Restoring good governance in agriculture | Inquirer Business

Restoring good governance in agriculture

Restoring good governance is often more difficult than first implementing it. In two instances described here, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that is a potential threat to agriculture should now be used as an opportunity in achieving this.

Last Feb. 21, in a historically unprecedented move, the Senate made conditionalities an integral part of RCEP ratification. This is usually limited to a yes or no vote. But RCEP subcommittee chair Senator Loren Legarda said she would resign if these conditionalities were disapproved. The resulting vote on RCEP with conditionalities was 20 in favor, one abstention and one opposed.

We relate here two RCEP conditionalities that resulted in action that has not received any support from the Executive Branch for more than a year. They are four of six conditionalities recommended by the AgriFisheries Alliance, composed of the three major sectors of farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness (with 42 subsectors), and science and academe. They were also approved by the International Trade Committee of the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries, the only such committee identified in the Senate ratification.


Rampant smuggling

The first conditionality is the restoration in the “public-private oversight committee on antismuggling.” It had succeeded in reducing the smuggling rate by 25 percent and 31 percent during the administrations of President Arroyo and President Benigno Aquino III. The committee was composed of five executive departments, and one organization each from industry and agriculture, with Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) representing the latter.


This unparalleled success was due to this committee meeting the Bureau of Customs monthly and more importantly, reporting directly to the President. Only a day after the Office of the President (OP) heard about this recommended restoration, newspaper headlines covered President Marcos’ statement that he wanted private sector participation in the fight against smuggling.

Last March 1, a high level official was sent by the OP to personally meet the AA representative from the two previous committees. This was to determine which specific provisions could be duplicated in the planned new committee. After seven years of rampant smuggling that occurred after the latest previous committee was abolished, action is finally being taken. This is largely because this committee restoration has been identified as an RCEP conditionality.

Budget corruption

Last March 6, action was similarly started on the restoration of the “public-private agriculture budget monitoring committee.” The private sector chair of a Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Council (RAFC), which is in charge of the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget monitoring by its respective provincial and municipal agriculture councils, said he would ask for the list of agriculture projects in his region. He understood that there was a DA order to give this list to all RAFCs, but he had not gotten any.

The Commission on Audit had officially reported that for 2020, DA had a staggering P22 billion out of its P66 billion budget in unliquidated and unexplained fund releases. This was largely because DA had abolished the private sector budget monitoring at the regional, provincial and local levels. Since there was no list of projects given to the RAFCs, there was likewise no private sector monitoring. Despite the repeated recommendation to provide this list, it is only now with this RCEP conditionality that the complete list of projects is given to each RAFC.

For 2022, the agriculture budget for the Philippines was 2 percent of the total budget, compared to 4 percent for Thailand and 6 percent for Vietnam. To the President’s credit, the DA budget was increased by 40 percent for 2023. But if this corruption and waste continues because of the absence of private sector budget monitoring, the needed competitiveness provided by the DA budget to engage RCEP will be absent. Our agriculture decline will worsen.

Restoration of proven agriculture good governance mechanisms should therefore be a top priority in implementing the RCEP conditionalities. The private sector should participate significantly in the Senate RCEP oversight committee. This way, action will finally be taken to improve, rather than destroy, our neglected agriculture sector.


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. Contact is [email protected].

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TAGS: Agriculture, agriwatch, good governance

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