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Marcos takes post of agriculture secretary ‘at least for now’

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Monday declared that he will temporarily assume the post of agriculture secretary when his administration takes over on June 30.

Marcos made the announcement weeks after the Department of Agriculture warned of a food crisis in the second half of 2022.

"As to agriculture, I think the problem is severe enough that I have decided to take on the portfolio of Secretary of Agriculture at least for now," Marcos said.

"I thought it is important that the president take that portfolio so that not only to make it clear to everyone what a high priority we put on the agri sector but also as a practical matter so that things move quickly because the events of the global economy are moving very quickly," he added.

Past presidents who also served as Cabinet secretaries during their terms include Carlos Garcia as Finance chief in 1957; Marcos's father Ferdinand Marcos Sr. as Defense Secretary in the first 13 months of his term in 1965; Joseph Estrada as Interior Secretary from 1998 to 1999; Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as acting Foreign Affairs Secretary in 2002 and Defense chief in 2003 and 2006 to 2007; and Benigno Aquino III as Interior Secretary in 2010.

DA 'restructuring'

Marcos said his administration wants to focus and prepare for the looming increase of food prices as a result of "outside forces" affecting food supply.

Marcos also said he wants to increase food production in the Philippines and restructure the Agriculture department.

"As I have mentioned many times before, many of the agencies change their function over the years. Maybe it's time to return them, I've talked about the places, organizations, the NFA... the Kadiwa, which we already have started to see especially at the local level," Marcos said.

"But we have to restructure the actual department so as to be more responsive to the global situation now when it comes to food supply," he added.

Marcos said he asked his incoming Cabinet members to make economic forecasts for the rest of the year.

"I have asked the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority], and of course the DOF [Department of Finance], the DBM [Department of Budget and Management], I have asked them all to make forecasts, economic forecasts on what it is we think we will have to face for the rest of this year so that we can prepare and so that we can... despite the fact that there will be some emergency situations... hopefully not... but possibly some emergency situations, especially when it comes to food supply," Marcos said.

"We have tried to continue the fundamental development when it comes to the economy," he added.

Food crisis

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary William Dar in May warned of a looming food crisis, brought about by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, rising fuel prices, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“Tayo naman…ay handa tayo…Itong second semester of the year. Nakikita na ninyo ang pagtaas ng presyo ng inputs, kaunti ang mabibili sa global market,” Dar said then.

(For us in the DA, we’re ready even if we’re seeing an increase in the prices of inputs during the second semester of the year. That’s because of the lack of products to be bought in the global market.)

Agriculture undersecretary Fermin Adriano seconded Dar’s remarks, adding the Philippines’ low food production and the ballooning population further contributed to the emerging problem.

“Sa dalawang dekada na yun. Tumataas lang, lumalago lang ang productivity nyan ng 1.1 percent napakababa talaga pero yung population natin lumalaki annually ng 1.4 [percent] kaya kulang na kulang ang production natin,” said Adriano.

(In the last two decades, our productivity has only been increasing by 1.1 percent, while our population is annually growing by 1.4 percent. That’s the reason why there’s a shortage in our production.)

Dar has called for more government funding for the industry, saying that the country’s agriculture sector has been neglected in the past several decades.

According to Dar, the government should boost funding given that the budget of agriculture stands at 1.5% of the country’s total funding, versus 3.5% to 6% in other countries.

“I can say emphatically agriculture for the last 40 years have been neglected, underbudgeted, underinvested,” Dar said in an episode of The Mangahas Interviews.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) was earlier seeking to increase its budget by P8 billion–P10 billion from the P91 billion recommended by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). It originally proposed P231 billion.

Dar has since called for a P270-billion budget for the next year, saying that this is the level needed by the industry.  

Gargantuan task

The Samhang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) welcomed the development, but warning Marcos faces a "gargantuan task" in reforming the sector.

"Since winning the presidency, we have pushed for the President to assume the post as DA Secretary given the scale of destruction of the local agriculture sector in the last three years," the group said in a statement.

"Walang pinatawad, across commodities ay sinira ng kasalukuyang namamahala sa DA ang industriya ng agrikultura. Across the value chain - from seeds, fertilizers, unabated importation. Lahat pinagkakitaan," it added.

SINAG said only the president "can jumpstart the gargantuan task" of rehabilitating the sector to make it more productive and a vital component in ensuring available and affordable food.

The group also asked Marcos to look into the importation of various agricultural products and goods that could kill the local sector.— BM/NB/LDF/KBK, GMA News