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Agriculture lessons FVR taught me

I cite here four agriculture-related areas where Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) guided me: international trade, value chain, consumer welfare and interdepartmental governance.

I was impressed by his wisdom, but even more so, by his deep care for our people. For me, it was FVR’s great love for our country, crystallized through his game-changing reforms, that is his most lasting legacy.

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On international trade

FVR had assigned me to engage the nonbusiness groups for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) conference the Philippines hosted in 1996. These included farmers, fisherfolk and women (note that FVR also formed the Apec Women’s Business Council, which is still a strong force today).

Since its start, Apec’s main theme was already about free trade. Nicanor Perlas, Dan Songco and myself reported to FVR our sad experience when it came to the World Trade Organization: that free trade will only cause suffering, instead of progress, absent enough preparation to safeguard the people. FVR knew this and took immediate action.

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Despite the fact that a draft bannering free trade was already being circulated in several countries, he directed me to inform our drafting committee to boldly change the Apec theme from free trade to sustainable development. Thus, Apec 1996 is known today for this game-changing move.

It is a direction our Department of Agriculture (DA) should follow, instead of its unfair trade import orientation. This is especially important now, with our impending food crisis.

Value chain

When the Manila truck ban was crippling the value chain involving our agriculture products, I asked FVR to consider addressing this problem himself. He said, “Do not bring this up to me. This is a Manila matter, properly solved by the mayor. I am the President.”

After my initial disappointment, he called me after three hours and said he would take action. The next day, the truck ban was lifted. This attention to the whole value chain, including logistics and marketing, should be taken to heart by the DA of today.

Consumer welfare

There was once a period of rice shortage and market prices were unreasonably high. I once again asked for FVR’s intervention. He said: “You are just a [Trade] undersecretary, and this is the Agriculture secretary’s area.” I replied that I knew the “palengke (wet markets)” well and that consumers were being exploited by middlemen who were negotiating for high prices.

FVR then ordered the immediate implementation of the Price Tag Law. Having also guided me in contributing to the Consumer Act, Price Act and Suggested Retail Price formulation, FVR accompanied me to the markets to ensure that all rice stalls showed their price tags, under penalty of immediate closure if there were none.

With transparent and open competition, rice prices eventually settled down. Today, DA should ensure that consumers get the prices that reflect the farmers’ contribution, not the high prices whereby most of the profits go to the middlemen.

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Interdepartmental governance

In 1996, FVR told me: “After results you have delivered as undersecretary for 10 years, I would like to promote you to Department secretary for a position that has recently opened.” I replied, “I believe my place is in government. I am still young, and do not wish to leave when you go.”

One day, I abandoned my Boracay vacation after I was called to report to Malacañang. FVR told me, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to go when I leave. You will be the Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects secretary attending all Cabinet meetings. You will see how areas like agriculture cannot succeed without the support of departments other than the DA.”

I can say that this interdepartmental support is imperative especially today as the DA moves to arrest an impending food crisis.

When FVR ended his term, he told me: “Because of your work and dedication, you will get the Presidential Golden Heart Award.”

If I deserved any of these, it was because of FVR’s charisma and competence. But it is FVR’s commitment and compassion that I admire the most. The agriculture lessons he gave me are very valuable. I will remember FVR not so much as “Steady Eddie,” but as “Golden Heart Eddie.” His love for our people is beyond measure.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Email your comments and reactions to [email protected]

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TAGS: Agriculture, Fidel V. Ramos
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