by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol

Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

Government is not infallible and it may commit the mistake of formulating well-intentioned but flawed policies which instead of promoting the welfare and well-being of the governed could cause hardships or injuries.

Effective and responsive governance requires honesty to admit mistakes in policy making and the humility to modify, amend or even abrogate ineffective policies.

The problem with many of us in government, however, is that we assume we are brighter, smarter and better than the people we govern.

Many of us are consumed with pride and ego and instead of admitting that we erred in our policy making, we dig in and become hard-headed to the point of being obstinate.

I will not even consider that some of us could be motivated by self-interests or working for and on behalf of big interest groups.

A case in point is the policy of an Inter-Agency Committee created by a Marcos-issued Executive Order 1016 which lists products not allowed for export.

Mature coconut was included in that list of banned products allegedly to protect our genetic materials from being poached by other coconut growing countries.

In November 2018, two months after the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) was returned to the Department of Agriculture (DA) after it was placed under then Food Security Adviser now Sen. Francis Pangilinan by President Aquino, the PCA governing board which I headed as Agriculture Secretary, approved a resolution requesting the inter-agency committee on Executive Order (EO) 1016, Series of 1985, to lift the ban on mature coconut exports.

It was one of the measures aimed at solving the very low prices of coconut and coconut products.

The other measures recommended were the export of green coconuts which was successfully done with the US and China opening their markets, the increase in the coconut oil content of the bio-diesel program from 2% to 5% which was opposed by oil industry players and the temporary ban on the entry of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia which was also sidelined because of trade backlash concerns.

All of these measures were products of consultations and the proper endorsements were made.

In the case of the export of mature coconuts, however, the PCA Governing Board had a change of heart when I resigned as Secretary of Agriculture and transferred to MinDA.

The same board, now under a new administrator, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, recalled the resolution that they themselves sponsored in 2018.

When I wrote about this issue in this page a few months back, I received a letter from PCA Administrator Gen. Madrigal explaining why the earlier resolution endorsing the export of mature coconuts was recalled.

He gave a litany of reasons which could be easily refuted but keeping this argument to ourselves will not help in our effort to enlighten the millions of coconut farmers why we could not allow them to export their mature coconuts.

Simple lang ang tanong ko?

Ang luwag ng ating mga policies on bringing in imported agricultural products.

In fact, binabaha na tayo ng imported na bigas, imported na manok, imported na karneng baboy at iba pa.

Pero bakit kapag ang ating magsasaka o mangingisda ang gusto mag-export, ang daming mga requirements at pinapahirapan pa.

Worse, we even impose a ban on the export of mature coconuts.

Now, here is my challenge to those who defend the policy which bans the export of mature coconuts.

Para klaro sa mga magsasaka ng niyog kung bakit hindi natin sila matulungan ngayon, let us stage a public debate.

I am publicly challenging anybody who believes that the ban on the export of mature coconuts is beneficial to the coconut farmer and the industry as a whole to face me in a public debate.

This challenge for a public debate is being issued not to shame you but to show to the people we govern that in the administration of President Rody Duterte, we believe in transparency.

Since hindi ninyo pinapansin ang mga official recommendations even when I was still Agriculture Secretary and now as MinDA Chairman, ito ang pinakamagandang pagkakataon sa inyo para ipaliwanag ninyo sa ating mga magsasaka ng niyog kung bakit ayaw ninyo silang tulungan.

Please set the time, date and venue and I will be there.

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