Coco-lisap reality

Common Sense by Marichu Villanueva

Talks are rife the forthcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III is set to highlight (again) the latest score of his administration’s anti-corruption campaign. This appears to be a given, especially in the light of latest developments in the investigation of alleged anomalies by a number of lawmakers in the use of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Three incumbent senators of the 16th Congress were charged before the Sandiganbayan with plunder and graft cases. One plunder case each and several counts of graft were consolidated against Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon ”Bong” Revilla Jr. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles was named co-accused of the three senators who allegedly channeled their respective PDAF to her “bogus” non-government organizations.

Last Friday, these cases were raffled off to the respective divisions of the anti-graft court that will handle them. It would not be far-fetched the Sandiganbayan would be able to decide on the issuance of warrants of arrest against the three senators before the President delivers his SONA on July 28.

This is the traditional joint opening of both chambers of Congress which will convene on that day the start of their second regular session. This marks the start of the last two years in office of P-Noy, or 37 months or so left of his term.

It should not be surprising if and when President Aquino does highlight in his upcoming SONA the recent developments on the PDAF controversy. After all, the anti-corruption drive is the centerpiece program of the present dispensation. P-Noy is under pressure to show and explain that the “Daang Matuwid” is a reality and has done some good for the country’s economy and the national well-being of the Filipinos in the past four years of his leadership.

We, however, join the call for the President to highlight and address other pressing concerns hounding the Filipino nation today. Many believe that our preoccupation with the human drama in the PDAF probe may have overshadowed other issues that have direct impact and real effects on the lives of our people.

Agriculture and food production issues, we hope, will finally make it to the list of priority agenda items for P-Noy’s next SONA. Recent developments have shown how vulnerable the sector is, both to the forces of nature and man-made calamities.

To the government’s credit, it has already rolled out last week a clearer game plan on how to deal with the massive pest attack on coconut plantations in the country’s biggest coconut-producing provinces.

A P400-million emergency action program was unveiled last week by newly appointed Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM) ex-Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan. He formally announced the implementation of this emergency action program to contain the spread of the so-called “coco- lisap,” or coconut scale insect that has been destroying plantations in Luzon and other parts of the country.

On Pangilinan’s recommendations, President Aquino issued Executive Order 169 last June 5 which, among other things, declared a state of emergency in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (Calabarzon) and the island of Basilan where millions of coconut trees are in danger of dying due to coco-lisap infestation.

As PAFSAM, Pangilinan assumed control and supervision of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) that has come up with interim solutions like tree injection and massive spraying of pesticides. These solutions are “interim” because they are intended to prevent the further spread of this deadly coconut pest and save whatever is left of this industry on which millions of Filipino families depend for their livelihood.

Will the President outline a program for the agriculture sector that goes beyond the “interim?”

We hope so. And we hope this includes stronger support by his administration for agriculture research. A sound science-based program can be the answer to the agriculture sector’s bid to reduce the vulnerability of our food production efforts to both natural and man-made calamities.

It may be time for the President to assess not just the gains but more so the setbacks encountered by the agriculture modernization policy he vowed to pursue early on in his term. That policy backed the importance of the role of modern agriculture technology in our bid to produce more food, rely less on imported foodstuff and expensive farm inputs, and decrease the vulnerability of our farms to drought, flooding, and pest infestation.

The Agriculture Department has also time and again declared that research on plant biotechnology is a priority of this administration. This is the tool that is helping our agriculture scientists in developing plant varieties that are naturally resistant to pests and do not rely on chemical pesticides to survive and bear fruit.

It would be interesting to hear from the government how it intends to face the challenge posed by the international activist group Greenpeace against this policy. This group, which originated from Europe, has gone to our courts to stop the government’s field trials for biotechnology crop varieties. It is set to block a petition filed by scientists and farmers before the SC for the lifting of a Court of Appeals order which banned them from completing studies on pesticide-free crop varieties developed through biotechnology.

The move is, so far, the biggest threat to the government’s agriculture modernization and food security policy and program. The view is a SC ruling in favor of Greenpeace would be a major setback to government’s bid to decrease the vulnerability of the food production sector to drought and massive pest attacks on our farms.
The other sad consequence is that the farming sector may have to continue its heavy reliance on chemical pesticides. The innate resistance to pests is what makes these biotech-processed varieties independent from chemical pesticides.

Unfortunately, despite having sprayed our farms with massive doses of pesticides for over a century, our crops have remained highly vulnerable to pests.

The coco-lisap infestation is proof of that sad reality. via The Philippine Star

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