AFTER VP Sara Duterte was appointed Department of Education (DepEd) secretary, President Bongbong Marcos chose to be secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA). Their respective decisions to take on the two departments were because education and agriculture in the country have been very problematic.
By personally directing these agencies hands on, VP Sara and Pres. Bongbong would have political will and control over things that need changing so that if things fail, they have themselves to blame. The DA and DepEd are agencies that are in dismal shape that need reshaping.
Everytime we have a new president, the agriculture sector faces recycled problems that take away attention from the needs of farmers and fishermen who spend all their years producing rice, vegetables, fish and meat for the dining tables of Filipinos.
A president taking over food security is the first of its kind in the country. This reflects the status of agriculture in the Philippines as it was reported that crops posted a negative 1.6 percent decrease in the value of production in the first quarter of 2022.
This accounted for 58.0 percent of the total value of production in agriculture and fisheries while rice and corn production registered declines by negative 1.9 percent and negative 0.2 percent, respectively. As these were happening, food smuggling has not stopped.
Related to the agricultural problem is the conversion of farm lands to industrial, residential areas and subdivisions. A classic example is the case of landowners who find their gardens more financially useful by building houses over them for lease purposes.
Here, President Bongbong Marcos will be caught between two evils. Our farms are shrinking in size because of population growth. Of course, the solution to that is to provide more houses which calls for sacrificing the open countryside which could also be developed into farms.
We do not have to look far. The agricultural lands proclaimed by law as within the Benguet State University (formerly Mountain Agricultural College) are rapidly being invaded by residential houses and commercial establishments.
By the way, this problem of BSU has been there for a long time and no school president seems to be interested in coming up with a solution. I am certain school officials are aware but I hope they are not involved. Is their conscience clean? I doubt it.
It is also true that the children of vegetable farmers have shifted into other careers because the vegetable industry has been unstable for years. Relatively, agricultural schools have been graduating more office-oriented workers who would rather do paperwork than physically be in the gardens.
The other complaints I hear from farmers that will surely reach Bongbong’s ears are the usual ones such as irrigation and poor soil management and pest control. Every farmland cannot do without water supply. Without irrigation, the soil dries up and the plants wilt.
Another common issue is pest control. Pests are the undying actors in agriculture. They are ever-present but if they are not killed or controlled, the situation results in a shortage of food supply in markets and on dining tables. This needs funding from the government.
The other common problem faced by farmers is climate change. Asian countries are likely to be hit by typhoons and natural disasters yearly. Recently, around 800 farmers in Banaue, Ifugao were hit by a flash flood, destroying an estimated P49 million worth of agricultural crops.
Last but not least is the lack of appropriate farm equipment for small farmers. So far, after two cabinet meetings, Malacanang has not shown the public its plans to get the DA back on its feet. With the president in control, I hope the agency will now run smoothly and will go over all stumbling blocks.
In the DepEd, VP Sara has not warmed her seat yet but is already overwhelmed with suggestions and unsolicited advice from all concerned, considering the problems that have existed in the department that have not been addressed by her predecessors.
First, there was the implementation of K-12 or the additional two levels after four years in high school that has not upgraded anything. Parents and teachers have a common observation that the K-12 curriculum has to be narrowed down to make the load of students lighter.
This should be because the “promised” employability of the students after Grade 12 is not happening. The education secretary who shoved that assurance so that parents and teachers will accept the K-12 program should have his head checked.
Then the World Bank reported in 2018 that over 80 percent of Filipino students fall below the minimum proficiency levels. The WB said, more than 80 percent of children in the Philippines “do not know what they should know in school.”
Does this mean that teachers have overlooked something more basic in teaching students? In looking for answers to problems, students should be taught to be self-learners, which is “knowing what they should know”.
When my youngest grandson Yoshaiah graduated from kinder school last week, he proudly gave me his certificate that showed he was the “Star Reader” in class. I congratulated him and said that when I was his age, I could already read newspapers.
A common observation that has existed since we were in primary school was that concentrating on the three “Rs” – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic helped check the problems of our educational systems. True, we have to get back to basics.
In addition to getting back the skills of students, VP Sara Duterte in a way has to stop the migration of our teachers, or stop foreign institutions from pirating our teachers. There is no other solution to that than to increase the basic salary of teachers to at least P30,000 plus by making Salary Grade 11 school workers jump to SG 14.