For me, in the DA, there are really things that I can do that would take a [permanent secretary] a long time,” said President Marcos Jr. He went on, “The President, they cannot say no to. And if they don’t fulfill my order, I can chastise them.” He said he hoped to carry out his duties without having to issue “entreaties” to anyone, as a regular secretary might
The President can do all of the above far more effectively, overseeing a permanent secretary who can devote full time every day to the horrendous problems in agriculture.
He adds to that by saying: “… this is what we need to do; this is the plan; every one of you follows this plan; you do this, you will do that; we will assign tasks; these must be obeyed.” But he does not have the education or experience in agriculture to know what those plans should be. I could be wrong, but based on public releases, I don’t believe he has sat down in extensive sessions with what few experts there are in the Department of Agriculture, and outside to get their recommendations, and order them done. The dismissal of Dr. Leo Sebastian, a highly regarded agriculturalist for a questionable administrative failure was an ad hoc decision he shouldn’t have made. So it’s impressive that he, later, realized this and reappointed Sebastian to a new post. The shortages that occurred (including the shutdown of a Coca-Cola plant) and the need, later on, to indeed approve the import of sugar, coupled with an 82.7-percent rise in its price, show how wrong this dismissal was.
The President was entirely right. Agriculture and its problems are so important that it needs his attention. That is best done with someone under him who can execute the things that must be done, as recommended by a secretary with expert knowledge of the sector. An expertise Mr. Marcos desperately needs if the problems of agriculture are to really be resolved.
The situation in agriculture has worsened in the months of his leadership. We can’t know, of course, if the lack of availability and high prices of sugar, onions, and eggs may have been avoided if there’d been someone paying full-time attention to what is happening with our key crops and able to react quickly to avert the problems, but there’s a higher probability that they could have been. Mr. Marcos just doesn’t have the time to be fully on top of what’s happening.
I really don’t know what’s going through his mind. He’s making the same fundamental mistake that he’s making in health when he said, “Once I know that the value chain has already been put together and we have the means—then, we will have a secretary who will then take my place and will implement that plan. He must understand what we’re doing.” He needs an expert health secretary now to guide him on what those plans should be.
Mr. Marcos should take a leaf out of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s book. Duterte said, “I don’t know anything about economics, or business. So I’m going to rely on my economic team to guide me. And I’ll do as they recommend, and support it.” He did. We witnessed a number of substantial changes that revolutionized the business environment in the Philippines and led to strong economic growth — until COVID hit. Mr. Marcos must do the same if he truly wants agriculture to grow, and the health problems to be addressed; admit he is no expert, and appoint people who are, then use his enormous powers to ensure their recommendations are acted upon.
He’s done it on the economic side — well, half-done it. He’s appointed an excellent team of experts. But I get the sense he’s making decisions, not his team. The Maharlika Investment Fund is a glaring example. From all reports, he’s the one who introduced it. The team had no choice but to go along. Private sector experts have questioned the sensibility of such a fund now. They should be listened to. The right time is not now.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve had eight presidents, and none of them has resolved the problems in agriculture. The clear conclusion is that Mr. Marcos won’t either. For there to be ANY chance of breaking this pattern, we need someone in charge of the department with a high degree of expertise and in-depth experience in getting food to Filipinos at a low cost.
I’m always reluctant to talk about myself. But in this case, I base my comments on over 50 years of senior management experience and as an adviser to three Philippine presidents. Mr. Marcos, I urge you to appoint those two secretaries with extreme urgency. Those two most important sectors need full-time experts in charge.