Tight balancing act

The Philippines is still an agricultural country, based on data that about 40 percent of Filipino workers derive their income by tilling the land.

Ironically, agriculture contributes only 20 percent to the gross domestic product. The disparity reveals problems that plague farmers.

Which is why President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. scored high points when he announced in June that he would head the Agriculture Department to address various pressing issues — foremost of which is a looming food crisis.

Two months later, the sugar import fiasco blew up. Three officials of the Sugar Regulatory Authority took the blame and resigned one after the other, even as they professed honesty and fairness in their actions — specifically on the need for the country to import 300,000 metric tons of sugar in anticipation of a shortage.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros’ office lost no time in issuing a strongly worded statement: “This fiasco with the SRA is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the chaotic organization and operation of the DA.

The President should reconsider his position and appoint a competent person who would take charge of the DA, end all controversies in the department, and focus on helping farmers and ensuring adequate food supply in the country.”

“It is clear by now that having the President also perform the tasks of a DA Secretary only causes confusion and dysfunctionality in the bureaucracy. Take note, this took place within the first 100 days of the current administration. The public will continue to suffer from more of these blunders if no reforms are made to the DA’s leadership structure.”

A pro-administration columnist has likewise expressed concern over a president who may have gotten too much on his plate of duties and responsibilities.

The columnist said the sugar mess may erode public support of Marcos as head of a government agency that is also tasked to control food prices, especially that of rice.

To recall, Marcos made it a campaign promise to bring down the price of rice to P20 a kilo — which he later corrected to be an aspiration.

There have been comments supposedly quoting authorities that the sugar shortage is “artificial” or deliberately aimed to benefit smugglers,

However, a sugar industry source told Daily Tribune, “With our current production down to 1.8 million tons, there really is a need to import between 300,000 to 320,000 metric tons. The La Niña effect on the crop has exacerbated the deficit.”

The clincher is Marcos himself virtually accepting the hard reality, even as he sounded like he stumbled upon an anomaly in the department he wanted to lead: “We’ll reorganize the SRA and then we will come to an arrangement with the industrial consumers, with the planters, the millers, suppliers of sugar to coordinate what’s available and what can be released to the market.”

Asked by reporters what he would do if the sugar shortage is real, Marcos said: “Let’s import. We will be really forced.”

As the pro-administration columnist further commented, Marcos is doing the difficult job of being the plane’s pilot and its flight engineer at the same time.

Those are two different things.

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