SONA 2015: Sparse mention of agriculture, land reform
MANILA, Philippines – Aside from praising agriculture officials and noting a dodged trade sanction, President Benigno Aquino III sparingly mentioned the agricultural sector in his two-hour State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 27.
He credited Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan for reforms in the sector. (READ: SONA 2015: The state of agriculture, fisheries under Aquino)
He also praised Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes for doing his job despite its complexity.
The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was also lauded for quick action that led to the Philippines’ removal from a list of countries with a “yellow card” from the European Commission.
The warning could have escalated to a trade sanction banning the Philippines from exporting fisheries products to the European Union, one of its biggest markets.
But some issues were glaringly missing from his last SONA.
Aquino did not list as priority legislation the bills to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). He had certified the bills as urgent in May 2014.
The bill aims to extend the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) ability to put more agricultural land under the government’s land distribution program.
The DAR still has a huge backlog of land to cover – more than 41,500 hectares.
In his previous SONA, he said all notices of coverage – the document that allows parcels of land to be distributed – would be issued by this year.
In his 2012 SONA, Aquino vowed that land reform would be completed before the end of his term.
"My mother initiated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. It is only just that this program sees its conclusion during my term. There are those, however, who wish to obstruct us. I say to them: We will obey the law. The law says, the nation says, and I say: Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed," he said then.
Different from past SONAs
Limited mention of the agricultural sector is a deviation from Aquino’s previous SONAs.
In his 2014 speech, he highlighted the upliftment of the Filipino farmer as a benchmark for his promise of inclusive growth. He listed improved access to modern farming equipment, enhanced irrigation systems, and farm-to-market roads.
"We have also continued to implement projects to uplift Filipinos in the sector of agriculture. We are ensuring that rice farming remains a viable and attractive livelihood," he had then said.
In 2013, his 4th SONA celebrated the progress made in distributing land to Hacienda Luisita farmer-beneficiaries. Hacienda Luisita, owned by his own family, the powerful Cojuangco clan, is one of many vast agricultural lands up for distribution to smallholder farmers.
In both 4th and 5th SONAs, Aquino highlighted the fight against rice smuggling, a crime seen to jeopardize the income of Filipino rice farmers.
His 4th SONA, he had something to say about rice self-sufficiency, saying the country was on track to 100% self-sufficiency.
Whereas his 4th SONA devoted entire paragraphs to the coconut sector, Aquino did not mention it at all this year.
In November last year, he met with marching coconut farmers in Malacañang Palace to assure them they would benefit from the coconut levy fund the Supreme Court had declared as public funds.