By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Former veteran journalist-turned-politico bureaucrat Manny Piñol has heeded Filipino farmers’ challenge to gun for a Senate seat and take their cudgel in fostering legislations befitting genuine agricultural and fisheries development thrusts.
Piñol, a former mayor and governor in North Cotabato, resigned as chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) hours before he filed his certificate of senatorial candidacy at the Commission on Elections and capped his 1,600-kilometer land travel from Mindanao to Manila for the purpose on October 7.
“He brought along food supplies, fruits and other Cotabato farm products, the most precious (of which was) his bid (to) emancipate our farmers from poverty and deprivation. Masaganang buhay is his creed,” Bernardo Jr., a younger sibling of Pinol, said in his social media post about his brother.
From Manila, Piñol proceeded to different provinces in Luzon, including Benguet and Ifugao where he met vegetable farmers and Nueva Ejija where rice producers led by Danilo Bolo, famous for reaping 17 metric tons of play a harvest per hectare, echoed concerns about the adversities from the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL).
The passage in February 2019 of the RTL, known R.A. 11203, has allegedly opened the country to unregulated rice importation and caused a sharp decrease in prices of local rice supplies – a reason for Piñol to resign as secretary of agriculture in the same year.
In his huddle with Bolo and other planters, Piñol citing statistics said there are five million Filipino farmers putting at least of P30,000 capital inputs to every hectare for a total investment of P150-billion, but are gaining dismal income against the oligarchs-engineered rice importation.
During his stint in the Department of Agriculture, Piñol said, he had struggled but failed for the government to build farm-to-market roads, lamenting the continued building of skyways or “bridges without rivers” in urban cities while Mindanao sees several rivers without bridges.
Mindanao is the country’s “food basket” not only in staple food supplies but in hefty species of fish and other aqua-marine resources, but resident-fisherfolks lack post-harvest facilities such as ice plants and fishing ports, lamented Piñol on many occasions.
Facebook farmer-nitizen Adot N. Dadiv thanked Piñol this week, posting a photo of a modern mechanical harvester he “promised” to Region 6 farmers when he was agriculture secretary.
“Our farmers association has a lot of benefits. This is what we can’t forget, we support you and God bless,” Dadiv said.
Another Luzon-based farmer, Raul Reyes, said: “If we want that farmers and fishermen (to) be respected, plant Piñol in the Senate.”
In Bukidnon, tribal vegetable and giant bamboo farmers have attributed their gradual gain of access to market to the support of Piñol through the MinDA.
Local government units in the Bangsamoro autonomous region have expressed similar gratitude to Piñol, citing his roles in the DA and MinDA in developing agricultural production and linking their communities to market and banking networks.
For one, Taraka, Lanao del Sur Mayor Nasheba Sumagayan said she and her constituents would always remember Piñol for piloting in her turf the solar-powered irrigation and waterworks systems as a stepping to becoming a “model” of agriculture industry in the autonomous region and across Mindanao.
If elected in the Senate, Piñol said he would immediately push for a review and amendment in the RTL and push for legislation mandating an equitable share by the farmer sector from priority infrastructure projects. (AGM)