by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol

Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

As the country's economy posts its worst performance since World War II, the need to review our existing economic policies and mindset becomes a must.

It is now a moral obligation on the part of every Filipino to share his thoughts on what went wrong and what reforms could possibly be considered as we rebuild the badly battered economy.

I am a Filipino and although I did not earn my academic credentials from known and prestigious universities, my actual experiences as a local chief executive and a street economist have given me a clear view of what led us to this difficult economic situation that the country is in today.

No, the COVID 19 Pandemic did not cause our economic troubles neither is it the doing or undoing of this administration.

If at all, it was actually the Pandemic which exposed the country's flawed economic fundamentals which the economic planners and policy makers had embraced all along.

Our national economic mindset smacks of our deeply embedded colonial mentality where we look at other countries as models rather than discover and utilize our own strength and resources.

Our economic foundations are weak because we have relied on external interventions and factors for our growth and development.

The obsession for Foreign Direct Investments and the craving for imported goods are the clear manifestations of the colonial economic mindset of our policy makers.

Foreign direct investments? Remember Hanjin!

Open Global Market? Check the mess created by the massive importation of rice, pork and chicken!

We are a country with 30-million hectares of fertile land in over 7,000 islands surrounded by bluewaters and rich fishing grounds.

With these resources, our obvious strength is in agriculture and fisheries.

What did our economic planners and policy makers in the past do?

They allowed American, Japanese and local logging companies to ravage our forests cutting down trees which had been growing for centuries and left us with specks of greens, threatening our agriculture and food supply and our very existence as a nation.

Instead of modernizing our fisheries by training the youth to explore the resources of our seas, they were trained to become waiters, waitresses and bartenders in resorts where foreigners enjoy the white sand and the blue waters.

Agriculture was condemned as a dying industry, given a measly budget and token assistance creating so much unemployment and poverty in the countryside.

To solve supply shortage, our economic policy makers opened the country to the flooding of imported goods further stunting the growth of agriculture and creating joblessness in the countryside.

To address rural unemployment, we trained our women to be househelps for foreign families and our boys to be crews of ocean going vessels, away from their homes.

While Mindanao has rich mineral resources enough to create a minerals and steel industry, our economic policy makers decided to sell the National Steel Corporation.

Now, the Chinese are shipping barges of ores to China scarring Mindanao's landscape and we buy our steel from them.

When the heads of the monster called "Poverty and Hunger" emerged from the mess caused by the economic policy blunders, the economists came up with quick-fix solutions.

This started the Tagpi-tagpi" strategy in solving social problems.

To bring down poverty incidence, the socialist concept of cash dole outs called 4Ps patterned after models in South America was launched while cash dole outs, cash aid and food assistance were extended to suffering farmers.

The question is: Could we sustain the cash dole-outs?

To address food supply shortage, massive importation was implemented.

Again, there is a question that needs to be answered: What if the Global Supply Chain is disrupted by man-made and natural calamities?

It all boiled down to a quick-fix strategy obsessed on maintaining low quarterly inflation numbers.

Instead of building a sturdy house with strong foundations, we made a fragile structure made up of patches and wooden braces to keep it standing.

The distribution of the national budget per sector shows it all.

Check out how the P4.1-T 2020 Budget was apportioned:

"The social services sector accounts for the largest bulk of the budget at PhP1.495 trillion, or 36.5 percent of the national budget, to fund human capital development programs in education, health, and social protection. Such programs include the Universal Access for Quality Tertiary Education (PhP39 billion), the Basic Education Facilities Program (PhP36 billion), the Universal Health Care Program (PhP172.4 billion), the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (PhP108.8 billion), and the Unconditional Cash Transfer Program (PhP36.5 billion)."

Here is the sharing of the budget per department:

"Department of Education - PhP692.6 billion; DPWH - PhP581.7 billion; Department of the Interior and Local Government - PhP241.6 billion;, Department of Social Welfare and Development - PhP200.5 billion; DND - PhP192.1 billion; This is followed by the Department of Health -PhP175.9 billion; DOTr - PhP100.6 billion; and Department of Agriculture (DA) with PhP64.7 billion which includes the PhP10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund and the PhP3 billion Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers."

The Agriculture Sector which produces food for the country, creates jobs in the countryside, pump-primes small industries, accounts for the biggest bulk of exports and ensures national survival in times of calamities gets P64.7-B while the 4Ps and Cash Transfer Program get P145.3-B.

This was what our economic strategy was when COVID 19 hit blowing everything over and shattering the economy.

Many OFWs lost their jobs, tourism is down, services sector is dying, industries are struggling and all sectors posted negative performance with one exception Agriculture, the sector which gets the small share of the budget pie.

I am sharing these thoughts because it looks like we have not learned from the mistakes of the past.

As the country prepares for a long hard climb towards economic recovery, I believe we have not allocated funds where they are most needed.

The biggest bulk of the budget for 2021 is allocated for infrastructure instead of focusing on interventions which would address the most serious problem - food supply.

I believe we all know why road construction is given more budget than food production. It is too obvious that even a half-blind carabao could see.

This is where the patriotism of our leaders is put to a supreme test.

Greed and personal interest over national survival?

"Tagpi-tagpi" Economics or Sustainable Growth through local resource utilization and Human Resources mobilization?

The choice is ours to make as we stand in the cross roads of perdition or national survival.

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