Sen. Villar looks beyond 2019 elections

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok October 15,2018 - 08:59 PM

MALOU GUANZON APALISOK

On the day the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released its latest senatorial survey, the solo frontrunner with a commanding lead of 53 percent was in Tagbilaran City, Bohol addressing dairy farmers and livestock industry shareholders gathered in the Bohol Cultural Center.

Senator Cynthia Villar appeared in high spirits when she graced the 2nd day of the 4th National Carabao Conference and the 4th Carabao Milk Festival coinciding with the 1st Livestock Technology Expo. The three-way event (October 8-10, 2018) was important for Bohol which prides itself as the Dairy Capital of the Philippines.

Whether she may or may have not gotten hold of the latest SWS poll results (conducted September 15-23) ahead of its public disclosure was no longer important because the ill effects of runaway inflation on the vulnerable sector, verily the lady solon’s main constituency as chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, was the one story that she needed to address that day.

I raised this issue during the media interview in the sidelines of the event and she replied by saying that Pres. Duterte’s move to liberalize rice importation will bring relief to the farmers.

Born to a wealthy family of politicians and married to a billionaire real estate mogul, it is not surprising that Sen. Villar goes to great lengths literally and figuratively, to reach out to farmers.

In her speech, she mentioned that sometime in 2015 she visited the Ubay Stock Farm located in the southern end of Bohol. Ubay hosts a modern facility that promotes the conservation and propagation of the native carabaos as a source of milk and meat for the benefit of rural farmers.

An encounter with a local housewife who tended and milked three native carabaos that produced some 10 liters a day and sold in the town’s Dairy Box, a store run by the Bohol Dairy Cooperative is a model for backyard dairy production. According to Sen. Villar, the rural housewife earned P18,000 added monthly for the family without having to leave home and their children. The backyard dairy production coupled with the Phil. Carabao Center’s concept of the Dairy Box branding has so impressed Sen. Villar that she wants the value chain replicated in all provinces nationwide. She is currently working on a measure that will not only help dairy farmers but also push production and enterprise development among livestock producers.

On top of that, she is also preparing a draft measure that will automatically allocate 33 percent of the national budget to agriculture production.

“Your budgets should be the same percentage as your production,” she told the gathering of farmers and DA officials.

The last time I heard the term automatic allocation was during the time of former Pres. Corazon Aquino who was then pressured by international funding agencies to pay the country’s foreign debt through automatic allocation. Sen. Villar is looking at the same pathway for the country’s agri sector. “Para wala nang marami pang usapan” (So there will be no more lengthy debates), she stressed.

Villar promised she will use the remaining session days by filing the bill before Congress adjourns for the campaign season in February but admitted that time is a major hurdle since the budget bill is top priority between now and until February. The automatic budget allocation for agri-production is virtually Sen. Villar’s pet bill when she gains a fresh mandate after the May 2019 elections.

Her commitment for a hefty budget for agricultural production is a shot in the arm for department officials like Dr. Arnel del Barrio, executive director of the Philippine Carabao Center. In an interview, he told this corner that the DA’s budget suffered a cut of 6% and the PCC’s by 4% owing to the Department of Budget’s cash-based spending scheme.

Del Barrio said that PCC is trying to bridge the budget reduction by tapping its partner agencies allied with PCC’s mandate like TESDA, Department of Education and Department of Trade and Industry.

“Dinidiskarte lang po namin” (We try to strategize), he said when I asked him how the agency manages to make do with the budget in terms of enforcing initiatives such as the Milk Feeding Program which is provided for in the Dairy Development Act of 1995.

The DA through the National Dairy Authority enforces the delivery of fresh milk to school children through local milk producers. Aside from promoting the children’s welfare, the process likewise ensures the value chain of the local dairy industry but funds are sorely lacking. Dr. del Barrio said this is where partnerships with DepEd and the Social Welfare and Development come in handy.

How refreshing to come face to face with pro-active public officials who go beyond doing honest and efficient service but looking for ways to achieve what we in the co-operative sector live by: building a better world.

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TAGS: 2019, Beyond, Elections, looks, Sen. Villar

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