Political will

With just a few days left before the new administration formally takes over, one of the topics that has remained abuzz throughout public discussions and social media chatter is about the incoming cabinet of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. 

While several well-respected, competent individuals have already been named, many positions have yet to be filled. What’s particularly noteworthy though is that the two highest elected officials of the land are already slated to take on portfolios that deal with two of the biggest systemic challenges the country has faced for decades.    

The first pertains, of course, to President-elect Marcos recently announcing that he himself will take on the Department of Agriculture (DA) on a concurrent basis—at least in the first part of his administration.

In a recent press briefing, the incoming President said that he intends to focus on increasing domestic rice production in light of the recent decision of Thailand and Vietnam to form an export cartel. He also said that he plans to reorganize the DA in such fashion that it will be prepared and agile enough to respond to the growing challenges to the nation’s food security. 

While it’s possible that the President and his team are still searching for somebody capable and competent enough to handle Philippine agriculture’s gargantuan challenges, the decision to temporarily assume the portfolio of the DA only demonstrates that the incoming administration is rightfully prioritizing the country’s food security.

A confluence of factors both here and abroad have led to very high food prices, which only adds to the burden of many Filipinos who are still reeling from the economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Bank even recently calculated that since food prices could jump by 37 percent on account of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a global food crisis of catastrophic proportions is in the offing to likely hit developing countries like the Philippines harder. Having no less than the Chief Executive manning the DA opens up the opportunity for a true whole-of-government approach not just to fix up our agricultural sector, but also to respond to such global developments that impact our people’s capacity to feed their families.           

The other one concerns Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio taking on the Department of Education (DepEd). Many consider her a rather unorthodox choice for the position; one that is in charge of what is arguably the biggest bureaucracy in the country. But given that the incoming Vice President has demonstrated that her leadership style is very hands-on, there is hope that the diverse, multi-faceted problems of the DepEd will be given adequate attention. 

That she earned a resounding mandate in the recent elections should also be seen as auspicious. Solving the ongoing “learner’s crisis” that groups such as Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) have been spotlighting for many years will need no less than a broad base of support from the citizenry.

Furthermore, the outgoing 18th Congress—before it recently adjourned sine die—had also passed a measure establishing a Second Congressional Commission on Education or EDCOM 2 to conduct a sweeping review of our education system and propose solutions to the problems that have resulted in our students ranking among the world’s lowest in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Should the measure be enacted into law, it bodes well that the incoming DepEd secretary is known as a person not just of principle, but also of action. A sense of urgency could very well be infused into our response to the education system’s many problems.    

The agriculture and education sectors are critical to our survival as a people. They are cornerstones to our collective development and prosperity. That the Philippines has had perennial problems in these two areas explain in part why we have yet to achieve our deepest aspirations as a nation. Now that two of the highest elected officials of the land have showed that they have the political will to take on these systemic issues, we’re more than hopeful that we are about to reach an inflection point as these two crucial sectors have been taking a hit in the last few years.

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 18 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 9 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws.  He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.  

 E-mail: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara