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Promises of hope for votes

12:30 AM December 10, 2021

It is the political season, and a bad one at that. Government is not going to be focused on governance because its own top officials are actively trying to get elected again, or their key subordinates elected as well. Governance will fly out of the window, and it will be a circus out there after Christmas.

Which is so sad. There will be a public floor show, so to speak, and our politicians are the major entertainers. Those in public service will again go through the grind of walking the tightrope, not sure how to behave themselves when their superiors are either candidates themselves or helping other candidates. While most are supposed to be secured by the civil service agencies, the reality is that a wrong choice will have consequences. How then, governance, on recess?

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All is not bleak, however. First, it is Christmas. Second, it is Christmas with Covid-19 unusually under control. Third, the political season brings a lot of attention to the majority of our people – who, incidentally, are poor. Scurrying for their votes in a presidential election, politicians will be doing a lot of people a lot of favors. While the few at the top of the totem pole may draw the most benefits, the poor majority are going to the star audience in the next several months.

The masa, the D & E, urban and rural poor equals the vast majority. That means the operating budgets of the national government will be more generous if they will target the majority of the poor. I cannot complain about that if, truly, the funds go to intended beneficiaries. At the same time, I have this long-denied hope that the excessive spending during an electoral period can also have more medium and long-term benefits.

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I am thinking especially of the small farmers and the fisher folks. The budgets allocated to the agricultural sector are almost laughable. Poverty is still mostly in the countryside simply because the small farmers and fisher folks never deserved the development they deserved. Administration after administration never imagined the next and succeeding generations of descendants of the poor farmers and fisher folks, evidenced by the lack of a clear development plan. Project, project, never a vision or a commitment to their future.

We had devoted some effort in building farm-to-market roads. It became simply convenient to let the road take care of bringing the poor farmers and fisher folks out of poverty. In other words, farm to market roads became the intervention against poverty, to link producers to the market. What about the producer himself, the small farmer, the poor fisherman? Was it the responsibility of the farm to market road to bring progress to the impoverished?

One presidential candidate, in a meeting with the agricultural sectoral representatives, was quick enough to see a simple first step. Leni Robredo said that she would immediately double the budget of the Department of Agriculture. Why could she think of it and not an administration that had been requesting the budget for agriculture for five years? Yet, when we faced a pandemic, we borrowed trillions. Could we not have borrowed even one trillion pesos to jumpstart a long-delayed development plan to raise poor farmers and fisher folks to dignified life? And to ensure that their children could be many times more productive from then on?

Of course, the pandemic crippled everything, and all had to suffer. But had not more than half of the Filipino people been suffering in the farms and fishing villages the last seventy years under an independent Philippine republic? If we add up the suffering of Philippine agriculture in the lives of farmers and fisher folks, it is already much more than the collective suffering of Filipinos in the pandemic so far. However, when Covid-19 goes away, the poor farmer and fisherman will continue suffering.

Well, that can change now. Not because of vision but because of ambition. Politicians want to win and in the next six months want to be popular with the voters – including Filipinos stuck in the poverty of small farms and poor fishing communities. This is a time for promises and some will be fulfilled even if many will not. I hope that the voters living in the farm and coastal areas would learn how to bargain for their future – their votes for their tomorrow.

And from my personal wish basket, since that lady presidential candidate, Leni Robredo, already announced that she would double the budget for agriculture if she gets to be president, I cannot help but wait to hear all the others to also put on record that they would do the same – or even promise more. After all, they are only candidates now, and no one can force them to fulfill their promises except their future sense of shame. But at least poor farmers and fisherfolks can say that in one special moment, they were important enough to be courted and given bright promises.

In truth, though, the plight of our ordinary farmers and fisher folks are not contained in their respective small areas. They do spill over to cities and urban areas, year after year. From unsupported farming and fishing, they convert to densely packed urban poor settlements in all metropolitan areas. Government and the rest of Philippine society must understand by now that we cannot continue to be blind about a rural blight-to-urban plight phenomenon. It is inhumane, and it is dangerous.

Will agriculture ever have a trillion-peso budget? Can miracles happen for our poor farmers and fisher folks? Can we dare to hope for them, especially in a partisan political atmosphere? Or, perhaps, is this not the best chance that the poor will have when, for one brief moment in time, they are the most important focus of the most powerful in the Philippines?

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