Of all the potential presidential candidates for 2016, Mar A. Roxas, being one of the key members of President Aquino’s Cabinet, has the apparent edge when it comes to pursuing some of the so-called reforms that the administration has started in the agriculture and fishery sector. As a former senator, Roxas has sharp insights into earlier legislated reforms, such as the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, and other social reform programs like agrarian reform, and into the yearly agriculture and fishery budgets, and how they are approved by Congress.
However, having the advantage does not necessarily mean having a full understanding of the real issues facing the agriculture and fishery sectors or the problems facing the rural poor. In fact, the problem with Roxas is his disconnect with the masa. (At the very best, he has sympathy for the rural poor).
The guy may be clean and may be no epal and may understand good governance perfectly well. But for a presidential wannabe to carry the reform agenda of these sectors, he needs more than a clean face. On the one hand, Roxas need not pretend to be makamasa just to entice the poor to support his presidential candidacy, because he is not. Hindi bagay sa kanya because of his elite family background. But the masa can really get “interested” in him if he accepts genuine game-changing reforms that are close to the hearts of the masses.
If it interests him, Roxas must embrace, articulate and translate the unfinished social reform agenda. Short of this, his call for agrifishery reforms will be a farce. Campaign pledges are not enough to meet challenges, but integration with the people is utmost and genuinely fulfilling. But this is not simply an election issue; what then are the unfinished agenda in the agriculture and fishery sector?
First is the food security program, namely, the rice self-sufficiency program under P-Noy. Although our country has yet to achieve 100-percent rice sufficiency, record shows it has attained 95 percent of that. However, the competitiveness of our rice farmers remain low, and “bankruptcy” among them is still prevalent. In the light of the Asean integration and the removal of quantitative import restriction on rice, how can Filipino rice farmers compete with cheap imported rice? Notably, it cannot be denied that Roxas has neoliberal stripes that would favor the open trade regime, which in most cases are detrimental to the economic existence of the rural poor.
It is good to remember that a food-secure people are a sovereign people. No less than the director general of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations pointed out: “Small-scale farmers, fishers and forest dependent communities, who generate more than half of global agricultural production, are particularly at risk. (These very same people make up 75 percent of the world’s poor, hungry and food-insecure population). So how can we ensure food security in a world with more people exposed to tense and frequent hazards? Agriculture itself can provide solutions.” (“Feeding a warmer, riskier world,” Opinion, 3/14/15).
Second, the recovery and full utilization of the coconut levy funds for the farmers’ benefit and the modernization of the coconut industry under the administration of P-Noy have been wanting. It took P-Noy five years to understand the social justice and social equity significance of coco levy funds when he promised to issue executive orders on levy fund utilization for coconut farmers. But P-Noy’s executive orders (No. 179 and No. 180) on coconut levy utilization and privatization need an overhaul to make the farmers’ coconut trust fund conform with the proposed social contract with the rural poor.
Third is the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) and the delivery of legislated support services to agrarian reform beneficiaries. Among the Aquino administration’s social reform programs, this is where it has performed the weakest. But unlike P-Noy, Roxas endorsed Carper. According to him, “[w]e favor CARP extension but we seek certain reforms: Filipino farmers deserve real change—authentic social justice, not empty promises. CARP extension includes compulsory acquisition of land, of course, because without this the program will be ineffectual.” (“Farmers heartened by senator’s pledge to back CARP extension,” GMA News Online, May 4, 2009.) Agrarian reform is crucial in winning the fight against rural poverty.
Fourth is the nonimplementation of the negotiated Fisherfolk Settlement Program, which conforms to the Fisheries Code of 1997. It is still quite puzzling to small fishers and NGO/CSO advocates. This is one of the promising social reform programs initially supported by the Department of Budget and Management, along with a promise to provide budget assistance. This program has been consigned to oblivion. This was supposed to be a banner program—an economic justice program for small and municipal fishers that should have been pursued.
This agrifishery reform agenda is close to the hearts of small farm holders, fishers, rural women, farm workers and indigenous peoples.
Is Roxas willing to take the cudgels for the rural poor? If he is able to embrace the agenda of the rural poor then AgriReforma under his watch is possible.
Omi C. Royandoyan is executive director of Centro Saka, member of the Alyansa Agrikultura. Agrireforma is coalition project that aims to engage Roxas on agrifishery reform agenda. Agrireforma is an independent and voluntary coalition of peasants, farmers associations and cooperatives, rural women, small fishers and indigenous peoples.
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