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MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is handing over the reins of the Department of the Agriculture (DA) to one of his campaign donors, businessman Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr.
Marcos announced the appointment of Laurel as the country’s new agriculture secretary on Friday, November 3, nearly a year and a half since Marcos occupied the position concurrently as president.
In a press conference, Marcos vouched for Laurel’s work ethic and familiarity with the sector, especially on fisheries.
The President also attested to the new DA secretary’s character, having “known him since we were boys.”
“Malakas ang loob ko ma-i-appoint siya kasi kilala ko ang pagkatao niya,” said Marcos. “Alam kong napakasipag nito, unang-una. Pangalawa, nauunawaan niyang mabuti ang sistema ng agrikultura dito sa Pilipinas.”
(I am confident on appointing him because I know him well. First, I know he’s hard working. Second, he understands the Philippines’ agricultural system.)
In his brief remarks at the press conference, Laurel said farmers and fisherfolk are “close to his heart” having “personally witnessed their hardships and dreams.”
He promised that the sector will be able to taste the fruit of their labors under his leadership.
“Handa akong makinig at makatrabaho kayo,” said Laurel. “Higit sa lahat, ako’y handang magtrabaho para sa inyo.”
(I am ready to listen and work with you. Most importantly, I am ready to work for you.)
Laurel is inheriting an agency beset with long-standing problems that affect the country’s food production and supply.
According to Marcos, one of the marching orders he gave Laurel is to look into how to better tackle the prices of all agricultural commodities.
Marcos also mentioned the management of avian flu and African swine fever, diseases that had led to the slaughter of thousands of chickens and hogs, respectively, nationwide.
In addition, the DA should be checking best agricultural practices from neighboring countries that can be applied in the Philippines, said Marcos.
Laurel took his oath before the President prior to the announcement on Friday.
Laurel is president of Frabelle Fishing Corporation, a seafood production company that was first established in 1966. According to its website, Frabelle owns “a fleet of over 100 vessels, and a growing workforce of 5,000.” It is described as a “go-to source for fresh, frozen, and processed seafood, with a market that extends to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, and the United States.”
He was also one of Marcos’ top campaign contributors through the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP), the political party that carried his presidential run in 2022. According to PFP’s statement of contributions, Laurel donated P30 million to the campaign.
In August 2022, Laurel joined the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) which was created to help form and recommend policies to the President on matters related to the economy. Laurel is under PSAC’s agriculture sector with five other business leaders. He is also the president of the Agusan Power Company.
Laurel obtained his computer science degree from the University of Santo Tomas.
In light of his appointment, Laurel had already divested his interests from his companies, according to Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil.
To avoid conflict of interest, the law requires a public official to resign from his position in a private enterprise within 30 days, as well as divest himself of interests within 60 days from assuming public office.
Marcos’ appointment of Laurel comes after both allies and critics have repeatedly urged him to name a DA chief as he himself failed to join any DA meeting between February and August 2023.
Laurel will be left to handle issues that hound Philippine agriculture, including the recent fiasco caused by Marcos setting a price ceiling on rice despite concerns by economists, retailers and other stakeholders. The price ceiling was lifted on October 4, 2023.
This is on top of the long-time problem of the agricultural sector having the highest poverty incidence among the country’s workforce, according to latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. – Rappler.com