FARM PRODUCE. Fresh vegetables are on sale at the Capitol grounds in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, on March 31, 2022. Vendors take the opportunity to sell food and other souvenir items to the crowds of a political rally organized by the UniTeam. (PNA photo by Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Several senatorial candidates in the May 9 elections have offered perspectives on how the Northern Mindanao region–and Mindanao as a whole–can move forward in terms of food security and the agriculture industry in general.

In an interview Thursday evening, senate aspirant Herbert Bautista said he saw two aspects that can be prioritized: invest more in the agriculture sector and empower cooperatives.

"As what BBM (Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.) and Inday Sara (Duterte-Carpio) said, the agriculture sector can provide 30 to 40 percent jobs (in the national labor industry), that is why investing in agriculture is important," Bautista said.

Bautista, who belongs to the UniTeam of presidential candidate Marcos and vice-presidential candidate Duterte, was in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, as part of the group's campaign sorties around Mindanao.

IP cooperatives

As for cooperatives, Bautista said the Indigenous Peoples (IP) in Mindanao can benefit from this type of business model using their ancestral domains as leverage, instead of selling their tribal lands.

The selling of titled ancestral lands, he noted, is contrary to the provisions of the Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.

National government agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture; Agrarian Reform; and Trade and Industry have been facilitating the creation of IP cooperatives, which benefited from government programs were implemented with the help of the local government units (LGUs).

The delivery of programs to IP cooperatives was also improved when President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70, which launched the "whole-of-government approach" in addressing the communist insurgency that often preys on tribal communities in geographically-isolated areas.

In January this year, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Misamis Oriental and the LGU of Gingoog City signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) signing for the implementation of the PHP1.2 million GIVEtoGROW: Vegetable Production and Processing project.

The project aims to develop the city’s agricultural capabilities, especially among IPs and farmers in Barangay San Luis, a far-flung IP community.

Meanwhile, Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito, said if given the chance to return to the Senate, he will look into the “excessive” importation of rice in the country, which he sees as a disadvantage to local farmers.

"We should only import when there is a shortage of supply or experiencing high inflation rates," Ejercito said.

Ejercito said as the main author of the Senate's  Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2015, the goal of stopping rice smuggling diminished its purpose because of the recent issuance of "letters of authority to import."

Mindanawon candidates

Meanwhile, Aksyon Demokratiko's Samira Gutoc, who hails from Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, cited the potential of science and technology parks in food security, particularly the ongoing construction of Agropolis Technopark in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

"It's a good response to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), it is an international commitment (made by United Nations members like the Philippines), in addressing minimum basic needs in food security," she said in a separate interview.

She added that the sustainable aspect of the Agropolis Technopark can also be improved by putting up the financial structure on credit support so students or farmer-beneficiaries can continue their projects through subsidies or grants.

Gutoc, together with their party's presidential candidate Isko Domagoso and vice-presidential candidate Dr. Willie Ong, was in the city and Iligan City early this week to drum up support.

The Agropolis Technopark is one of the science and technology park projects supervised by the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines system.

Clint Django Pacana, officer-in-charge of the Agropolis Technopark, said the facility aims to be the center for agriculture and food innovation to sustain food security by engaging with the community and other stakeholders.

In his earlier statement, former Agriculture Sec. Emmanuel Piñol, who is also running for Senator, said agriculture must be placed third in the national government's allocation priority.

"I am making this bold contention again: agriculture and fisheries are the driving force for this country to attain inclusive economic growth and prosperity."

Piñol, who hails from North Cotabato, said it might take years before the country could catch up with the technological advancements of other countries.

However, he said, if the government and stakeholders focus on agricultural and fisheries production, there might be enough food for everyone in a few years.

"(And) if there are excesses, we could even be a major food exporter," he said. (PNA)