"The prestige associated with being the Secretary of Agriculture is gone."
Agriculture was the most important sector of the Philippine economy until the 1960s, accounting for the largest share of employment, income, taxes, and exports in the international community. The characterization of the Philippines was that of a country principally dependent on the production and export of agricultural commodities.
Accordingly, the Secretaryship of Agriculture was generally regarded as the third most important Cabinet portfolio (after the foreign affairs and national defense posts). That was entirely appropriate for agriculture as the sector of a nation’s economy that provides it with food and fiber. For as long as agriculture was the major sector of the Philippine economy, the Secretary of Agriculture was one of the key members of the national policy-making team.
Agriculture’s position in the national economy - and, consequently, the status of the Secretary of Agriculture - began to decline with the start of the implementation of the government’s economic diversification program, embodied in a succession of multi-year economic development plans. The first of those was the Socio-Economic Development Plan of 1962-1965.
The plan succeeded in progressively reducing the share of agriculture in the GDP (gross domestic product) and measuring the shares of other sectors, especially industry (manufacturing, utilities, and construction) and services. Sadly, as the stars of the new sector shone increasingly brighter, that of agriculture began a waning that continued through the succeeding decades.
In contrast with the pre-World War era, the word “agriculture” is largely associated today with decay, underfunding, inefficiency and neglect. The pre-eminence and pride that Philippine agriculture once enjoyed are long gone.
From time to time - mostly when emergencies occur - policymakers remember that the agricultural sector is still in difficulty and still needs urgent attention. Then another attempt at resuscitation is undertaken: The latest of these attempts have been the Agriculture and Fisheries Development Act of 2004 and the Rice Tariffication Act of 2018. Thus far those latest attempts have not produced the sectoral turnaround that they were said to be able to effect.
It is bad enough that agriculture has lost its position as one of the pre-eminent cabinet departments; nations have been made worse by the steady decline in the quality of appointees to the position of Secretary of Agriculture.
During the pre-World War II era, the head of the Department of Agriculture was chosen from the ranks of the agriculture elite - individuals who had strong ties to, and loved, agriculture.
President Quezon and the first post-Independence Chief Executives chose as Secretary of Agriculture an individual who, in the Cabinet room, would stand out and be treated with respect by his colleagues.
That is no longer the case. The prestige associated with being the Secretary of Agriculture is gone. As the status of the Department of Agriculture has steadily declined, so has the quality of the appointments to the position. With the exception of two or three individuals - Arturo Tanco and Dr. Emilio Javier among them - the Secretary of Agriculture of recent decades have been either incompetent, unimaginative or corrupt, or a combination of these negative attributes.
Indeed, so low has the Secretaryship of Agriculture descended in the Filipino people’s estimation that an average student if asked who the incumbent Secretary of Agriculture was, would not be able to give the answer.
The present Secretary of Agriculture, who delights in keeping people aware that he is a Ph. D., has not broken the trend toward mediocrity in the performance of the Secretary of Agriculture. With his academic background in mind, the Filipino people fully expect great things from the Department of Agriculture. Their expectations have been dashed – William Dar, Ph.D., has thus far not provided the drive and the creative direction that his department has long needed. No one is holding his breath that the situation will change anytime soon.
The Philippines - a country with a large agricultural sector but with a weak Department of Agriculture. How ironic. Sadly ironic.