The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc, (PCAFI) has underscored the urgency of assigning a “capable man” to head the Department of Agriculture (DA) who will avoid making the wrong calls and effectively implement programs beneficial to the agricultural sector particularly now that the agency’s budget has been increased by 40 percent.
Conversely, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri lauded the performance of Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire, saying he wants her to be officially appointed as health secretary.
“The President is holding on to a huge problem that is agriculture and the entire nation. While the concerns are numerous and critical, he is always away from the country, either on multilateral meetings or state visits. I guess it’s high time that the President assigns an Agriculture secretary who will be responsible for the sector,” said PCAFI director Gregorio Sandiego in Wednesday’s monthly PCAFI forum “Usapang Pagkain”.
He noted that the President visited the DA only twice in the first six months since assuming the DA leadership in concurrent capacity.
“We need an Agriculture secretary who has genuine concern for the farmers, one who understands fully well what the sector needs and how to provide for those needs. This way, farmers will have the desire to continue planting,” Sandiego added.
The PCAFI leader noticed that the President intends to cling on to steering the DA his own way.
“I don’t think he is willing to let go of Agriculture, for now. It is possible that he will wait for May 1 (2023) to assign a new DA chief. That is what has been going around,” PCAFI director Elias Jose Inciong said.
“Right now, the DA is a damaged institution. People responsible for the agency should rectify the financials, the disallowances, the unliquidated (advances). Others the 40 percent increase in the budget will be put to naught,” Inciong said.
As a lawyer, Inciong said the DA should follow the law. Sections 38 to 40 of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) provides for consultation with all the groups and stakeholders to arrive at informed decision.
“The government is not taking the agriculture and the farmer’s flight seriously because it is not following the law,” he lamented.
Inciong said the sector might suffer a meltdown, if what has happened to the onion industry happens to other commodities, as well.
PCAFI is an organization of different industries in the agriculture sector. The group acts as an umbrella organization of various agriculture groups bonded by common interests and goals.
Meanwhile, Zubiri told reporters that Vergeire “was doing a great job.” “I highly recommend her to the post. She’s not controversial. She’s not political. She knows her job very well.”
Half a year since assuming the presidency, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has yet to appoint a permanent Health secretary, causing concern and inviting criticism from several groups.
Citing an information from the grapevine, Zubiri said Vergeire “does not want to be DOH secretary.
“Alam mo ang chismis sa sa akin, may marites na nagsabi, ayaw daw niya maging secretary kasi ano siya, career. Kasi kapag secretary ka, pwede ka tanggalin at any time. Eh career siya, she’s been there– she’s been there for several decades na daw,” the lawmaker said.
Vergeire herself admitted having reservations on being the country’s top Health official due to its limited tenure, saying she wants to retire in the agency.
The Senate President said he wants to convince Vergeire to assume the post should Marcos offer it to her.
“Maybe we can convince her to accept the secretary post, eventually… I think it’s a matter of convincing. Convince natin siya to accept the post if the President offers it to her,” Zubiri said.