AgriFisheries Alliance and the President’s Sona
At the Sona (State of the Nation Address) on July 26, President Duterte supported a key position of the AgriFisheries Alliance (AFA). This must be followed up by action. In addition, since he did not mention three other positions AFA had pushed for Sona consideration, they will be identified here for possible action to address the serious agriculture challenge that confronts us today.
The AFA is composed of five coalitions representing farmers and fisherfolk (Alyansa Agrikultura), agribusiness (Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food), science and academe (Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines), rural women (Pambansang Kilusan ng Kababaihan Sa Kanayunan) and multisectors (AgriFisheries2025).
West Philippine Sea
The AFA position the President supported in his Sona was its opposition to the illegal presence of the Chinese in West Philippine Sea.
An AFA manifesto stated the following three reasons for this position:
-Sovereignty: “The Chinese military presence violates the Philippine jurisdiction over its 370-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) based on the 2016 ruling of the UN Convention or the Law of the Sea.” -Food security: “The fish supply is severely threatened by Chinese illegal fishing.”
-Livelihood: “The Chinese threaten us in our own seas by using water cannons and authorizing the Chinese Coast Guard to fire on our vessels within our EEZ.”
On April 30, the Movement for Philippine Economic Security stated in a letter to the President: “Our forebears fought and died for freedom and control of our land and sea. We must all be guilty of gross negligence and breach of trust if we do not speak out against this blatant attack on our nation’s sovereignty.”
On May 17, the National Farmer Fisherfolk Congress declared in their joint statement: “This incursion in Philippine waters destroys marine ecology, which threatens the future source of marine food. We must safeguard and protect Filipino fishers … they should not serve as baits in the West Philippine Sea conflict.”
On July 12, 75 organizations led by former Sen. Joey Lina have organized into an umbrella group. Named Citizens Alliance for Life and the Call of the Sea, it called for unity: “We call on our fellow Filipinos and national leaders to speak with one clear, consistent and emphatic voice in the enforcement of the historic arbitral award. We Filipinos and our leaders are united, contrary to the misimpression linked to confusing and seemingly inconsistent statements from the President himself, which tend to cast doubts on the award’s paramount importance to the Philippines.”
It was this consistency that the AFA wanted the President to address in his Sona. And he did as he said, “We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people … The arbitral award is now part of the international law and beyond compromise, and beyond the reach of the passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon.”
Arsenio Tanchuling, Alyansa Agrikultura president, suggested: “In pursuing this award, we should not go to war, but instead follow the principles of justice and peace.”
Examples given were Nicaragua over United States of America in the contra rebel case; Netherlands over Russia in the Arctic Sunrise case; Mauritius over the United Kingdom in the Tiaglos Archipelago case; and Bangladesh over India in the Bay of Bengal case. A nonwar option given is to file our case with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. We must stand united behind the President’s Sona declared position in this critical matter. Unfortunately, Mr. Duterte did not include in his Sona three important positions pushed by the AFA. First, to address our difficult agriculture situation, the budget of the Department of Agriculture should be increased from 2 percent of the national budget to a level close to Vietnam’s 4-6 percent and Thailand’s 3-4 percent.
Second, the traditional monocrop system in coconut, rice and corn which occupy more than 70 percent of our land should be transformed by adding high value crops via intercropping and relay cropping. Third, since the local government units (LGUs) will get a 55-percent budget increase next year from the Mandanas-Garcia Ruling, they should be provided significant capacity building. This way, the devolved agriculture services will be much better than today. They will not suffer the tragedy of worsened extension services because LGUs were not prepared for it. The President’s Sona set the stage for new creative action on the West Philippine Sea issue, which must also be implemented in the three areas identified here. This is imperative if we are to achieve the transformation the agriculture sector has long been waiting for.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]
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