Newly appointed Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. on Monday allayed concerns regarding supposed “conflict of interest” between his ties with his companies and his new government position, saying that the latter is his full-time job.
At a press conference, Laurel, who is a business tycoon, stressed that he has divested himself of his interests from his companies.
“Basically, nag-divest na ‘ko (I have divested). I have no more interest in all the companies that I used to own,” he said.
“DA is a full-time job. I have no time to do anything else. Ang laki ng departamento. Complicated ng onti, that marami — there’s 28 bureaus, departments, and GOCCs. It's a full-time job. Wala akong oras to think about other things,” he added.
(The department is big. It’s a bit complicated because there's 28 bureaus, departments, and GOCCs. It's a full-time job. I don't have time to think about other things.)
Prior to his appointment as DA secretary, Laurel was the president of Frabelle Fishing Corporation. According to its website, Frabelle was established in 1966 as a small trawl fishing company before eventually shifting to purse seining small pelagic fish and then to tuna.
Laurel also held other positions in other companies such as chairman of the Westpac Meat Processing Corporation, president of Markham Resources Corporation, and chairman of Bukidnon Hydro Energy Corporation.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday warned against “corporate and oligarch interests” following Laurel’s appointment.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, meanwhile, reminded Laurel of the constitutional requirement for divestment from business interests of cabinet members.
For her part, Senator Imee Marcos said that Laurel might still have a conflict of interest even if he has already divested.
“Tama ‘yun, talagang may conflict of interest. Sigurado ‘yan. Kahit mag-divest, sabihin nating may divesting, ay talagang mapupunta rin sa kamag-anak ‘yan,” she said in a Super Radyo dzBB interview.
(That's right, there really is a conflict of interest. That's for sure. Even if he divest, let's say there is divesting, that will still go to his relative.)
Despite this, Marcos pointed out that there is no other expert that could serve the Agriculture Department other than a person coming from the same industry.
She also appealed to the DA to prioritize local farmers and fishermen, rather than importing commodities from other countries.
“Ang panawagan ko na lamang, kung maaari, ibalik ang Department of Agriculture sa dating mandato niya na dapat tutukan ang magbubukid at mangingisda. ‘Wag ‘yung ‘Department of Importation,’” Marcos said.
(My only request is, if possible, to bring back the Department of Agriculture to its previous mandate that is focused on farmers and fishermen. It should not be the Department of Importation.)
Laurel also answered claims that he was just being paid back by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for his contribution to his presidential bid during the 2022 elections.
“Well, I don’t think.. Definitely, there is no payback. As I said, sacrifice na rin ‘to sa lahat. It's just for country talaga. ‘Yun lang ang masasabi ko,” he said.
(This is a sacrifice. It’s really for the country. That’s all I could say.)
According to the records of the Commission on Elections, Laurel donated P30 million to Marcos’ campaign.
The President, on the other hand, said he has known Laurel for a long time.
"I've known him since we were boys. So, malakas ang loob ko na ma-i-appoint siya kasi kilala ko pagkatao niya. Alam kong napakasipag nito, unang-una. Pangalawa, nauunawaan niya nang mabuti ang sistema ng agrikultura dito sa Pilipinas," Marcos told reporters.
(I'm confident with his appointment because I know him. I know that he is hardworking. Also, he knows the system of agriculture in the Philippines.)
As to appointments under his office, Laurel said he may tap expert consultants to work in the DA at the beginning of his tenure.
“But as for the current team, I plan to work with the current team. Then assess na lang after a while. Depende na sa performance ‘yan eh. If the current team performs, then well and good. If they don’t perform, then sorry na lang,” he added.
(But as for the current team, I plan to work with them. We just assess them after a while. It depends on their performance. If the current team performs, then well and good. If they don't perform, then sorry.)
DA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa on Saturday said there will be "significant changes" within the management of the DA under Laurel.
De Mesa said that the changes that might be implemented will primarily focus on “for the improvement of management and operations of the DA.”
He added that the changes will also aim to make the department and the entire agriculture sector stronger and more stable. —KG/RSJ, GMA Integrated News