Press Release
April 27, 2016


(University of the Philippines Los Baños, 27 April 2016)

The University of the Philippines Los Baños is a center for excellence in agriculture, a sector that needs much attention but is usually set aside. When agriculture makes headlines, the attention quickly fizzles out. For example, when farmers were killed in a protest in Kidapawan recently, we were forced to ask if the government is doing enough for our poor farmers. Weeks later, the story was lost in the heat of the elections. With your permission, I would like to talk about the poor state of agriculture in the Philippines, and what I plan to do to remedy it.

We need a vibrant and more productive agriculture hand in hand with a strong manufacturing industry. Myadministration will invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure, particularly in irrigation and water impounding facilities. We will prevent the privatization and commercialization of irrigation. At present, the bigger share of irrigation services is provided by communal and private systems. Cooperatives and private firms have also been expanding irrigation systems faster than the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). Further, fees, whether charged by private firms, cooperatives, or the NIA, remain too high for poor farmers.

A wide and efficient public irrigation network will allow more planting cycles and is crucial in minimizing the impact of El Niño and La Niña. My government will also finance programs that would expand the use of new seed varieties and modern technology in order to increase farm yield. We will invest in research and technology, particularly for the development of alternative farming technologies and food crops that can withstand climate change, global warming, and intensified natural disasters.

My experience as Agrarian Reform Secretary has taught me that we need to not only distribute land to farmers, but also improve their capacity to become productive. Farmers who cultivate small plots (a hectare or less) will remain poor. Their financing will be largely underground at very high rates and soon they either lose the awarded lands or rent them out. One way to remedy this is to provide incentives for banks that lend directly to farmers. Contract-growing may also help farmers make the most out of small parcels of land. Under this scheme, the output of small farmers are consolidated either by commercial farms that supply raw materials to manufacturers or directly by manufacturing companies.

Fishermen and farmers are the most disadvantaged sectors of Philippine society according to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. It is unacceptable that the workers who produce the food for our tables are also the ones who are least capable offeeding themselves and their children. To correct this, we will consider how the existing Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, where most beneficiaries are agricultural workers, may be improved to become a more direct form of support. If in urban poor communities, we will introduce grant-for-work programs, in rural areas, there will be grant-for-produce programs. This means that incentives will be provided to more productive farmers. It will also uplift the dignity of farmers and fisherfolk. They will no longer rely on dole-outs, but will work for their families.

In 2014, I filed the Right to Adequate Food Framework Bill, which could have helped put in place mechanisms to ensure food supply despite dry spells and other phenomena. The bill seeks to establish a Commission on the Right to Adequate Food, which will be tasked, along with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, to manage food supply during emergencies. It also seeks to impose the penalty of imprisonment of six years and one day to 12 years against any public or private person who denies access to food to any individual or group. If elected in May, I will ask Congress to re-file this bill and certify it as urgent, to avoid government neglect of farmers that led to the Kidapawan incident.

Ngayon gusto ko lang magsalita nang isang minuto tungkol sa mga commercial survey firms. Every time na magsurvey sila--binabayaran ang mga ito eh--palagi akong nasa ilalim. Hindi bale na kung dahil late ako nagkampanya o dahil may sakit ako. Pero bakit sa lahat ng pamantasan sa ating bansa, saan ka man pumunta, bakit palagi akong number one?

Kung susundan natin ang kagustuhan ng commercial survey firms, they will be the ones to choose our next leaders. Hindi naman pwede iyon. So I hope you will go to your homes and your neighborhoods and tell them about this sorry conspiracy.

Ang hirap naman ng kalagayan ko. Pinapababa nila ang aking standing sa surveys para mawalan ng gana ang mga contributors. Kapag wala na akong contributors, eh di wala na akong funding. Pagkatapos, kapag wala na akong funding, pipilitan nila ako na mag-withdraw at bibigyan daw nila ako ng up to P300 million para ma-reimburse ang campaign expenses ko. Taga-U.P. yata ako. Aanhin ko ang perang iyon? Tatanda na ako bago ko matapos bilangin iyon.

Kaya sige lang tayo nang sige, sugod lang tayo nang sugod, hanggang sa makuha natin ang magandang hangarin.

As UPLB students, you have the potential to make the Philippines a great agricultural nation again. In fulfilling this potential, I urge you to think of the farmers and the fishermen, and to fight for their rights. Victory will not be easy, but we will endure, with God's grace. As the poet said,

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

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