MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III becoming a farmer upon his retirement would be a “big boost to the cause of our farmers and to Philippine agriculture,” senatorial re-electionist Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Thursday.
Earlier, the chief executive verbalized his plan to either live off his pension or turn to farming when his term of office ends in a little more than 100 days on June 30 this year.
“The President becoming a farmer upon retirement would be a big boost to the cause of our farmers and to Philippine agriculture, as this can be an opportunity to drum up sustained and meaningful support for the sector,” he said.
“He could be like the Thai King, who with his demo farm in his 50-hectare palace in Bangkok, made agricultural concerns top of mind and created the culture of respect and recognition for their farmers,” added Pangilinan, who himself went into farming in 2012 shortly before he finished his two terms as senator.
One of the reasons Filipino farmers are poor is because of Philippine society’s general lack of respect for them, he said.
“Lack of respect for our farmers is critical. It’s one of the reasons why they remain poor. Farmers, especially Filipino farmers, are the most resilient, patient, and sacrificing human beings in the planet who are confronted with many challenges,” he added.
Citing government statistics, Pangilinan said farmers, fishermen, and other people directly and indirectly employed by agriculture make up almost 60 percent of the country’s labor force. He said the average Filipino farmer is 57 years old who reached only Grade 4 and makes about P23,000 a year in his 1.5-hectare plot.
At Wednesday’s inauguration of the 63.3-megawatt Solar Farm Barangay in Calatagan, Batangas, the 56-year-old Philippine President said that for a year after June 30, 2016, he and other members of the Cabinet cannot work in an industry they used to regulate. This prompted President Aquino to explore the possibility of going into farming when he steps down from office.
“The President going into farming would inspire respect for the profession. Until we correct the centuries old bias and the prejudice against farmers we will not effectively give them the support they need, our farmers will remain poor and our country will never reach developed nation status,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan said both government and private resources must be mobilized to ensure better working and earning conditions for our farmers — which would eventually ensure the country’s food security.
In his less than three-hectare organic farm in Cavite, Pangilinan grows vegetables like lettuces and tomatoes and herbs like basil, tanglad (lemongrass), and tarragon; he also raises native pigs and free-range chickens.
Pangilinan’s hands-on farming experience, together with his familiarity with data on cropping cycles, irrigation, markets, farmers’ education and incomes, crop insurance, and subsidies, has been useful when he was appointed Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.