farmers in six SPIS areas across Region 12, Piñol’s home region are complaining.

According to MindaNews, the brothers Danilo and Sammy Casa, who own at least two hectares of El Nino ravaged rice field, could not wait to use the solar powered irrigation system upon its completion in November 2018. But as of April 3, it remained unused, the pump house padlocked, the reservoir containing only ankle-deep water stored during the test run on March 27.

In another barangay in North Cotabato, it is the same story. MindaNews reported that on May 22, 2018, the DA commissioned an SPIS that Piñol said would serve a 40 hectare farming area. Piñol once served as Governor of North Cotabato.

“The reservoir could hold 350 cubic meters of water and irrigate four hectares of rice fields every day,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

“The system could fully irrigate four hectares in one day and could theoretically cover a 60-hectare area in 15 days,” Piñol wrote. But El Niño rendered the facility useless.

 MindaNews reports that in Barangay Kadi in Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat, village chief Seferino Libona said they have yet to see if the P6-million SPIS, completed in December last year, can really irrigate 20 hectares of farmland.

Libona said that the farmers have been asking for his help because the project has been sitting there for four months already. Libona was last interviewed by MindaNews by telephone on April 4.

A typical SPIS is equipped with at least 10 horsepower pump, electronic controls to operate the pumps and solar panels mounted on top of a reservoir for an average of 350 cubic meters. Some solar panels are mounted separately from the reservoir. Lateral pipes are laid down across the field to distribute water.

I want to believe the agriculture secretary means well. But he doesn’t seem to have project management skills. He is wasting so much money on his pet project, yet our farmers fail to get the help they need. I am afraid the same thing may happen when DA starts implementing RCEF.

If Piñol flubs the farmer assistance programs under RCEF, there will be dire consequences on our food supply. The law will be blamed when the blame properly belongs to the agriculture secretary.

P-Noy’s agriculture secretary was a failure and Piñol has had three years to show his ability. The country cannot afford 12 years of leadership drought in agriculture.  

Last year, agriculture grew at only 0.56 percent and caused an unexpected surge in inflation. It did slightly better under P-Noy, emphasis on slightly: an average of 1.2 percent a year.

The population grew faster at 1.6 percent. That means less food produced per person. Industry and services both grew at just under seven percent.

Hopefully, the President will do more than roll his eyes and make fun of Piñol. We need a new Paeng Salas. The country’s farmers and the rest of us depend on the President doing the right thing.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

MANNY PIñOL NATIONAL FOOD AUTHORITY RICE TARIFFICATION LAW
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