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Opinion

Sigh of relief

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

The United States has reaffirmed that its commitment to the mutual defense treaty with the Philippines is “ironclad,” and it has made most Filipinos heave a sigh of relief.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III made the reassurance to his Philippine counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, at the Pentagon during the latter’s visit.

The largest ever joint military exercises between US and Philippine troops held recently were proof positive of Uncle Sam’s commitment to the treaty’s obligation, according to Austin.

“And that just underscores our shared commitment to this alliance, and the commitment is ironclad,” the US defense chief said.

Under the mutual defense treaty, an attack on the Philippines would be considered an attack on the United States, and vice versa.

The reassurance was a breath of fresh air for many Filipinos who look up to the long-time ally as Big Brother.

War clouds hang menacingly over the country’s quarrel with China over some areas and islands in the South China Sea, which we call the West Philippine Sea.

The United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration has favored the Philippines over China in the two countries’ misunderstanding; however, China does not recognize the decision.

We can never win over China in case of a conflict. It’s like an ant fighting an elephant.

It’s a good thing there’s our Big Brother, Uncle Sam, who would come to our aid in a very remote possibility of war with China.

A caveat: Fears of a war with China have no basis, as our superpower neighbor wants to be friends with us. We can settle our misunderstandings on the diplomatic table.

*      *      *

Most Filipinos blame the ultra-nationalist Senate of 1991 for scrapping the treaty allowing the US to maintain military bases in the country – Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Subic Naval Base which straddles Zambales and Bataan, and Camp John Hay in Baguio.

This, despite a plea from then president Corazon Aquino to extend the stay of the US bases after the treaty’s expiration, which was signed in 1947.

The original treaty gave the US permission to maintain military bases in the country until 2046; but an amendment in 1966 shortened their stay to 1991.

“Kung nandito sana ang mga Amerikano sa Clark at Subic, hindi tayo aapihin ng China sa West Philippine Sea (If the Americans were still at Clark and Subic, China wouldn’t be bullying us at the West Philippine Sea),” said Mamerto Bohol, a fisherman.

Bohol’s belief is shared by much of the population.

Had the issue of whether or not to extend the stay of the US military bases been put to a plebiscite, the “yes” would have won by a landslide.

*      *      *

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda slammed the Department of Agriculture for the unabated smuggling of agricultural products – such as vegetables, fruits and meat – calling the DA the “mother of all smuggling.”

Local farmers are losing out to smugglers, Salceda said, blaming the DA for 80 percent of the problem through the issuance of irregular import clearances, and the Bureau of Customs for the remaining 20 percent for not seizing smuggled food.

If there’s anybody to blame at the DA, it should be Asst. Secretary Federico Laciste, who heads the task force against smuggling of vegetables, fruits and meat products.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar, although not completely blameless, is so preoccupied with other matters. He delegated the task of going after smugglers of agricultural products to Laciste.

Laciste, in turn, blames the customs bureau for purportedly sleeping on the job, and other government big shots for protecting smugglers and who are smugglers themselves.

Dar, a technocrat, says he’s trying to weed out DA officials who collude with smugglers, but he has limited authority to go after smugglers.

Poor Dar. He’s being blamed for the fault of his predecessors who issued import clearances that were abused by importers of agricultural products.

Many people would vouch for Dar’s integrity, including those of his fellow technocrats at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India. Dar worked in India from 2000 to 2014.

Arvind Kumar, an Indian agricultural technocrat who resides in the country, says Dar is loved by millions of small farm holders in India for promoting their interests.

“Dar is an internationally respected scientist. He received the highest awards given by the president of India when he served as director general of ICRISAT in India for improving the livelihood of millions of small farmers in Asia and Africa,” said the Indian technocrat.

If Dar is loved in India for protecting the small farmers, isn’t that enough proof that he is doing his best in protecting the small farmers in his own country?

Don’t blame Dar for inheriting corrupt DA personnel from his predecessors.

*      *      *

But let’s look at the other side, the side of the importers/smugglers of agricultural products.

This is not condoning or justifying the smuggling of food produce, but the importers/smugglers answer the needs of the people for more food on their tables.

Rice is always in short supply as vast tracts of agricultural land have been converted into subdivisions.

Typhoons and diseases affecting pigs and poultry (African swine fever and avian flu) contribute to the scarcity of pork, poultry, rice, fruits and vegetables.

Except for a few who are innovative like Henry Lim Bon Liong, most farmers are lazy in the mold of “Juan Tamad.”

Juan Tamad is a comic character who waits for a ripe guava to fall into his mouth. It is a satirical take on the Filipino’s indolence.

Lim Bon Liong has invented a special rice variety that yields three or four times more than the ordinary variety.

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