Battle at the Department of Agriculture | Inquirer Business

Battle at the Department of Agriculture

There is a battle going on at the Department of Agriculture (DA) between the good versus the bad forces.

For the last twenty one years that I have been writing agriculture columns, I have seen the bad forces mostly winning. Our agriculture has indeed deteriorated. Our rural poverty rate is the worst in our region: 32 percent compared to Vietnam’s 17 percent and Indonesia’s 15 percent. We are the only country with a negative agriculture trade balance. Our large deficit of $8.9 billion in 2021 further worsened by 33 percent to $11.8 billion last year.



Last Feb. 21, the Senate ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. With 131 organizations signing a document identifying RCEP’s danger to agriculture, Senators Miguel Zubiri and Loren Legarda did something unprecedented. They identified RCEP conditionalities: “For the effective implementation of the RCEP agreement, the Senate of the Philippines deems it necessary that the following be adopted and implemented.” If the RCEP conditionalities and objectives are not met, the resolution stated: “The Senate of the Philippines may recommend to the President the withdrawal from the agreement.”

Six conditionalities were submitted by the Agriculture Alliance (composed of farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness, and science and academe) and the International Trade Committee of the legislated public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF). They form part of the RCEP agreement.


A deadline of May 21 was set for the Executive Branch to submit “a comprehensive strategy and plan” for meeting these conditionalities. That deadline has passed. Unfortunately, little has been done to meet critical RCEP conditionalities. Once again at the DA, the bad forces are winning over the good ones.

Among the DA good forces are Undersecretaries Mercedes Sombilla and Agnes Miranda and Assistant Secretary Noel Padre under Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban—a very helpful ally of PCAF, with Nestor Domenden and Juliet Opulencia as the executive and deputy directors. They are supported by competent staff such as Francia Macalintal, Sara Bales and Marsela Perena. There are bad forces still at DA, and yield considerable influence.


Here are two examples of two critical conditionalities have not been met. We hope this will change if the good forces prevail. One is restoring the private sector DA budget monitoring at the local levels. This requires that the DA regional directors provide the complete list of all DA-funded projects in their respective areas to the provincial and municipal agriculture and fisheries councils. Largely because this private sector monitoring was stopped, the Commission on Audit reported P22 billion and P23 billion in unliquidated and unexplained DA expenses in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Up to now, the local councils have not gotten these lists. How can we compete in RCEP if the already limited DA budget is lost to corruption and waste because of no monitoring?

Another conditionality is the restoration of the public-private anti-smuggling committee which reports to the President. The two times it was operational, it achieved a 25 percent and 31 percent reduction in the smuggling rate. When this committee was first created, smuggling decreased by 25 percent from $3.7 billion to P$2.7 billion. After its abolition because “big fish” were caught, smuggling increased by 104 percent to $5.7 billion. United Nations Commtrade statistics show that without this committee, smuggling has more than doubled from P500 billion in 2019 to P1.3 trillion in 2021.

An initial encouraging move for this committee’s restoration came when an official from the Office of the President consulted with an Alyansa Agrikultura leader who was part of both the previous successful committees. Even President Marcos was quoted on page one headlines that he wanted the private sector to participate in the anti-smuggling fight. But with no progress on this important initiative, the bad forces appear to be successful so far in derailing it.

Over the next few months, we will see if these conditionalities will be met. The private sector must now actively support the good forces to overcome the bad forces at the DA. INQ

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 agriwatch_phil@yahoo.

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