Deals

FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno

President Rodrigo Duterte does not fancy himself a statesman, preferring to be called “Mayor.” He does not go about advertising himself a spokesman for emerging economies or some such. The foreign travels that go with his job he looked at as a chore. He would rather go home to Davao and tend to his grandchildren if he had his way.

Interestingly, however, he seems to be scoring well in his diplomatic forays. In a recent survey on influential persons done by Time magazine, Duterte topped global personalities such as Pope Francis, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin. In his foreign visits so far, the Filipino leader appears to have charmed his counterparts.

His interaction with the leaders of China and Japan were extremely productive as far as our economic development is concerned. With those two nations alone, we have booked trillions worth of grants, financing, joint ventures and private investments.

During the Holy Week break, a time Filipino leaders usually use to go on retreat, Duterte visited several Middle Eastern countries. The region is significant to us because of their oil wealth and the fact that they host millions of our overseas workers.

As he did with his previous foreign trips, Duterte brought home close to a billion dollars in investment deals. The deals were on top of widening employment opportunities for our workers and opening export opportunities for our businesses.

In Saudi Arabia, Duterte sealed close to $469 million in investment deals that will create 16,000 new jobs in pharmaceutical generics, property development, medical tourism and Halal food processing industry zones.

In Bahrain, the President witnessed agreements signed with a Bahraini company that will build agribusinesses in the country. The deal is expected to create 3,500 jobs in the initial phases. Employment could grow to 40,000 jobs when it is completed, adding $280 million annually to our export earnings.

Agreements covering 13 investment projects were signed in Qatar. These projects are initially worth about $206 million and will generate 6,000 jobs in a wide range of activities ranging from tourism projects to and agro-industrial economic zone in Palawan. In addition, the country is now eligible to access investment funds from the Qatar Sovereign Fund. The initial allocation is estimated to reach $1 billion.

All the support the President is harvesting during his foreign visits will help our economy achieve the 7% annual growth rate we aspire for. This is the reason why hardly anyone complains anymore about the minor costs presidential visits incur. The returns are highly in our favor.

Agitprop

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), now under leftist control, seems to be more interested in conducting agitprop than in solving real problems on the ground.

The management of Davao-based Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI) wrote an angry letter addressed to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) complaining about the “deliberate and organized misinformation” disseminated by two ranking DAR officials during “consultations” with agrarian reform beneficiaries held in Tagum last March 23.  President Duterte chairs the PARC.

Antero Sison Jr., MEPI president, complained in his letter that the DAR representatives were “totally unfair, misleading and devoid of due process” for denying MEPI “the opportunity to correct … obviously erroneous and biased statements made by them.” The two DAR representatives were identified as undersecretaries David Erro and Marcos Risonar.

In the same letter, Sison warned “MEPI reserves its right to take appropriate legal measures to protect its interest, including bringing the matter up to the Office of the Ombudsman.”

During the meeting with the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative, Erro and Risonar claimed that the revocation of the agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) between MEPI and the agrarian reform beneficiaries is already final and executory. This is patently false. In its March 7 letter to MEPI, the PARC agreed to defer action on the issue. The letter mentions that the President instructed the DAR to hold consultations with the parties involved. The March 24 meeting was DAR’s version of “consultations.”

The two undersecretaries also said the MEPI no longer has legal ground to appeal DAR’s decision to cancel the AVA. That is false as well because MEPI’s motion for reconsideration has not been decided with finality.

Since, according to the undersecretaries, the AVA has been cancelled then two other ARB cooperatives nearby may now take over the MEPI farm. This, says Sison, “is alarming as it amounts to fomenting anarchy and instigating possible violence.”

More scandalously, the two told the ARBs they would no longer have to pay for the land when the AVA with MEPI is revoked because of House Bill 555. That House Bill, which bars foreclosure of land when amortizations are not paid, is precisely that: a bill. It is, in fact, unlikely to become law.

The farmers, alarmed they would lose their livelihood if the AVA with MEPI is revoked, asked the undersecretaries about their economic fate.  The two smugly said that this is not their concern. If they become jobless, they should bring the matter up with the DOLE.

This, said Sison, shows the two officials’ “utter disregard and uncaring attitude for the economic consequences of the Lease AVA cancellation.”

Since he took office, DAR secretary Rafael Mariano brought orthodoxy not administrative skills to the agency he heads. He has gone to war against lease agreements entered into by agrarian reform beneficiaries with agribusinesses. While that results in better returns for the farmers, it runs counter to his ideological vision of a paradise of small subsistence farmers.

No wonder his underlings succumb to conducting agitprop instead of real consultations.

 

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