Country’s future
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - September 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Agriculture is literally going down the drain in this country and if the sector’s problems are not addressed immediately, then farming in the Philippines will just be a thing of the past.

Take a look at these facts: agriculture employs 30 percent of the Philippine workforce but accounts for only seven percent to eight percent of the gross domestic product. The average age of the Filipino farmer is 57 and his average education level is Grade 5 only. And according to studies, assuming an average life span of 70, we might reach a critical shortage of farmers in just 15 years. From 2008 to 2018, the Philippine agriculture workforce went down from 35 percent to 26 percent.

Nobody wants to be associated with agriculture, which is linked to poverty, anymore.

To attain and ensure food security, Agriculture Secretary William Dar is appealing to the youth to engage in agriculture, fisheries, food processing, and other agribusiness ventures to ensure sustainable food security.

To make farming more profitable and increase rice production, the DA and the Villar SIPAG Farm Schools have partnered to teach farmers on farm mechanization and inbred seeds production.

Sen. Cynthia Villar said farmers can avail of free training courses on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, inbred seed production, as well as farm mechanization, farm machinery servicing and maintenance.

At least 21 schools all over the country have been identified to train trainors who will in turn teach the farmers.

Under Republic Act 11203 or the rice tariffication law, P1 billion of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) will be for skills training of farmers and knowledge and technology transfer through farm schools nationwide.

Villar said that at the rate of doing two sessions of two-week training programs in a month, the 21 schools will be able to teach farmers from 54 provinces in two to three months.

Meanwhile, Dar said he aims to double the income of farmers and fishermen in the next five years through industrialization, promotion of exports, infrastructure development, and higher budget and investments, among others.

Still no end in sight

It seems the fight of Panay Electric Co. (PECO) to have a congressional imprimatur to distribute electricity in Iloilo City and two neighboring towns is over, at least in the meantime, but it doesn’t mean that PECO is taking things sitting down.

According to reports, the House of Representatives legislative franchise committee denied PECO’s application for a franchise even before PECO could present documents and data to back up its bid. The committee is chaired by Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez.

It will be recalled that the committee threw out PECO’s bid for a new 25-year franchise in the 17th Congress, and instead granted a franchise over the same area to newbie More Electric and Power Corp. 

PECO was hoping that things would change under the 18th Congress but they didn’t. Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel moved to quash PECO’s application, citing the firm’s alleged bad record in supplying power to Iloilo households. This, in spite of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) having recognized PECO as a top performer among the country’s 160 electricity suppliers for decades.

Meanwhile, Iloilo City Rep. Julienne Baronda opposed the PECO bid by citing Republic Act 11212 which granted an electricity distribution franchise to More Power. This law granted More Power the authority to undertake expropriation or eminent domain proceedings to take over PECO’s assets, including poles, wires, cables, transformers, switching equipment, stations and buildings, machinery, and other equipment used to distribute electricity in Iloilo, after payment of just compensation.

PECO, however, filed an action before the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court, which ruled last July that RA’s 11212’s provisions (Sections 10 and 17) giving More Power the power of eminent domain are unconstitutional since PECO’s assets are already being used for a public purpose and there is no necessity of taking, both of which are legal requirements for a valid expropriation.

Mandaluyong RTC Judge Monique Ignacio said that these provisions are void and unconstitutional for infringing on PECO’s rights to due process and equal protection of the law, adding that PECO’s rights to its properties are protected against arbitrary and confiscatory taking.

More Power has filed an expropriation case before the Iloilo RTC and the company maintains that the Mandaluyong RTC decision has no serious effect on the Iloilo case being co-equal courts.

But in last Wednesday’s hearing, PECO counsel Estrella Elamparo told the franchise committee that the proceedings at the Iloilo court have to give way to the Mandaluyong RTC ruling since the Mandaluyong case was filed before More Power sought for expropriation.

It was learned that the Iloilo RTC granted More Power’s application for the issuance of a writ of possession to expropriate distribution assets of PECO. But the RTC Branch 37 Judge Marie Yvette Go who issued the ruling inhibited herself from the case. The expropriation case was raffled again and will now be heard by Judge Daniel Amolar of RTC Branch 35.

Last May, More Power deposited P481.8 million with the Land Bank, equivalent to the assessed value of PECO’s properties subject to expropriation but way below what PECO claims is the fair market value assessment of more than P1 billion.

More Power went to Supreme Court asking it to review the Mandaluyong RTC ruling and for a restraining order but the High Tribunal has not acted on the petition for more than two months now.

PECO insists that the Iloilo court ruling is patently invalid and preempts the Supreme Court decision on the matter while More Power said it expects the enforcement of the writ of possession anytime now.

PECO top executive Marcelo Cacho revealed that they will wait for the SC decision and if it rules in PECOs favor, then it will pursue the renewal of its franchise,” stressed PECO top executive Marcelo Cacho.

While the legislative, judicial, and executive departments are co-equal branches of our government, under a system of checks and balances, a law enacted by Congress and signed by the President can be set aside by the SC if it is found to be unconstitutional. As held by the High Tribunal in one case, the power of the courts to test the validity of executive and legislative acts in light of their conformity with the Constitution is not an assertion of superiority by the courts over the other departments, but merely an expression of the supremacy of the Constitution.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

AGRICULTURE PANAY ELECTRIC CO.
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