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The desert lands of Cory Aquino DIE HARD III Herman Tiu Laurel 04/12/2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

The desert lands of Cory Aquino

Herman Tiu Laurel
A thousand years before Christ, China under the Zhou dynasty had already massive water impounding and river diversion projects irrigating its lands. Its builders Sunshu Ao and Ximen Bao were the earliest known hydraulic engineers in history. Mesopotamia, Egypt and Iran go even farther back in terms of irrigation — as early as the 6th millennium BC.

Agriculture, irrigation and surplus food production as hallmarks of a civilized society have never changed since those ancient times. President Ferdinand Marcos’ 21 years as leader of the Philippine Republic had brought the country onto the threshold of self-sufficiency in food production and even achieved a surplus for export at one point. That was made possible by his dedication to the building of the nation’s water and irrigation management systems, covering one million hectares by the time he was forced out of Malacañang.

Twenty-four years after the fall of Marcos, the Philippines has only 600,000 hectares of irrigated lands left, according to farmers’ organizations KaMMMPi and Araro. Twenty-two years of deliberate under-funding, policy obfuscation and neglect, as well as anti-agriculture land policies, plus international multilateral sabotage of agricultural and irrigation development programs had turned back the clock of progress. Farmer-irrigators’ associations were sidelined and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) wasted precious irrigation fees.

After Cory Aquino, irrigation did not take priority again until President Joseph Estrada’s term. He allocated major funding toward rebuilding irrigation systems and revived the carabao development program along this end. In all, Marcos and Estrada markedly supported domestic productive capabilities while the Aquino-FVR-Arroyo triad merely sacrificed agriculture at the altar of globalization.
Right after the assumption of Cory’s Yellow regime, her government began the steps to dismantle and deconstruct the policy foundations for a productive and self-sustaining agriculture in the Philippines.

The Marcos era Agri-Agra law (PD 717) that required all banks to lend 25 percent of their funds to agriculture was amended to allow private banks to use these funds to purchase government debt papers or T-bills instead of compelling them to lend direct to farmers.

Irrigation programs were separated from the Department of Agriculture while government financing was cut in favor of loans from multilateral funding agencies like the World Bank.

Land use policies were skewed toward conversion of prime irrigated agricultural lands into residential and industrial parks — instead of these residential settlements being moved to high-rise urban dwellings and the latter to higher elevations — yielding huge profits to real estate speculators, developers and, of course, the oligarchs.
Cory Aquino and her political heirs sacrificed prime, flat, lowland agricultural properties which other Asian countries such as Korea or Japan would have preserved for rice production.

But then, the Aquino administration never seemed to have a clear policy agenda for development, true to the constitutional change it introduced in 1987 that the private sector would become the primary engine of economic growth. The only growth we have seen since is corporate profits as agriculture and industry have been kept to precariously nominal or, at best, marginal growth.

Cory Aquino’s deleterious policies were then followed up by Fidel Ramos with his “high value crops for export” strategy and later, Gloria Arroyo’s “food security by rice importation” scheme, which is increasing by leaps and bounds.
By 2010, the normal 10-percent rice importation level is expected to double, with more and more money going to foreign farmers.

Today’s government statistics claim that irrigated lands have increased to 1.5 million hectares, but the stark reality, such as the helplessness of farms in the face of El Niño, shows otherwise. Many of what the government claims are really old Marcos era irrigation structures like dozens of dam projects in the North that are now dried up, eroding and unmaintained.

The one reviving many of these old water impounding and irrigation structures is not government but tobacco tycoon Lucio Tan, at the cost of hundreds of millions, in such areas like Patpata, La Union; Quiling, Ilocos Norte; Garab, Cagayan; Dadda, Tugeugarao, Cagayan; Silag, Ilocos Sur; Casilagan, Ilocos Sur; and many other areas that are still undergoing rehabilitation. In many other areas, Lucio Tan is building new similar structures under the auspices of his family’s Tan Yan Kee Foundation.

 Lucio Tan’s efforts reflect a cultural foundation that is rooted in the millennial experience of the oldest of civilizations: That water (coupled with irrigation) is the foundation of all life and civilization. Its lack, in turn, should not be blamed on non-human factors such as El Niño, but on our own unpreparedness for the vicissitudes of nature.

In my small eight-hectare mountain farm in Bataan, I am also taking a multi-pronged approach to the water issue, preparing my own small water impounding project and drilling a water well at the same time while requiring all detergents and soaps to be coconut oil-based so that water for laundry, bath and kitchen use can be recycled for watering plants.

President Estrada in 1991, still as a senator, authored the “Irrigation Law” (RA 6978) mandating the NIA to irrigate 1.5 million hectares within 10 years — a program FVR and Gloria didn’t pursue, which Erap couldn’t complete due to Edsa II.

We need to turn back the deserts of Cory Aquino that are spreading all over the land. We cannot let her heirs and ilk, plus the locust heads of globalization, continue to ravage the nation’s productive capacities and “yellow” our crops in their drying fields.

(Reprinted with permission from Mr. Herman Tiu-Laurel)

SourceThe Daily Tribune

URL: http://www.tribuneonline.org/commentary/20100412com4.html


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