Ritzie Daniel Lao

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Bongbong Marcos addressed the pressing issues that plagued our country today. While the speech highlighted the government's initiatives and future goals in important areas, a deeper look uncovers various pitfalls and shortcomings that cast doubt on the nation's progress in agriculture and food security.

Cartoon by Ace Vincent Loreco

The government's prerogatives lacked clear strategies for addressing the deep-rooted problems that farmers and the food industry faced. One wonders if the government is genuinely committed to bringing about meaningful change given the lack of specific strategies to address urgent issues that affect these sectors, such as climate change resilience, support for smallholder farmers, and adoption of research and technology. This lack of commitment contributes to the backwardness gripping the nation.

The President highlighted inflation as the nation's central issue, particularly in its post-pandemic era. He claimed that the inflation rate had decreased from 8.7 percent in January to 5.4 percent in June, indicating that the economy is gradually recovering and transforming, in addition to the fact that the prices of all essential goods are stabilizing. Despite the steady decline of inflation, prices for water, energy, transportation, meat, most seafood, rice, onions, garlic, sugar, most vegetables, and rice have all increased since the commencement of the Marcos Administration. 

Interestingly, despite his repeated promises to reduce the cost of rice to P20 a kilogram, Marcos failed to mention in his speech how there had not been much progress made toward achieving this objective. In his first year in office, the promise of P20 per kilo of rice had been further compromised. Prices of well-milled rice increased across the country, from P42/kg in June 2022 to P45/kg in June 2023. 

To combat the steep increase in the prices of agricultural products, the administration reintroduced the Kadiwa centers. The Kadiwa initiative was launched by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. to bring down the cost of agricultural products. In his SONA, the President boasted how more than 7,000 Kadiwa centers statewide provided low-cost agricultural products, including rice at just P25/kg, to more than 1.8 million families. 

The current Kadiwa stores strive to empower farmers with a direct farm-to-consumer food supply chain, just like they did back then. Sales reached P700 million, supporting 30,000 cooperatives with jobs. Although the Kadiwa centers have assisted 1.8 million individuals, the fact remains that there are still 21.6 million people who are food poor and borderline food poor, according to Social Weather Stations (SWS). They need assistance from comprehensive food security initiatives, not just lip service that benefits a fraction of the population. 

Another highlight of the SONA is the mention of the development of a national Geo-Agri Map linking all agricultural fields. Additional 600 kilometers of farm-to-market highways have also been built to connect farmers and consumers directly and cut out the middlemen.  Additionally, BBM boasted RA 11953, the New Agrarian Reform Emancipation Law, which made 610,054 farmers who cultivate 1.173 million hectares of CARP-awarded land debt-free. They will stop making their P57.56-B in arrears payments and return to farming, increasing our country's food productivity. Moreover, the first quarter of this year saw a gain in agriculture of 2.2%, according to Marcos. 

However, the nation's current state does not just revolve around these facts. Marcos failed to disclose how — on a seasonally adjusted basis — the percentage of agriculture in the GDP decreased from 9.1% in the second quarter of 2022 to 8.7% in the first quarter of 2023. Over the same period, manufacturing's share fell from 18.8% to 18.3%.

Marcos should have been transparent and forthright in presenting the complete picture of the current state of the nation's agricultural economy. He would demonstrate a commitment to transparency and accountability by providing the whole picture, including the positive and negative aspects. He should have used his SONA as an opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by these sectors and outline his administration's strategies and plans to address them effectively. This level of openness would foster trust and confidence among the public and stakeholders, and show a willingness to confront the realities of the nation's economic performance.

In his second SONA, Marcos failed to fully acknowledge how the climate crisis plays a crucial role in the agriculture sector of the Philippines. With significant effects on food production, distribution, and access for rural and urban people, the climate crisis poses significant challenges to agriculture and food security. It is crucial to evaluate whether the government's policies effectively address these difficulties, given the growing concerns posed by climate change to food production. But the fact that the climate agenda was a "no-show" and that there was more talk than action was disappointing. For instance, reclamation, a significant infrastructure project, is endangering the livelihood of many fishermen and many marine species. Food security, promoting sustainable agriculture methods, and safeguarding natural resources should all be prioritized without sacrificing the environment's long-term health.

The SONA divulged a lack of concrete plans to address the agriculture and food security challenges faced by the country. The policies set by the administration seemed vague and lacked clear implementation strategies, which indicates a lack of commitment from the sitting Department of Agriculture Secretary. Comprehensive, long-term, and sustainable solutions that prioritize increasing agricultural output, assisting regional farmers, and guaranteeing universal access to food must be ensured.

As Senator Koko Pimentel stated, the second State of the Nation speech should address the nation's situation on a "household" level since the Filipino people demand "unfiltered truth." It should concentrate on microeconomic issues that directly affect regular Filipinos. President Bongbong Marcos' State of the Nation's Address on agriculture and food security may have outlined some achievements and aspirations. Still, it leaves much to be desired regarding concrete plans, inclusivity, and sustainability. 

While the President's declaration of a "Bagong Pilipinas" (New Philippines) is enticing, it can only become a reality by earnestly addressing the key agricultural issues. Achieving a resilient and thriving agricultural sector that guarantees food security for all Filipinos is crucial. Otherwise, the promise of a "new era" will remain akin to a myth of the golden age—hollow and unfulfilled, as it has been in the past. The true transformation lies in concrete actions and sustainable policies that uplift the agriculture and food security sectors to benefit the entire nation.