President Aquino congratulates newly appointed Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan after the oath-taking at Malacañan Palace on Tuesday. Pangilinan used to head the agriculture committee in the Senate. Photo by Gil Nartea, Malacañang Photo
MANILA - President Benigno Aquino III ordered former Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan to rid the agriculture sector of smuggling and corruption in the wake of scams which took advantage of weak farming institutions.
In a press conference in Malacanang, the newly appointed Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM) said, “According to the President, I’m here to clean up these agencies. Included in my task is to address corruption and smuggling.”
He said no one will be spared from any investigation. “He [Aquino] did not say who will be included or not.”
The entry of Pangilinan in the agriculture sector is seen by some as a slap on Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who has been linked to rice smuggling and the pork barrel scam.
Asked if Alcala’s performance was one of the reasons he was taken in even though there are only 2 years left in the term of the current administration, he said: “That was not discussed.”
He said the appointment of another secretary to help Alcala is also due to the extensive scope of the agricultural industry.
When it comes to smuggling of agricultural commodities such as rice, Pangilinan said he cannot promise this will be erased in two years.
“We can’t let them dictate the rice trade. Whether they will be finished or not, I can't say. My role is to make sure that the import process is clean,” he said.
He said the whole point of “cleaning the house” is to ensure food security and inclusive growth.
“The marching orders are clear: to clean it up. So we will do what we can, as best we can, to help in that respect… Ang pinaka-kabuuang layunin natin ay paano pataasin ang antas ng kalidad ng buhay ng ating magsasaka at mangingisda. Food security can only be done when you secure your farmers and your fisherfolk,” he said.
Pangilinan has been tasked to handle the National Food Authority (NFA), National Irrigation Authority (NIA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA).
EL NIÑO A FOCUS
Pangilinan was also specifically ordered to address the increase in rice prices.
“Ano ang dapat nating gawin sa loob ng dalawang taon para mapababa pa ang presyo ng bigas? Ayusin ‘yung ilang mga problema sa pag-imbak or import. Look at the importation, the policy on importation, pati ‘yung usapin ng utang ng NFA. Mahigit almost P170-billion ang utang ng NFA so ano ang gagawin natin dito. Ito ang ilan sa mga hinahanapan natin ng solusyon.”
He also took note of the problems affecting the coconut industry, as well as the use of the multi-billion peso coco levy fund.
“Iyong ating teknolohiya, iyong ating coconut industry ay kinakailangan pang ma-develop. We are still the leader on the exports of coconut products in the entire world but… we are losing ground to other nations,” he said.
On irrigation concerns, Pangilinan said he has discussed this with Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson. The problem of irrigation has recently been highlighted because of the El Nino phenomenon.
Many farmers are suffering from low yields and incomes due to the drying up of lands.
Pangilinan said his role in the agricultural sector is to ensure that development will reach the poorest of the poor. “We should remember that 70% of poverty are in the rural areas… If you want an effective poverty program, there should be rural development.”
Will there be a revamp of the offices under him?
Pangilinan said: “Perhaps there will be some changes, but there won’t be a major revamp.”