Pangilinan boosts calls for increase in 2021 agri budget

FOOD security has been proven critical during the country’s six-month long COVID-related lockdowns, necessitating a significant increase for agriculture in the national government’s 2021 budget, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Tuesday.

“Naging malinaw nitong nakaraang mga quarantine na agrikultura pa rin ang magsasalba sa Pilipinas. Dahil sa mga quarantine, nakita ang pangangailangan sa isang maunlad na sektor ng agrikultura upang tugunan ang demand sa pagkain lalo na ngayong milyong-milyon sa ating mga kababayan ang nagugutom at nawalan ng trabaho dahil sa pandemya,” he said.

Pangilinan, former presidential adviser on food security and agriculture modernization, disagreed with the Administration’s 2021 proposed National Expenditure Program (NEP), cutting by about 75 percent the Department of Agriculture’s sought budget of P284.4 billion to P66.382 billion.

“This is even lower than its current 2020 budget of P79.9 billion. The P66.382 billion represents not even 2% of the Administration’s P4.5-trillion budget submitted to Congress to deliberation. Taon-taon na lang na ganito ang sistema: Bakit palaging hindi prayoridad ang agrikultura?” he asked.

(*figures from: https://www.da.gov.ph/da-seeks-bigger-2021-budget/)

The farmer-senator said he supports Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s stand that the agri-fisheries sector is the “sleeping giant” of the national economy.

“Kahit sila ang nagpapakain sa buong bansa, nananatiling pinakamahirap ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda. We should go back to our roots and remember that we are an agricultural country. Dahil diyan, dapat bigyang pokus ang pagapapauland ng kabuhayan sa sektor. Kung maunlad ang buhay sa mga kanayunan, magkakaroon ng pangkalahatang pag-unlad ang buong bansa,” Pangilinan said.

The DA budget for 2021 ranks 8th in allocation, according to the NEP. The highest budget allocations go to education with P754.4 billion, the Department of Public Works and Highways with P667.3 billion, and the Department of the Interior and Local Governments with P246.1 billion.

The Department of Health also took a backseat, falling from 6th to 7th in ranking by budget size. 

“Maraming aral tayong nakuha mula sa pandemya pero bakit parang di tayo natuto? Hindi tapos ang problema natin sa pandemya dahil lamang magbabago ng taon, kaya bakit kahit pati ang DoH ay hindi binibigyang halaga?” Pangilinan said.

“We will focus on these issues once the Senate starts its budget deliberations,” he added.

The House of Representatives started its deliberations on the proposed 2021 budget last September 4. The Senate is expected to start budget deliberations this week.