#PHVote: Agriculture, education top priorities for Nueva Ecija local bets
MUÑOZ CITY, Philippines - Agrarian reform and education are top priorities for two gubernatorial and vice-gubernatorial candidates in Nueva Ecija, both promising to improve the plight of farmers and increase the number of scholars.
Speaking at the "Tugon 2016: Local Debate Forum" organized by the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) on Monday, March 28, three-term representative of Nueva Ecija’s 4th district Rodolfo Antonino said he will make education more accessible in the province.
Antonino said he will do this by enhancing special education programs, creating a municipal college program, and opening free dormitories to students.
The veteran lawmaker, who is running under Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party, claimed he produced one scholar per family.
“We want education to be inclusive so our scholarship program, as it is in my district, will have no entrance exams…After graduation, we have massive employment programs so the students can immediately find work,” Antonio said.
‘Education reform needed’
Meanwhile, vice-gubernatorial candidate Dr Raymond Sarmiento said he will continue the provincial government’s scholarship programs, but added that the country’s education system needs to be reformed.
“We need to change our perspective on education. We are outward looking. Once we get our education in the province, we move forward to Manila or other countries. We have a brain drain,” Sarmiento, who is running under Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban, said.
He added: “We should be inward looking. Students need to be trained and educated on how they can improve and help the province.”
Much has to be done to create more opportunities for graduates, Sarmiento admitted. To address this, he plans to invite more companies to open businesses and create livelihood opportunities in the province.
Nueva Ecija is one of the vote-rich provinces in the country, with 1.3 million voters registered for the 2016 polls. The province is often referred to as the “Rice Granary of the Philippines” because of its role as one of the top producers of agricultural products in the country. (READ: Who is running in Central Luzon?)
Banking on his experience for much of his presentation, Antonino said his administration will have 3 pillars: a development plan, transparency, and not leaving anyone behind.
On agriculture, Antonino promised the following for farmers and farm workers:
- Create irrigation systems
- Pave farm-to-market roads (FMRs)
- Create a clear policy on modernized machineries
- Strengthen cooperatives for farmers
- Provide financial subsidies and crop insurance to farmers
- Tap the expertise of agriculture related agencies in the province
To increase the livelihood of farmers, Antonino said the province needs to create more agriculture-based products.
“Our agricultural products should not be as sold as raw materials. The provincial government should create livelihoods to make value-added products and increase the income of our farmers and women,” he added.
Though he offered feasible programs, Antonino is still haunted by the pork barrel scam, the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history. In 2014, he was accused by the Ombudsman of malversation and graft of over P15 million in public funds. This issue, however, was not raised during the forum.
Sarmiento took a harder stand on agriculture. If elected vice governor, he said he will push for a policy that will ban imported rice, onions, and other agricultural products in the province.
“This will raise the prices of goods and will help our farmers compete with other countries,” he added.
Sarmiento said he will also give alternative livelihood to farmers affected by new machinery, create cooperatives, and stop the entry of new technology from other areas that disrupt agriculture in the province.
“Nueva Ecija's problem is that we relax on rainy season and work hard on harvest season. We need more industrial activities,” Sarmiento said.
Competitive Nueva Ecija?
One of the questions raised during the open forum was the readiness of the province to the ASEAN economic integration, which is expected to boost trade of different goods between member-states.
“Given that we cannot compete with rice from Thailand and Vietnam, what measures should be taken to protect our farmers?” asked one of the panelists.
Both candidates admitted the province is not prepared for the economic integration, but it has no choice but to abide by the country’s commitment to ASEAN.
“Other ASEAN countries are more advanced technology-wise. We need to subsidize farmers to help them compete. We need to regulate for the greater good,” Antonino said.
Sarmiento added: “We need to lower the price of our rice for it to be competitive. We cannot do that because other countries are subsidized and we are deregulated. We need to push for agrarian reform and support our farmers.”
Before the debate started, Kabataan Partylist first nominee Sarah Elago gave the youth key issues that they should be concerned about. She identified the following issues: state of education, agrarian reform, livelihood for all, defense and security, corruption, peace process, and the marginalized sectors’ rights.
“Everyday, we need to live by our roles as Filipino youth. We need to increase the number of progressive and patriotic youth. We need to fight for our country,” Elago said in Filipino.
The candidates were also asked how they plan to increase student involvement in politics.
Antonino referred to the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Law, and said the government needs to give youth mechanisms to empower them.
“Social media should be tapped. The youth need to have a direct connection with their leaders so they can get their sentiments and issues across,” he added.
Fore Sarmiento, however, the orientation of the country's education system should changed.
“We have a problem in the orientation of our education system. Students are being trained to be servants. We need to struggle for a nationalist, scientific education,” he said.
All gubernatorial and vice-gubernatorial candidates were invited to the forum, but only Antonino and Sarmiento showed up.
Antonino is up against Nueva Ecija 3rd district representative Cherry Umali, who is running under the Liberal Party (LP), for the gubernatorial seat. Sarmiento is running against 3 other candidates – incumbent vice governor GP Padiernos (LP), Melchor Joson (UNA), and Heny Bello (Independent). - Rappler.com