While farmers, fishers, and agriculture groups are not enthusiastic about the agri-related pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), Agriculture Secretary William Dar took them as an indication that the Department of Agriculture (DA) may finally obtain its request for a P66-billion stimulus package for the farm sector.
During his SONA, Duterte, after expressing gratitude to police and soldiers for maintaining food security in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said the agriculture sector is crucial when it comes to propelling the country’s economy amid the recession.
“The growth of our economy depends on a robust agricultural sector,” Duterte said.
He then cited the P66-billion stimulus package – dubbed as ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program – proposed by the DA to both Houses of Congress, which should help the agriculture sector survive the pandemic.
According to him, the DA’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program is easier to achieve than the massive ‘Build, Build, Build’ program of the Duterte administration.
Dar celebrated Duterte’s pronouncements and said he hopes the Congress could finally release the P66-billion stimulus package for the agriculture sector, which is supposed to be part of the ‘Bayanihan to Recover as One Act’ or Bayanihan Part 2.
In a briefing on Tuesday, Dar said the stimulus package will have three components, including efforts to increase domestic food production, the establishment of food markets and improving logistics in the sector, and the provision of cash for work programs in the agriculture sector, which aims to provide employment during the pandemic.
Dar said it is okay if the entire P66 billion will not be provided to DA this year as long as portions of it, or at least about P21 billion, will be released immediately so emergency measures for the agriculture sector could be finally implemented.
“They can give us the P45 billion next year on top of the proposed budget of the DA,” Dar said.
The DA is currently asking the Congress for an annual budget of P280 billion for 2021. This is more than three times higher than the P64.7 billion the agency received for this year.
However, unlike Dar, groups representing farmers and fishermen are not necessarily happy about Duterte’s latest SONA.
Before SONA, though they didn’t necessarily express high hopes about it, several groups still enumerated in separate statements their ‘wish list’ for Duterte, including the temporary suspension of
livestock importation, the end to Chinese aggression at West Philippine Sea, the release of P100-billion coconut levy fund, and the immediate release of tariff collections from imported rice and other agriculture products.
Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said Duterte’s SONA “has lot of motherhood statements but of little substance and no clear policy direction”.
“As we expected, there was nothing significant or new from his SONA,” Montemayor said. “Land use and coco levy were already mentioned before but did not materialize”.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet also said that in reality, all the DA does right now is “plan, plan, plan” and “import, import, import”.
“After four years, we’re now looking for results but the promises have not been delivered,” Cainglet said.
Meanwhile, militant fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Piipinas (PAMALAKAYA) said although they weren’t surprised by Duterte’s “defeatist stand on sea row”, he still “deserves a strong public condemnation over admission of treason and continuous violation of the constitution”.
This was the group’s response to Duterte when he said he was “inutile” to Chinese aggression in the Philippine waters.
“Nobody wants to have a war with any country. What we demand is justice and for the rights of Filipino fishers to be respected in our own territorial waters. We can have that sans armed confrontation, only political will from the government and devotion to advance the interest and welfare of the sovereignty and people,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said. “Apparently, Duterte is submissive to foreign powers as reflected not only by his foreign policies to China, now with an open declaration of puppetry and treason,” he added.