POSTSCRIPT / June 24, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gonzales' shotgun blast unfair to Bataan police

UNKIND CUT: It was unkind of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales to spray the Bataan police with the scattergun charge that they helped “lawless elements” in harassing voters, leading to the defeat of his daughter running for Congress.

Gonzales should show an example of taking defeat graciously. He must not lose his balance just because his daughter Maria Aurora lost in the May 14 elections to reelectionist Albert Garcia in Bataan’s second district.

That she lost is merely a continuation of the Gonzaleses’ string of major setbacks in Bataan politics. Can’t he see the people’s message?

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SPECIFICS NEEDED: The National Security Adviser was ill-advised to have involved no less than President Gloria Arroyo in his local and personal problem.

In a memorandum to her, he recommended the relief or transfer of 17 police officials in Bataan, including the provincial director and his staff, as well as the police chiefs of all the 11 towns and the lone city in the province.

He also wrote to Director General Oscar Calderon, Philippine National Police chief, asking that the Bataan police, led by the provincial director and the intelligence chief, be investigated.

Poor Calderon had to order an investigation although he knew that police officers should enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties.

Instead of making sweeping accusations, Gonzales should specify when and where the alleged harassment occurred and who were involved. He must submit evidence to prove his shotgun charges.

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AGRIBUSINESS: Five months ago, 17 agreements involving massive investments in agribusiness were forged in Manila by Filipino businessmen with Chinese investors.

The deals include allowing the Fu Hua Company of China to invest $3.83 billion (30 billion RMB) for one million hectares meant for hybrid corn, rice and sorghum, and the making of the Candaba swamp in Pampanga a source of irrigation and potable water.

Other projects include four bio-ethanol plants to be set up by the Nanning Yongkai Industry Group with local firms, using 40,000 hectares for feedstock production, the building of mobile ice plants and transport facilities for fishery cooperatives and associations, and the culture of grouper and other high-value fish.

The Chinese also committed to build a shipyard, establish cold storage, rehabilitate the Navotas Fish Port; and develop an initial 40,000 hectares for cassava and sugar for ethanol production.

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BOON: The spadework for the projects, sealed during the January visit of China Premier Wen Jiabao, was done by a delegation led by Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap in a followup mission to President Arroyo’s visit to China last November.

The government has been forced to become the single biggest investor in agriculture because local businessmen seem to find the farm sector risky despite agriculture’s accounting for 4.2 percent of the 6.9-percent economic growth in the first quarter.

The Chinese projects will create jobs galore, bring in new technology and set up modern facilities for improving farm productivity and crop quality. They are a boon to millions of small farmers and rural communities.

The irony is that radical groups assail the investments as unconstitutional and auguring bad times for farmers and rural sectors.

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LEASE ONLY: The government is being accused of selling land to foreigners. What it is actually doing is just leasing large areas to foreign investors over long periods to enable them and their local partners to make idle lands productive.

Multinational giants like Dole and Del Monte have long forged lease agreements with Filipino farmers in Mindanao to grow, process and pack Philippine pineapples, bananas and mangoes for export and local consumption.

If we can do it with mangoes and pineapples, how come radical groups and anti-Arroyo elements object to replicating the same scheme, this time planting close to two million hectares of idle and underused lands to palay, corn or some high-value cash crops?

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CARP LOBBY: The projects have been mislabelled as �RP-China deals� when in fact they are covered by memorandums of agreement between private businessmen of the two countries. The government merely facilitated the linkup.

Some observers theorize that the opposition is part of a campaign to have the incoming 14 th Congress extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which expires next year, by five or 10 more years.

No wonder one accusation being made against the government is that instead of distributing farms to landless Filipino farmers, it is giving the land away to the Chinese.

Distributing land to the landless does not necessarily result in an improved economy. Still, the government has to explain how the big agribusiness deals would benefit not only the farming sector but also the general economy.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data show that only 3.5 percent of available loans go to agriculture, a sign of a lack of interest by local businessmen. But now that foreign entities want to do for us what local investors do not want to do, we hear objections.

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PUBLIC SPENDING: Secretary Yap explains: �We need to generate funds from other sources, including from overseas, to sustain agricultural growth to levels that assure food sufficiency on the medium term and make farming more profitable for its small stakeholders.�

Despite the lack of local capital in agriculture, Yap noted that as a result of the economic turnaround, the Arroyo administration now has more funds for bankrolling its priority programs.

The DA’s program, he said, focuses on higher public spending on (1) rural infrastructure, (2) post-harvest facilities, (3) research and extension services, (3) expanded rural credit, and (4) more local and foreign markets for Philippine produce.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 24, 2007)

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