[OPINION] Let’s have coffee, Senator Villar, and talk about research

As I write this, I just finished another day of school and decided to try your family’s Coffee Project café for the first time. All I thought as I entered the place was, “This one’s gonna give Starbucks a run for its money.” The wooden walls, faux flowers, and incandescent lights give off the ambiance of a countryside café, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

But as I settled down with my Café Americano, I suddenly remembered your remarks against corn research. “Parang lahat ng inyong budget puro research? Baliw na baliw kayo sa research. Aanhin niyo ba yung research?” you said. (Why does it seem like your whole budget went to research? You're going gaga over research. What will you do with this research?) 

Sen. Cynthia Villar, the rich grand dame of the Senate, we need to talk.  

Agricultural research is essential to support a growing young population. With more yuppies entering the workforce, we need to provide affordable and nutritious food to fuel our economic growth (which I am very sure your family’s empire is poised to benefit from). With such a small country, how do we come up with ways to supply more food? Arguably, you do not want to import more as it will widen our already distressing trade deficit and weakening peso. (READ: [OPINION] With rice tariffication, what happens with food security?)

Research on agriculture allows our scientists to create plant variants that are pest- and flood-resistant. The onslaught of pests like talakitok and dangaw cost our already impoverished farmers billions of pesos every year. And did I already mention the more than 20 typhoons that inundate our farms annually? 

Innovations brought about by research prepare our country for the impacts of climate change. A recent United Nations report puts the Philippines as one of the countries that will be hit worst by the changing climate. Certainly, you do not want tons of food go to down the drain every time a storm hits or serve as fertilizer when they dry up. Our scientists are developing plant variants that require less water and land, plus resistant to the capricious weather and drenching rain. (READ: What you can do to help Filipino rice farmers)

Our farmers are already at the rock bottom of our country. The Philippine Statistics Authority rated their poverty incidence at 34.3% in 2015, which is the highest in the nation. And your Rice Tarrification Law does not help, either. Though the price of rice in our pamilihang bayan (community market) has stabilized, which I appreciate, this is achieved at the cost of our farmers’ livelihood. The price of palay (rice grains) is already pegged at P7 per kilo in some provinces. Where is the help you said is allotted for farmers out of tax revenues from rice imports? Is this another TRAIN Law-like problem where it took a long time before the unconditional cash transfer of P200 was distributed to the 4Ps beneficiaries? (READ: Butterfly effect: How rice tariffication bill affects everyone)

Your law is like adrenaline: it is helpful during emergencies (like the ballooning inflation in 2018) but pernicious in the long run. There is already a delay in the help that you promised farmers out of RA 11203; don’t make it worse by scorning our researchers, which will unequivocally discourage them from developing strong plant variants in the future. 

Regretfully, I find it very ironic, almost hypocritical, for you to utter these despicable words months after you posted a picture of yourself holding a bundle of palay during the campaign trail. 

"We need to invest in research and development [so] we can increase the productivity of agriculture and boost job creation in the industry through science and technology.” That was you in a rice conference back in 2013. What happened? 

Instead, we want you to keep a watchful eye on agricultural research. Make sure that nothing in the budget lands in the pockets of unscrupulous officials, and that only the most promising research receives funding. You are one of the country’s best entrepreneurs; a powerful woman behind the success of one of the richest men in the country. I am confident that you know the significance of research and early innovation in an industry’s success, as smart a woman as you claim to be.  

Certainly, you want to be seen as the vibrant matriarch of the Senate – glorious, graceful, and generous. Not a rapacious businesswoman who is out to starve our farmers until they are forced to sell their lands so you can build your grandiose subdivisions on them. 

As I try to finish my cup of coffee, a question dawned on me: Did the coffee in my cup come from farmers of another country, as ours are too hungry to till the land? – Rappler.com

Rob Julian M. Maghinang is a proud Iskolar ng Bayan from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Manila. His opinions are his alone and does not represent any of the organizations he is affiliated with.