Saturday, April 4, 2015

When Mr. Aquino talks of reforms and obstructionism, don’t take him seriously

Had Mr. Aquino lived in the 12th century, he would have been a perfect recruit for the tenacious, unwavering soldiers of the Inquisition, that relentless war against the ungodly heathens. From Day One of his office till now, there is hardly any presidential function that is not devoted to his self-proclaimed duty of purging the modern-day heretics – crooks in whatever form or guise. Every public forum is used by Mr. Aquino to rally the nation for the supposed good fight against those who subvert his “ reforms.”
Not only is Mr. Aquino the first president to act as if the presidency were about a crusade. There has been no president, before Mr. Aquino, who has defined governance (and the governed) in such stark and apocalyptic terms: the good side which he claims to represent and the bad side represented by his critics. White, which he represents, and black, which is the side of his detractors. Though his government is often called a “yellow regime,” there has never been an instant that Mr. Aquino backed out from his black or white view of the world.
Mr. Marcos’s zeal on reforming society and creating a New Society in place of the decadent one had the shelf life of a bag of NFA rice, or a Bocaue firecracker, because it was a con game designed to keep him in power. Mr. Aquino’s reformist spiel has been a five-year meme, with no final season looming on the horizon. Who was the one who wrote about “full of passionate intensity?”
From that high moral perch where he has been lobbing daggers at those backsliders–imaginary or real— trying to slow down his reform path, you would expect that something concrete undergirds the brave and moral words of Mr. Aquino. That the Everyman, at the very least, has marginally benefited from his reformist crusade. With just over a year to go in his full term, you would expect that Mr. Aquino, and his oft-cited reforms, have transformed his country in a profound way.
A leader, this is the tradition, can’t portray himself as the paragon of good governance without the actual deliverables. You can’t preach from a high moral perch without accomplishing real things.
Every judgment of leadership is parochial, viewed from a narrow, selfish interest. I am a small farmer, one of the most marginalized groups in the country. Are our lives better now—and made better by the reformist crusade of Mr. Aquino? That is a fair question to ask. After all, what are reforms for if not to usher in a regime of broadly-shared prosperity?
From the point of view of small farmers, the “ reforms” that Mr. Aquino has been talking about are any of the three:
• The reforms do not cover small farmers , which make up the largest work force in the country, and which should not be the case as a leader should start his reforms with the sector that need reforms most
• The reforms are long-gestating, and their impact on the small farming sector will be felt past 2016, with Mr. Aquino already out of office
• Or, they are tall-tales that Mr. Aquino has been spinning as of late to prevent the further erosion of his trust and approval ratings
Why are the three all gloom and doom? Why has there been no relief to the small farming sector, not even a tiny, wee, bit, delivered by the supposed straight and moral leadership of Mr. Aquino? I will answer and start with the very basic, often-overlooked data: status of farm mechanization.
If there is a measurement that perfectly showcases that small farmers have made incremental progress from their “man with the hoe” farming methods, it is the advance in their hp per ha , or simply the horsepower (the mechanized power ) that is used per hectare of farmland. You know what? The hp per ha of Philippine agriculture is not even 1.7 hp per ha. It is probably the lowest, if not the second lowest, in the original Asean.
Don’t ask about Thailand, whose farm mechanization foundation was built decades ago by agricultural engineering graduates of UPLB. Thailand’s is more than 4 hp per ha or about three times better than the miserable status of farm mechanization in our country.
Without the rice threshers and the kuligligs (this is the name of the small hand tractors), our hp per ha would drop to below 1 percent.
The miserable state of farm mechanization is a bitter indictment of the state of agriculture in the country and the equally miserable status of small farmers in the country . When small farmers do most of their work with a hoe (as I do), you are pretty sure that farmers do not get decent yields, cannot afford to live decent lives and cannot get past their “wretched of the earth” status.
We are all agreed that poverty has a rural face and its public face are the small farmers. When a government does not impact on their lives – they who represent the largest work sector in the country — all those claims about “reforms” and transforming society are hollow – just a collection of empty, pretentious words.
You know what? Small farmers tuck on improvised earmuffs whenever Mr. Aquino gives his spiel on “reforms.” They do not want to listen and they don’t take him seriously . When his two acolytes at the DA (yes, the Department of Agriculture, with all its mind-boggling incompetence, has two secretaries), talk about supposed strides in the sector, we want to commit hara-kiri.

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