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Should Marcos resign?

DEFINITELY. But of course I mean only as secretary of the Agriculture department, since after 100 days this has proven to be a very wrong move.

In June, days before he assumed office, Marcos said: “It’s important that the president take that portfolio not only to make it clear to everyone what high priority we put to the agricultural sector, but also as a practical matter, so that things move quickly.”

It turns out that the Agriculture department in practice has become his administration’s lowest priority, with the President, sources in that department say, having visited its headquarters onlyΒ twice. The first was on July 4, his first and only meeting with the department’s executive committee. And the second, a week later, but to meet only with his representative Leocadio Sebastian (who was fired a month later) and a few directors.

Contrast his single visit to the Agriculture department to the 18 “social and leisure” activities (five birthday parties) he has attended in and outside the Palace In effect, rather than things “moving quickly” for the Agriculture department, these have all stopped, leaderless.

Nobody in the department is really taking seriously its 83-year-old “senior undersecretary” Domingo Panganiban. (While the “senior” designation was intended to put him on a higher rank than the three other undersecretaries, the joke in the department is that it is the only department headed by a “senior,” with the more cruel joke alluding to that feared malady of that age.)

Panganiban was dragged from retirement to replace Leocadio Sebastian who was removed as Marcos’ de facto representative in the department after he signed a sugar import order “for the President” β€” which he did not have the authority to do so. Agri officials applauded his removal though, as he couldn’t get along with his subordinates, which was expected, they said, as he was a scientist, and not a bureaucrat.

Mismanaging

Failure to lead the department would be close to mismanaging the presidency, since the Agriculture department is now practically the most critical government institution as its area of responsibility, the food sector, is far from being sound. Rising prices of sugar and other food items already have had a severe impact on the economy, as these have been the biggest factor pushing the inflation rate to 6.9 percent last month.

Our agriculture sector has gone from bad to worse, not just because of its structural weaknesses, but because of the worldwide rise in oil prices resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Petroleum products account for 20 percent of crops’ production cost, while for livestock, it is 50 percent. A huge chunk of retail food prices is also due to transport costs. Fishermen’s biggest cost is fuel for their boats.

The Duterte government undertook a P3 billion fuel subsidy program for farmers to mitigate rising fuel costs. Has the current administration ordered studies to find out the bottlenecks in the distribution of such subsidies, and how much more is needed? Prices of that sector’s main output β€” rice and sugar β€” and even vegetables have risen to historic highs.

And neither the department nor we, appear to have any idea how to stop what is really the most important concern of ordinary people β€” food prices.

Sugar

The Marcos administration’s campaign to force sugar hoarders to release their inventory, rather than authorize the importation of 300,000 metric tons, seemed to stabilize sugar prices. But only for a while. Sugar prices last week in Metro Manila, for instance, rose to as much as P134 per kilogram, a new all-time high. Sugar Regulatory Administration data showed that the highest retail price of refined sugar in Metro Manila breached the P130 per kg level last September 30. If that means the supply of sugar has become thin, has Agriculture Secretary Marcos ordered studies to evaluate if he should authorize sugar imports? I doubt if it has even crossed his mind.

While rice prices have remained the same compared to a year ago, these are likely to rise in the coming months. Federation of Free Farmers national manager Raul Montemayor projected rice prices to rise P4 to P5 kg from its current P38 per kg. “The 20 percent export tax of India will raise their export price by about P4 per kilo. Palay prices will have to increase by P3 per kilo for farmers to recover additional costs for fertilizer and fuel,” Montemayor said. Is the agriculture department preparing for this? We don’t know the Agriculture secretary has no time to tell the public what this department is doing, and no one there would dare talk for the department.

Crisis mode

The point is that events outside the country, mainly Russia’s screwing the world, unsettling economies, and climate change’s effects on food supplies β€” because of the unusual severity and frequency of storms and drought β€” should have put the Agriculture department on a crisis mode. Having a part-time Agriculture department is like having a part-time warship commander as it approaches hostile forces.

I can’t understand why Marcos took the job of concurrent agriculture secretary (which no other president has done) when he really hasn’t any experience in managing a huge bureaucracy nor does he have any expertise in agricultural production. Hubris, that only he alone could do the job?

Marcos probably had no idea what the presidency requires, and again, it was probably also pride that prevented him from consulting with his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who at least going by people’s satisfaction polls, has been the most successful president so far.

Indeed no one who hasn’t been president or worked in the Palace would know that much of presidential time is eaten by ceremonial and social functions. Going by Marcos’ official activities in the past 100 days, 30 percent of his 227 activities were spent in calls of foreign dignitaries as well as of athletes winning international competitions; 13 percent in anniversaries of organizations, 20 percent in oath-takings and meetings of the Cabinet and other officials, 20 percent meetings with private sector groups as well as businessmen, and 10 percent in birthday parties and other celebrations. That’s already 93 percent: How could he have thought he had time to be agriculture secretary?

If the Agriculture department fails to control the rise in prices of rice, sugar and even vegetable crops, it will be Marcos of course who will be blamed. The department’s failure will pull down the economy, because food prices are a major component of inflation. Not only that. Marcos’ legitimacy as a good government will be very seriously eroded. What was he thinking?

“Marcos, resign?” Again? I hope not, too old for that.

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Nobody in the department is really taking seriously its 83-year-old “senior undersecretary” Domingo Panganiban. (While the “senior” designation was intended to put him on a higher rank than the three other undersecretaries, the joke in the department is that it is the only department headed by a “senior,” with the more cruel joke alluding to that feared malady of that age.)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina Rojas

    Maybe, but SUSec Ding P is very much qualified for DA chief, I think PBBM should appoint him asap. I think PBBM is just “weaning” him out.

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