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‘Next agriculture chief must have farmers’ welfare at heart’

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
âNext agriculture chief must have farmersâ welfare at heartâ
Women farmers were seen pulling up rice seedlings while men moved them to a larger field in a village in Lingayen, Pangasinan on December 24, 2022.
STAR / Cesar Ramirez

MANILA, Philippines — The next agriculture chief should not just be an expert but should also be someone who has the farmers’ welfare at heart and genuinely devoted to working for food security and keeping prices in the country stable, Sen. Cynthia Villar said yesterday.

Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, issued the statement after Marcos indicated his intention to name soon his choice for the next chief of the Department of Agriculture (DA), which he currently heads.

“It’s good to have a permanent secretary of agriculture, a secretary of DA who loves the farmer. Remember the DA was called the Department of Importation,” Villar told reporters in Filipino, in mocking reference to the department’s seeming bias for importation of vegetables, fruits, meat and poultry to fill supply gaps. Local farmers have decried their loss of income and the decline of the agriculture industry in general due to massive importation and rampant smuggling.

“There are many experts but he or she does not have the heart for farmers, then it’s useless,” she said.

She said the next DA chief should have a strong moral backbone as many interest groups would try to exert influence on the official “to do something not good for the farmers so sometimes, they can’t resist.”

Marcos should carefully screen his choice for the DA, she said, adding the sector has numerous problems that can be significantly addressed if laws passed by Congress – like the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act and the Rice Tarrification Law – are implemented fully and properly.

The Senate, she said, has not been remiss in its duty of allocating the needed funds for the DA even as lawmakers continue to find under-spending and even irregularities in the agency.

She said the Senate is set to pass soon the proposed Livestock, Poultry and Dairy Development Competitiveness Act that she and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada authored.

The senator reiterated her strong opposition to agricultural imports, saying too much importation not only leaves farmers impoverished by stunting the growth of the agricultural sector but also leads to massive smuggling that deprives the country of revenues.

“I don’t believe in that. Importation is temporary. We should be developmental,” she said.

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