MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has appointed fishing tycoon Francisco Laurel Jr. as the new head of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
In a press conference at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Friday, Marcos announced that he already administered the oath of office to Laurel as DA secretary.
“And this is because it is time that we have found somebody who understands very well the problems that agriculture is facing,” he said, adding that he and Laurel have a “fair” and “good” understanding of “what it is that needs to be done (and) what are the problems” besetting the agriculture sector.
The President expressed confidence that Laurel “will do a very good job” as his successor at DA.
He said his marching order to Laurel is to address the pressing challenges in agriculture, including the high prices of agricultural commodities and the threats of climate change, African swine fever, and avian influenza.
He added that he is optimistic that Laurel is capable of coming up with new strategies and systems that would help improve the agriculture sector.
“Well, the obvious one is trying to gain control of the prices of all the agricultural commodities that are going up,” Marcos said. “Kaya’t malaki ang trabahong ibinigay ko sa ating bagong kalihim, at handa naman kaming lahat, hindi lamang sa pamahalaan kung hindi pati na sa private sector, na siya’y tulungan dahil naging kaibigan na rin natin ito. Matagal ko nang kilala si Secretary Laurel (That is why I gave our new secretary a lot of work and we are all ready, not only in the government but also in the private sector, to help him because he has become our friend. I have known Secretary Laurel for a long time).”
Laurel pledged to continue the reform initiatives made by Marcos for the agricultural sector.
He said he would lay down his plans for the DA in the coming days and that he intends to modernize the agriculture sector under his watch.
"Pangunahing adhikain ko ang pagtiyak na sagana ang ating ani at siguruhing ito ay makakarating sa hapag ng bawat Pilipino. Layunin ko na tiyakin na may sapat at masustansyang pagkain na mabibili ng ating mga kababayan sa tamang halaga (My main goal is to ensure that our harvest is abundant and make sure that it reaches the table of every Filipino. My goal is to ensure that there is enough and nutritious food that our countrymen could buy at the right price),” he said.
Laurel is the president of Frabelle Fishing Corp., a company that went from a small Philippines-based trawl fishing company established in 1966 by his parents Francis and Bella Tiu-Laurel, to becoming one of the top deep-sea fishing companies in the Asia-Pacific region.
The corporation started with two fishing vessels around the Cuyo Island group and Northern Palawan and has since grown this number to about 150.
Laurel’s company was recognized as a top supplier for local canned tuna makers in 1972.
Meanwhile, senators are optimistic that the newly appointed agriculture chief has enough experience to solve the woes in the sector.
Citing Laurel as the "right man for the job," Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. said the new DA chief's decades of "hands-on experience" in the industry.
"There is no doubt on his competence and capability in steering the department towards the revitalization of agriculture and attaining food security in the country," Revilla told reporters in a Viber message, saying President Marcos will now be able to channel his attention to other equally important matters in the country.
"Sa kanyang pagkaka-appoint, meron ng permanenteng tututok sa mga pangangailangan sa agrikultura at sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda (With his appointment, there will now be a permanent point person who will focus on the needs of farmers and fisherfolk)," he added.
For Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Laurel's appointment to the DA is a signal that the agriculture sector needs practical and sensible solutions to boost productivity.
"It is high time to open up the sector to corporations to invest in, especially in mechanization and building economies of scale which the secretary has experience in," he said.
Wishing Laurel all the best, Senator JV Ejercito expects him to be able to fix a "very complicated problem" in the department.
"But I am hopeful since he is already an established and a very successful businessman, a billionaire and trusted by PBBM (President Marcos), that he might just be the right person to fix the problems of the Department of Agriculture," Ejercito said.
Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe hopes that Laurel would take to heart the President's warning in his state of the nation address against smugglers, hoarders and price fixers.
"With the gargantuan tasks ahead, the new DA Secretary must have the focus, fortitude to get things done and genuine feeling for the sector. Agriculture is a vital component of the economy, providing food on the table and sustaining the livelihood of millions," Poe said.
She suggested that DA also implement long-term agriculture programs that will increase production and take care of the welfare of farmers.
"Our hardworking farmers and fishers who bring food on the table must not go hungry and must not remain poor," Poe said.
Several senators have been looking forward to having President Marcos appoint a full-time DA secretary for him to attend to other issues of national concern.
The President insisted on staying as concurrent DA chief until systems are in place to ensure food security and better living conditions for the country’s farmers. (With a report from Wilnard Bacelonia/PNA)