‘Weakest link’ of the Philippines economy
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Initially, Malacañang carefully couched its official confirmation last month on the resignation of Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and his transfer to another Cabinet post. Piñol’s resignation came unexpectedly when President Rodrigo Duterte squelched persistent rumors in the past about his outgoing Agriculture secretary supposedly being on the way out of his Cabinet.

It finally came last June 28 after apparently no less than the camp of Piñol leaked to the press his resignation letter submitted to President Duterte. Amid reports that President Duterte is no longer happy with his performance, Piñol indicated in his resignation letter his interest to continue serving the Duterte Cabinet in another capacity. He particularly cited his preference to be transferred instead to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).

MinDa has been headed by Nathaniel Dalumpines, an assistant secretary in the Office of the President who assumed the post in an “acting” capacity only since May 20 this year. This was after its erstwhile chairman and secretary Datu Abul Khayr Dangcal Alonto died of cardiac arrest last May 9. Alonto was among President Duterte’s Mindanaoan Cabinet members and upon his appointment, became the first Muslim to head MinDA.

The MinDa is a government agency created through Republic Act (RA) 9996, or the Mindanao Development Authority Act of 2010. The office is headed by a Cabinet-ranked official who is mandated, among others, to promote, coordinate and facilitate the active and extensive participation of all sectors to effect socioeconomic development of Mindanao.

President Duterte indicated his readiness to accept Pinõl’s offer but quickly added he still needed to first talk with Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, interim chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“I cannot see anybody in the horizon except Piñol who knows and grew up, (was) born in Mindanao, he’s a farmer and governor… I need someone to orchestrate, and that MinDa position is a Cabinet position,” President Duterte pointed out. The President though strongly hinted he and Piñol have already discussed the matter beforehand. “I said, just go there and help me get them started. Hurry up, hurry them up, so that they will have a first regular organized government that they have long wished for,” the President quoted his conversation with Piñol.

The BARMM was created after President Duterte signed RA 11054, or the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on July 26, 2018. The BOL superseded the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law approved by the previous administration to implement the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) entered into by the government under former president Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. Following the ratification of the BOL in February this year, the BARMM replaced and expanded the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Upon assumption into office in June 2016, the former Davao City mayor vowed to respect the peace agreement with the MILF. At this stage, President Duterte believes Piñol can assist the Bangsamoro Transition Authority as mandated by the BOL that will hasten the process of devolution of certain government national agencies to operate under the BARMM.

Piñol, who hails from North Cotabato once served as town mayor, governor and vice governor of the province, where 63 out of 67 barangays ratified in a plebiscite to join the BARMM.

The President sought to douse rumors of Piñol’s supposed involvement in corruption as he exits from Agriculture Department. “(Piñol) is (just) talkative,” the President quipped. The President disclosed though he was already looking for a new agriculture chief.

President Duterte noted the urgency for his administration to strengthen the country’s agriculture sector sooner than later. In fact, out of the blue, the Chief Executive admitted that Philippine agriculture “is the weakest link,” which seems to have been stalling the country’s desired economic growth. Now, the truth is out.

The President made this public confession when he digressed anew from his prepared speech at the 28th anniversary of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology held in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City last week.  

“But this time, I’ll concentrate on sa agriculture. The weakest link sa ating economy is agriculture. I have to do something about it. I really do not… Nasubukan na lahat eh. But let me come out with some better ideas for this year,” the President promised.

Although he did not go into details yet, the President apparently alluded to a slew of economic reform bills, which he asked the 17th Congress to pass into law. These included Free Irrigation to Small Farmers Act of 2018; several laws establishing multi-species marine hatchery in various provinces in the Philippines; and RA 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act that lifted the rice import restrictions but subject to payment of tariff. 

Prior to the passage of RA 11203, the country went through a period of rice crisis last year when there was a shortage of supply of government-subsidized Filipino staple food sold to the local markets by the National Food Authority (NFA).

After the rice crisis, President Duterte often scoffed at Piñol’s boast that the Philippines will soon be self-sufficient in rice production.

As of this writing, the Chief Executive has yet to name Piñol’s replacement as Agriculture secretary. The President may announce any time soon his choice. Either the appointment is made before President Duterte delivers his next state of the nation address (SONA) at the joint opening session of the 18th Congress on July 22, or before Piñol’s resignation takes effect on July 31.

With the remaining three years in office, President Duterte needs to address this “weakest link” with strongest measures that could be implemented in such a short period of time. Thus, the President must be able to find a competent Secretary at the helm of the Agriculture portfolio to carry out his vision of better lives for Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE EMMANUEL PIñOL RODRIGO DUTERTE
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