Rural development and agricultural enterprise development can end armed conflict in the long term, senatorial re-electionist Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said in reaction to the ongoing military operations against Abu Sayyaf bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, where a total of 24 brigands have been killed since April 9.
He cited the case of Maguindanao, another province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has enjoyed a relatively long period of peace and progress.
“In areas in Maguindanao wherein agro-industrial enterprises are thriving such as La Frutera Inc., armed clashes between Moro rebels and government forces have become a thing of the past as relatives of the Moro rebels have gainful employment. When economic activity and gainful employment are thriving, armed conflict is reduced significantly,” Pangilinan said.
In his proposed Sagip Saka or the Farmers and Fishers Entrepreneurship and Development Act, government helps small farmers and fishers to cluster themselves, and sell directly to food distributors and consumers. In bypassing middlemen and consolidators, they earn more for themselves and their families, he said.
Like Maguindanao, Basilan is rich in natural resources and is one of the country’s poorest provinces.
“Poverty and social discontent are kindling to the decades’ long armed conflict that has plagued the province as well as other parts of the country. Poverty is a rural phenomenon. And rural poverty can be solved by upgrading the agriculture sector and more importantly, the income of farmers,” Pangilinan said.
Government figures indicate that in 2009, Basilan had a human development index (HDI) of 0.478, below the country’s average of 0.633 and Metro Manila’s 0.837. HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living.
“The increase in agriculture yield should result in increase in income. Agriculture has to go beyond mere subsistence. It has to become sustainable and viable. Agriculture has to be strategic,” Pangilinan said, recognizing the strategic importance of the sector and its stakeholders.
Other items in his legislative agenda include the Crop Insurance Act, Imbak Tubig or the Water Impoundment Act, Food Bank Act, and the creation of a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
“We cannot hope to stop armed conflict if we do not bring agriculture to greater heights and if our farmers are neglected. We should secure our farmers for sustainable farming. We should put premium on our number one resource: the farmer and fisherfolk,” he said.
Pangilinan, former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, is vying for his third non-consecutive term at the Senate in the upcoming May elections under the Liberal Party banner.