Matching Dar with DAR
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2019 - 12:00am

As of June this year, almost five million hectares of land have been distributed to almost three million agrarian reform beneficiaries all over the country since Day 1 of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. This so far has been the reported accomplishment of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the first three years, or halfway through the six-year term of office of President Duterte.

As far as the President is concerned, these titles so far distributed by DAR represented not just ownership over the lands that Filipino farmers till, but also his steadfast commitment to implement a genuine agrarian reform in the Philippines.

The Chief Executive underscored this in his speech last Friday after he ceremonially turned over certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to agrarian reform beneficiaries at his home grounds in Davao City. Assisted by DAR Secretary John Castriciones, the President handed out the CLOA that will literally entitle beneficiaries to farmlands carved out of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

In yet another impassioned speech, the former Davao City Mayor sought to reassure Filipino farmers and their families to give them security of tenure in the lands they toil and till.

The land security tenure in the Philippines was, in fact, the heart of government-private sector top-level discussions during the Manila leg of the 7th Asia-Pacific Housing Forum (APHF), hosted by the Habitat for Humanity Philippines and held recently at the New World Hotel in Makati City. The APHF discussions delved into the challenges and possible solutions to the usual policy conflict between development of lands for socialized housing and the use of agricultural lands for food security, both of which require security of land tenure.

As he first publicly admitted during his state of the nation address (SONA) last month, President Duterte said he considers the country’s agriculture as the “weakest link” in the country’s economic growth program. The former Davao City Mayor is obviously very frustrated over the current state of Philippine agriculture.

The presidential disappointment was on how the country’s agriculture has been lagging behind despite the supposed robust growth of the Philippine economy. This turned for the worse when, in the middle of last year, there was a prolonged period of rice supply shortage that caused the price of this Filipino staple food to shot up to historic high and sent inflation rate almost galloping at a fast, higher clip. 

In the latest monitoring of the country’s economic performance, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the country’s inflation rate averaged at 2.4 percent for the entire month of July. In particular, the PSA noted the index-heavy rice prices contracted for the third straight month to 2.9 percent in July. The last time rice prices declined was in June 2016 before President Duterte assumed office at Malacañang.

The PSA also monitored that the country’s agriculture sector barely grew in the first quarter of 2019. On total output, agriculture increased by a mere 0.67 percent. Production increases were noted for livestock, poultry and fisheries during the period. At current prices, the gross value of agricultural production amounted to P429.7 billion. This represented a 3.12 percent reduction from previous year’s level.

According to the PSA, Filipino farmers and fisherfolk comprise the poorest of the poor in our country. The highest poverty incidence per family are mainly concentrated in the following provinces: Lanao del Sur (67.3 percent); Eastern Samar (55.4 percent); Apayao (54.7 percent); Maguindanao (54.5 percent); Zamboanga del Norte (48 percent); Sarangani (46 percent); North Cotabato (44.8 percent); Negros Oriental (43.9 percent); and Northern and Western Samar (both with 43.5 percent).

Rough estimates by the PSA placed the number of Filipino farmers and fisherfolk at around 2.5 to three million. And if we multiply 2.5 million by five as the average number of family members per Filipino household, this would mean at least 12.5 million. This is equivalent to more than one-fifth of our country’s estimated 110 million population at present.

There is still time though for President Duterte to turn around the situation for Philippine agriculture.

This would hopefully come with the appointment of William Dar, a known international agriculture expert, as the new DA Secretary. Dar took over from Emmanuel Piñol whom the President transferred as Secretary of the Mindanao Development Authority. It is actually a homecoming for Dar to his erstwhile office at the Department of Agriculture in Quezon City. He first served as DA Secretary during the shortened term of former president Joseph Estrada.

It was the late Senate president Edgardo Angara who nominated Dar to be the DA Secretary. It was the Cabinet post he chose to serve in the Estrada administration had he won in the vice presidential race. But Angara sadly lost as runningmate of Mr. Estrada during the May 1998 presidential elections.

While waiting for the lapse of the one-year ban against losing candidates from being appointed to the Executive Department, Mr. Estrada named Angara as president of a once state-owned bank for the meantime.

It was during Dar’s stint at the DA when the country’s agriculture posted an unprecedented 6.2 percent growth. Under Dar’s helm at DA, Mr. Estrada gave out P100 million each to municipalities with biggest agriculture outputs as productivity incentives.

So much impressed on the extraordinary turnaround of the country’s agriculture sector, Mr. Estrada naturally was reluctant to let go of Dar from his Cabinet. So it took a little longer than one year before Angara was eventually installed as Agriculture Secretary.

For now, Dar assumes as “acting” Agriculture Secretary because the 18th Congress is in session when he was appointed. With his administration’s land reform program on track, President Duterte counts upon Dar to match DAR by doing his best for agriculture.

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