By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — IN HIS last full year as a lawmaker, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has continued to serve the interests of Filipino farmers, fisherfolk, and the agriculture sector through his legislative work amid the challenges and difficulties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the height of the price increase of basic commodities in January, Pangilinan immediately called on the national government to strictly monitor the same to ensure that all Filipinos will be able to afford food for their families.
He attributed the price increase to the negative effects of importing products, thus advocating to strengthen support for local farmers.
“Kailangang mapasigla pa natin ang kabuhayan ng ating magsasaka para mas ganado silang magtanim. At kapag mas marami silang ani, mas mababa ang presyo ng mga bilihin sa palengke,” Pangilinan said.
“Kailangan nating kumain araw-araw, may pandemya man o wala. Essential job ang pagsasaka, pag-aalaga ng manok at baboy, at pangingisda. Pasiglahin natin ang agrikultura, at sisigla rin ang ating ekonomiya, lalo na sa pandemya,” he added.
Because of the continuous spike in food prices, the former food security secretary then filed Senate Resolution 618 that sought to address the problem at hand by identifying interventions that would help stabilize and lower prices.
“May pandemya man o wala, kailangan nating kumain, kaya nandyan dapat ang sapat na suplay ng pagkain na mabibili sa abot-kayang halaga. Habang tumataas ang presyo ng pagkain, lalo pang dadami ang magugutom,” he said.
But after learning about food price manipulators at a Senate hearing in February as the culprit to the hike, Pangilinan emphasized the need to apprehend these individuals as their terrible schemes affect the majority of Filipinos.
“Dapat sampolan ang nagsasamantala. Sa ilalim ng Price Act, hanggang 1 milyong piso ang maaring multa sa mga lumalabag sa batas na ito. Dapat i-deputize ang NBI at PNP-CIDG at habulin yung mga nabanggit ni Secretary William Dar na nagsasamantala,” Pangilinan said.
During the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak in March, meanwhile, Pangilinan lobbied – through Senate Resolution No. 676 – for a declaration of a state of calamity to aid hog growers recover from the devastating effects of said hog disease.
“Sa ngalan ng ating mga magbababoy, nakikiusap po kami na mag-declare ng state of calamity para sa agarang tulong na pondo sa indemnification at dagdag na cash assistance para sa kanila,” the former Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization said.
In April, when faced with the possibility of stricter lockdowns due to rising Covid-19 cases, Pangilinan pressed the national government to release funds for financial assistance to families who will again be greatly affected by lockdowns.
“Sabi nga sa nakita ko sa social media: Hindi lang quarantine, kwarta rin ang kailangan ng ating mga kababayan. Hirap na naman ang hanapbuhay kung ma-extend ang ECQ. Importante hanapan ng solusyon, hanapan ng ayuda yung budget,” he said.
Pangilinan also suggested that the government purchase food “ayuda” from local farmers and fisherfolk in order for the government to hit two birds with one stone: one in helping poor Filipino families, and two, providing additional income to the agriculture sector.
“Suggestion ko, ituloy yung ginawa nung unang mga lockdown na bumili sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda ang gobyerno. Bumili ng bigas at iba pang pagkain ang DA, DSWD, DILG, at mga LGU sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda sa tamang presyo para rin kumita sila,” said the author of Sagip Saka Act, which became law in 2019.
Sagip Saka Act aims higher incomes for farmers and fisherfolk through enterprise development and direct purchases by government agencies, LGUs, and the private sector.
Apart from his pro-agriculture sector advocacies in the Senate this year, Pangilinan also spoke sharply on several issues, including the West Philippine Sea dispute, the brazen killings of lawyers, the need for the youth to register and vote for the upcoming national elections, the Senate hearing on the Pharmally fiasco, among others.
Although he has some reservations due to a number of changes in some of the law’s provisions, one of Pangilinan’s big wins this year is the passage of Republic Act 11524, otherwise known as the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act.
“This is the fruit of almost half a century of struggle against the injustice suffered by our coconut farmers. Our coconut farmers and their families must now reap the benefits of their hard-earned money,” Pangilinan said.
“Yes, I have mixed feelings about the law. Having said that, we will guard, we will be vigilant, and we will continue to see how this is going to be implemented,” he added.
This year also posed challenges on Pangilinan’s personal life, in particular involving his being a husband, after two YouTube channels released malicious videos accusing him of committing domestic violence against his wife, Sharon.
As the allegations were baseless and unfounded, the lawmaker requested YouTube to take down the videos but was ignored, prompting him to file cybercrime cases against Google Philippines and the owners behind the videos.
“There is obviously a gap somewhere. This needs to stop. Social media sites need to step up and be more responsive to reports and more especially to legal complaints. These are harmful to individuals and to families,” Pangilinan said.
“Ang pamilya ko ang buhay ko. Gagawin ko ang lahat para protektahan sila,” he added.
But despite the trials this year both in his personal and political life, Pangilinan still chooses to see the silver lining, saying there are various reasons to be optimistic come 2022.
“Napalaking hamon ng 2021 para sa ating lahat. Sunod-sunod ang mga pagsubok sa atin. Humabol pa si Odette. Meron tayong mga mahal sa buhay na iniwan na tayo. Mas mahirap ang kumita. Naging parusa ang online learning at working. Nagkalat ng basura sa internet,” Pangilinan said.
“Sa kabila ng lahat, marami pa rin ang dapat ipagpasalamat. Isang malaking achievement na buhay tayo. Nakita natin ang lusot sa gusot na hinarap natin: sama-samang pagkilos na nagpapakita ng radikal na pagmamahal para sa sarili, sa kapwa, sa kapaligiran. Hindi ka nag-iisa. May kasama ka,” Pangilinan said.
“Haharapin natin ang 2022 nang may pag-asa. Gagawin natin ang lahat para tuparin ang sinumpaang tungkulin na maglingkod nang tapat at totoo dahil dapat lahat may sapat, masustansya at masarap na pagkain. Dapat lahat malusog ang bulsa, katawan, at kaluluwa,” he added.