Is weak governance hampering agricultural efficiency in the Philippines?
By Gina Mission

aterno Tablo and Bruce Carson have one thing in common. They’re both farmers. But beyond that, the two are as different as their crops and their government can make them.

___Tablo, a Filipino farmer from Mindanao, earns P1,000 every two months from his small bell pepper farm, and P500 from his eggplant garden over the same period of time. His half-hectare cornfield can barely sustain the growing dietary needs of his family of six. The bi-monthly income of P1,500 from his other farms is certainly not enough to support the schooling of his children.

___Carson, an American potato farmer from Sacramento, California on the other hand, lives on a $500,000 annual income.

___Bruce Tolentino, consultant of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and former DA Undersecretary for Policy, and Planning, attributes the dismal performance of Philippine agriculture, and the poor state of Filipino farmers, to the "long-term institutional weaknesses in the institutional structure of governance for agriculture and rural development in the Philippines."

___In his presentation on Governance for Agricultural Efficiency in the Philippines: A Note on Current Issues, Tolentino speaks of "symptoms" of an ailing structure that hamper the development of agriculture in the Philippines.

___These "symptoms," according to him, are manifested in three recent controversies:

___The presentation was made during a roundtable discussion on Food Security, Farmers’ Welfare and Agricultural Efficiency for the Next Millenium. The forum, organized by the Philippine APEC Study Center Network and the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, was held at the ACCEED Conference Center in Makati.

___Specifically, Tolentino identifies three major weaknesses in the institutional level that is responsible for the leadership and management of the agricultural sector. These are "poor continuity in sector leadership," "inadequate understanding by top leadership of dynamics and patterns of economic development," and "continued sacrifice of long-term economic gains for short-term political rent."

___These three weaknesses, Tolentino argues, are intertwined. "Poor continuity in sector leadership results in inadequate understanding in sector dynamics. Short periods of service emphasize short-term gains. Yet the task of agriculture sector management grows all the more complex with intensified domestic resource scarcity and global openness," says Tolentino.

___The history of Philippine agriculture, at least in terms of periods of leadership, is very erratic. Dar (July 1998 to April 1999) served the shortest – only nine months, and a period in which he was seen as an interim leader. Ramon Mitra served for a year (March 1986 to February 1987) – a period in which he was clearly focused on a bid for the presidency. Both Carlos Dominguez (March 1987 to December 1989) and Roberto Sebastian (July 1992 to February 1996) could have served full terms but their service was cut short by political reactions to public unease. Salvador Escudero (March 1996 to June 1998) and Senen Bacani (January 1990 to June 1992) completed the terms of their predecessors.

___By a wide margin, Arturo Tanco (January 1971 to June 1984) served the longest, his term having been extended along with that of his patron, Ferdinand Marcos, when Marcos extended his own term by declaring Martial Law in 1972.

___On the average, all the agriculture secretaries since Tanco have served an average of only two years, which Tolentino describes as "periods too brief to formulate, initiate, and then establish long-term activities and programs that would result in permanent change."

___These brief tenures, Tolentino continues, have contributed to the weakening of the agricultural sector bureaucracy. "As the leadership focused on short-term gains, the tasks of long-term structural change and strengthening was neglected," he reiterates.

___One such result of these defects, according to Tolentino, is the non-competitive compensation for mid-to-upper level technicians and managers, which has "fallen behind their counterparts in the private sector."

___Data from the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) show that the gross monthly salaries of government staff below the rank of Division Chief (Grade 24) are "competitive" with the private sector. However, the salaries of all personnel of Grade 24 and above are "substantially below that of comparable jobs in the private sector."

___This structure, Tolentino says, invites for the creation of mechanisms for hidden compensation, elaborate structures for allowances and other benefits, and graft and corruption.

___Consequently, the general quality of mid-to-upper level staff and officials in the agriculture and rural development bureaucracy, adds Tolentino, has deteriorated rapidly in the last 20 years. "Quality," being determined by appropriate education and training - achieved prior to assumption of office, direct experience and other indicators of capability."

___Unfortunately for those involved in the agriculture industry, it is in the mid-to-upper levels of government officialdom and bureaucracy where technical analysis, administration, decision-making, policymaking, resource allocation and contracting take place.

___Stating from the viewpoint of an experienced observer, Tolentino says: "When compensation structures cannot attract and keep persons of sufficient training, experience and capability in the bureaucracy, certainly the effectiveness of the government will deteriorate."

___The same compensation conditions for upper-level sector officials, as shown by the DBM data, also afflict mid-level analysts and technical staff. The overall effect, Tolentino believes, is a "weaker bureaucracy, barely able to cope with the demands of sector leadership and management, and unfortunately more prone to corruption."

___In addition, the DA has to grapple with the 1997 Diagnostic Report by the Asian Development Bank on the "Institutional Capability Building in Policy Formulation, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation for the Agricultural Sector", which concludes that "the agriculture and fishery policy, planning and monitoring and evaluation of the Philippines is fragmented, uncoordinated and weak."

___Institutionally, the DA structure, says the ADB report, is spread out over seven staff bureaus and 25 attached agencies and corporations, and 16 regional offices. Many sector policy and planning functions are handled by government units other than the DA itself, such as the Presidential Management Staff, Cabinet Clusters, the Presidential Advisers and Commissions.

___The responsibilities, authority and accountability for policy planning, says the report, are ill-defined and not clearly assigned to particular units. There are no organized, continuing linkages among policy and planning units of the various DA agencies. The relations, contacts and coordination with local government units, farming communities, farmers’ groups, NGOs and private sector agribusiness groups is "intermittent and generally of low intensity and weak follow-up."

___In addition, there is no DA unit dedicated to agricultural trade policy such as those with the World Trade Organization and other bilateral agreements. As the report says: "There is no DA unit responsible for corn (food and feed). Sector budgeting and appropriations preparation is split from planning. There is practically no economic and policy analysis unit at the DA."

___The report continues to say, "Most DA units have no staff dedicated to policy and economic analysis, particularly in support to legislation, the relationship between technological factors and productivity, the impact of macroeconomic factors on particular commodities and on agriculture as a whole, market competitiveness of particular commodities, and intersectoral linkages, both domestic and international."

___Worse, most DA units are understaffed and have limited skills in agricultural investment project formulation, preparation and appraisal – especially of public investments.

___"The DA has a very weak influence on market infrastructure policy and programming – especially roads and shipping. The DA has a very weak influence on the size and allocation of technology research resources. The DA has been unable to fully tap and harness the considerable human expertise in the research community outside of the DA, and there has been no continuing staff support and human resource development program which will promote staff skills and stability in service," goes the report.

___"How can the department be efficient and give significant attention to the problems of farmers such as Tablo when it can hardly solve its own?" Tolentino asks.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.07.01