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Commentary

No measures, no monitoring, no improvement

/ 05:28 AM September 18, 2020

For the improvement in government we long for, measures are needed. But without frequent monitoring, failure very often happens.

Let us apply this concept of measures and monitoring as they relate to actual improvement to nine agriculture governance initiatives. These were identified during the July 26 meeting of the Agri-Fisheries Alliance (AFA) with President Duterte, as represented by Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

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The five coalition AFA (representing farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness, science and academe, rural women and multisectors including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry or PCCI) used measures and monitoring monthly reports to the President, with a final report due on Dec. 1. This last report will determine whether the measures and monitoring will result in actual improvement.

1. Import regulation. There were 26 instances of import regulation by several countries reported to the World Trade Organization, while the Philippines had none. Since that meeting, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has implemented two import restrictions: it has banned poultry imports from Brazil and Australia. There should be more instances for this to take place, but the planned meeting between the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has not occurred. The emphasis is to support local against unfair subsidized imports, which are causing massive job losses.

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2. Rural women. There was previously no unit to address rural women empowerment. Dar has now created this, with additional personnel. Specific areas to focus on, where women currently have a low percentage of access compared to men, are the following: fisheries production services (15 percent); other services (27 percent); animals (32 percent); equipment/facilities (39 percent); planting materials (43 percent). Monitoring will determine how many of these areas will show improvement.3. Exports. These have been dangerously declining because of poor market access. Last month, innovative strategies were formulated to address this. Examples are market access directives for fresh mango and young coconut to Taiwan, shallots and bananas to Indonesia, and okra to Korea. Export results will be closely monitored to determine if these are effective.

4. Antismuggling. In the two periods when there was a public-private Anti-smuggling Task Force, the smuggling rate decreased by more than 20 percent. Both were abolished, ironically because they were successful. Dar recently organized a DA-private sector anti-smuggling task force. On Sept. 18, DA Anti-smuggling head General Jonathan Ablang will meet officials from the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the DTI and the private sector to implement new initiatives. One of these is placing private subsector technical representatives to gather information and monitor imports right at the BOC. The number of increased apprehensions will be recorded to determine the effectiveness of these initiatives.5. Fish imports. Violating the legally mandated fish labeling and selling frozen fish in wet markets without refrigeration facilities will be assessed in terms of depriving our fisherfolk of livelihood for transparency and health reasons. The assessment will be finished in thirty days. If warranted, the appropriate information and enforcement activities will be conducted.

6. Tariff changes. The return to a higher tariff for mechanically deboned meat which was supposed to happen in exchange for Rice Tariffication Law more than a year ago is finally being worked on. This effort has succeeded in having an initial hearing at the Tariff Commission last week.

7. National information network. Establishing this network, legally mandated 23 years ago and finally started by Dar before the July 26 meeting, has improved. Dar has recently engaged the private sector to contribute valuable content that will significantly help planning for badly needed critical initiatives.

8. DA budget. The AFA has submitted recommendations to the Congress for both additions and realignments to the DA budget. Weekly monitoring has revealed that Congress leaders support many of these recommendations.

9. Coconut levy. Releasing the coconut levy funds to coconut farmers within a short time frame is not improving. Frequent monitoring shows delayed action from Congress on this issue. Hopefully, there will be something to report on before the Dec. 1 final report to the president.

The above initiatives ensure that there are specific measures, and that these measures are monitored monthly. With this approach, both the government and the private sector will have transparency in their actions. Both can be held accountable for improvement, or lack thereof. It is this paradigm that should become the new normal in agriculture governance. INQThe author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary of the DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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