Manila Bulletin – Government should focus on agriculture as ASEAN Free Trade nears – Marcos

By Mario Casayuran | Manila Bulletin

ManilaBulletinOnline‘’If the government is serious about helping the poor, it should focus its efforts on the agriculture sector,” Sen. Ferdinand ‘’Bongbong’’ R. Marcos Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Works and Local Government, said yesterday.

“We are now entering the full implementation of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) where each member countries committed to open their markets to each other and the first sector that would be hardest hit in the Philippines is agriculture,” he pointed out.

Stressing that the foundation of the Philippine economy is agriculture, Senator Marcos deplored that President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday mentioned agriculture only once, and that was when he thanked Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Francis Pangilinan, chief of food security, along with the other members of his Cabinet for their efforts during his administration.

Apart from these instances, the SONA was silent on the issue of agriculture, Marcos said.

The lawmaker from Ilocos Norte echoed the concerns of business leaders and economists that the Philippines has not taken adequate preparations for the full implementation of AFTA. “We have not heard anything about the government’s program to support agriculture when we know that majority of our farmers are poor,” he said.

Official government statistics show that the agriculture sector grew by 1.78 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year. “Improved performances were noted in the crops, livestock, and poultry subsectors, but the fisheries subsector posted a decline during the period. At current prices, agriculture grossed P380.1 billion, lower by 1.65 percent than last year’s record,” Marcos said, citing areport of the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

Marcos said he has filed several bills in the Senate to support the country’s agricultural sector, including Senate Bill No. 112, the “National Seeds Production Act” and Senate Bill No. 14, the “National Irrigation Program.”

He recently held consultations with coconut farmers in Luzon and assured them of his support in their bid to ensure that the P74.3-billion coco levy fund is used for their benefit and for the good of the country’s coconut industry.

The foundation of the Philippine economy is agriculture, yet it was not mentioned at all by President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

expressed this concern after pointing out that the President’s SONA, consisting of about 17,000 words, mentioned the word “agriculture’’ only once.

This was when President Aquino thanked Agriculture Secretaries Proceso Alcala and Francis Pangilinan and in the testimonial of Apayao Governor Elias Bulut Jr. on the roads constructed in his province.

Apart from these instances, the SONA was silent on the issue of agriculture, Marcos said.

SILENT ON KEY ISSUES

Two days after President Aquino delivered his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), human rights groups and students branded it a “litany of unfulfilled promises” filled with recycled rhetoric but silent on key issues like worsening youth unemployment, human rights, and land reform.

“We can say that Aquino’s last SONA is also his worst. It was drab, dry, anemic, and rehashed. If you compare it with his previous SONAs, you’ll see a ton of similarities – even the general outline is repeated. First, blame the previous administration, cite parents, then give out some cherry-picked data. Blame anyone else, even the private sector, for other shortcomings. To cap it off, blame critics and thank allies profusely. That’s about it,” party-list Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabaraan said.

“Aquino’s final SONA is nothing but a pat on the back for every kaalyado, kaibigan, kaklase, and kapamilya that helped him instigate anti-people policies and hide massive corruption. Aquino even coyly used canned videos to create a more convincing portrayal of his own version of reality. But the Filipino youth and the people are certainly not convinced,” Anakbayan National Chairman Vencer Crisostomo Crisostomo said.

Ridon, Crisostomo, and leaders of various youth oganizations, also noted that President Aquino mentioned the scandals of the previous administration, but was silent on the scandals his administration went through, including his Cabinet’s link to the pork barrel scam and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). He mentioned the bloody Maguindanao massacre of 2009 (the victims of which have yet to attain justice), but not the Mamasapano encounter just this year. (With a report from Chito A. Chavez)

Instead of accepting responsibility for the MRT mess, Aquino passed the blame to the private sector. He boasted about the AFP modernization program, despite the fact that most of the equipment purchased by the government are second-hand and the Philippines continues to have one of the weakest maritime defense system in Asia-Pacific.

“These are only examples of the inaccuracies, lies, and sins of omission that Aquino uttered on Monday. It would take all day to break down Aquino’s speech thoroughly. But from these initial observations alone, we can see that Aquino’s final Sona was not only perfunctorily written, but is also unreflective of the nation’s real state,” Ridon said.

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