Ramon Magsaysay, champion of PH agriculture
In his first State of the Nation Address after his election as the Philippines’ third president after World War II, Ramon Magsaysay announced that agriculture would be a priority of his administration. He wanted farmers educated in modern agricultural methods and called for the improvement of irrigation systems to increase farm productivity. He urged Congress to fund agricultural research and the control of crop pests and diseases.
Magsaysay, whose birth anniversary will be marked on Aug. 31, was known as the “People’s President.” He launched projects to improve agriculture and empower rural communities, believing that their development and economic participation were vital to national recovery. His administration pursued an aggressive land resettlement program and provided assistance to boost the productivity of small farmers and agrarian tenants even as he encouraged self-help.
A banner initiative of his administration was the Land Reform Act of 1955 that would distribute rice and corn farmlands to farmers — a precursor of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and its Extension and Reforms. He sought to ensure that people displaced by the war, as well as tenants, could have a fair share of the land and its produce.
The National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration was established to give land to rebels, among others. It helped greatly to boost agricultural production in Palawan and Mindanao. Agriculture flourished in Mindanao, turning it into a major food producer.
Magsaysay established the Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Financing Administration to help farmers process, store and market their harvests, and obtain government loans. Under Osmundo Mondoñedo, the agency significantly expanded its operations, resulting in more farmers marketing cooperatives, coop members, areas of coverage, etc.
The Agricultural Tenancy Act led to a more mutually beneficial relationship between landlords and farmers.
Magsaysay pushed for the creation of the Court of Agrarian Relations to resolve conflicts and settle disputes between tenants and landowners.
As a president who prioritized food security, he knew that reliable irrigation was needed to increase productivity. More artesian wells were built to provide water to farmers and their communities. To complement the massive irrigation program, roads and bridges were built in small towns nationwide for easier transport of goods and people, thus spurring the rural economy.
A more comprehensive rural development program was undertaken by the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Community Development led by Ramon Binamira of Cebu. The PACD sought to make rural communities more active and self-reliant and to reduce their dependence on the government. It involved the rural folk in initiatives to raise food production and family income, improve health and sanitation, etc.
Magsaysay’s belief in agriculture as a major pillar in national development is reflected in the awards institutionalized in his honor. The prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize and presented annually during his birth anniversary, has recognized a number of persons and organizations for their work in agriculture and the uplift of rural communities.
In this field, the RM Award Foundation has relied for years on the guidance and leadership of trustee Dioscoro Umali, former chancellor/president of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Filipino recipients of the award include agricultural scientist and UPLB professor emeritus Romulo Davide for the Farmer-Scientist Training Program; the UPLB College of Agriculture for exemplary teaching, research and extension toward the modernization of agriculture in Southeast Asia; Pablo Torres Tapia for his efforts in protecting rural families from exploitation by credit lenders; and the International Rice Research Institute for research and education to help reduce poverty and hunger and to improve the health of both rice farmers and consumers.
Jaime Aristotle Alip received the award as founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions, which now has almost two million members, mostly women, who are provided comprehensive loan programs and financial aid.
Through these groups and individuals, the RM Awards perpetuate the legacy of President Ramon Magsaysay, champion of the masses and of agriculture.
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Ysabel Anne C. Lee is a science research specialist at UPLB’s Department of Science Communication.
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