Sen. Cynthia Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, sounded off an “old” and frequently aired message when she was the guest of honor at the 11th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards last Friday.
As she has done repeatedly in forums where she’s asked to speak on agriculture, the senator talked about the need for more support from everybody — the government, private sector and yes, the media — to help the country’s farmers and fisherfolk. Despite the crucial role they play in providing for our food and answering our basic needs, farmers and fishers, said Villar, get little love from the public.
Farmers and fisherfolk are among the poorest of Filipinos, she said, with 22 percent living below the poverty line. Coconut farmers are deemed the poorest, earning a mere P1,500 a month. On average, Villar added, those in the agricultural sector earn P4,500 a month, that is, when typhoons, floods and other natural disasters don’t lay waste to the fruits of their labor.
This is why, said the senator, she has been hard at work to pass laws that address the basic problems of the agriculture sector, including putting curbs on unregulated fishing (“Our oceans will be virtual deserts by 2050 if we don’t do anything,” she told the audience), extending the period of the agricultural competitive funds, developing farm tourism projects, as well as developing the coconut industry.
Villar also thanked not just the journalists and broadcasters who took part in the Bright Leaf competition, but the entire media industry for “increasing awareness of the plight of farmers and fisherfolk.”
Directly and indirectly, she said, such coverage promotes the development of the sector.
The Bright Leaf awards are sponsored by cigarette manufacturer PMFTC (joint-venture company between Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. and Fortune Tobacco Corp.) to promote the coverage and discussion in the media of issues related to the agriculture sector, not just the tobacco industry. This year’s awards, the 11th year these have been handed out, were scrutinized by a panel of judges headed by Krip Yuson, who writes a column for the Philippine Star and is a noted fictionist and essayist. The other judges for the preliminary phase were Chito Lozada of the Daily Tribune, Albert Gamboa of BusinessWorld, Marie Aubrey Villaceran of UP Diliman, photographer Mandy Navasero, Jose Pablo Salud of Graphic magazine, Pennie Azarcon dela Cruz of the Inquirer; and Elena Pernia, dean of UP College of Mass Communications.
Judges for the second phase were Jake Maderazo of dzIQ, Dr. Roland Dy of UA&P; Remar Zamora, chief photographer of the Inquirer, and this columnist.
Significantly, a TV feature on the country’s burgeoning cacao industry won “Story of the Year,” the first time a TV show gained the distinction in awards dominated previously by print. Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas of Business Mirror won twice for a feature story and a news story, also a first for Bright Leaf. My personal congratulations, too, to Anselmo Roque, a former Inquirer correspondent, for his win in the news category published in a provincial paper.
The Bright Leaf awards demonstrate, too, the point raised by Anika Dauden of the BPI Foundation who said one of the main advocacies of the foundation is to make farmers and fisherfolk “bankable.”
One of the major issues facing those in agriculture, said Dauden, is lack of credit facilities since they seldom have access to large financial institutions. Besides which, she added, rural folk are “intimidated” by a bank like BPI. Thus, the thrust of the foundation is to bring together farmers and bankers to overcome the long-standing barriers to credit for the agricultural sector.
But it will take time to effect such a major change, said Dauden, who estimates that the “first loan to an individual farmer might be handed out two years from now.”