I AM glad that the new governor Bong Lacson has included agricultural development and rural industrialization as his top agenda to advance the quality of life of the Negrenses.
To a well-meaning and objective development advocate, mass poverty, joblessness and economic inequality remain stark realities in the region today, and I mean, both Occidental and Oriental Negros.
The past two administrations under Maranon brothers have also acknowledged the lack of inclusive and sustainable growth in the region, even as they ironically claimed of the upbeat of the regional economy. In other words, it is no denying that the rich are getting richer while the poor grow poorer, the landed are getting more lands while the landless are further impoverished in this region.
Indicators are everywhere that the neoliberal “globalization” agenda pursued by the ruling administration economists and technocrats like market-oriented reforms, more liberalization, deregulation, privatization, and capped by the debt-driven “build, build, build” paradigm -- are not making any mark that we are getting out of the mess.
We are more hostage now to foreign monopoly capitalists in big countries, multilateral funding institutions, foreign contractors in cahoots with their domestic partner corporations; allowing them to influence the direction of our economy; surrendering our lands and resources, dictating what should be planted in our lands, the inputs and production processing; tolerating their unfair and anti-worker practices; and countless other unfair, oppressive terms.
Looking around, most of our regions are not becoming any self-reliant, prosperous, equitable; they are more of assembly plants, commercial farms and processing plants of multinational agribusiness corporations, labor business process outsourcing hubs of foreign companies, dumping markets of excess and mostly toxic foreign goods, and transforming our citizens to pure consumers of these commodities.
Negros realities are no different. To prevent the worsening of these scenarios, it is therefore imperative and strategic for Bong Lacon to undertake resolute major socio-economic reforms, in government policies and programs vis a vis the control and development of the productive means such as land, capital and labor resources – to reverse the destructive scenario.
The question of control and development of these productive means are key to unleashing the actual and potential energies for inclusive and sustainable development.
Negros as a region has immense natural resources, e.g. mineral, agriculture, forestry, aquatic and energy sources, yet why can’t the local economy produce basic, adequate and safe food, goods and services, needed by our people?
It is obvious; our agriculture, rural economy, is mired in feudal system of landownership, dependent on largely a moribund sugar economy, little and sporadic livestock production and vegetables, backward farming practices, with insignificant manufacturing or industrial sector, and still export-oriented, debt-driven.
Our agriculture sector remains backward, with alarmingly low productivity, and the manufacturing sector is largely assembly, retail and trading economy, rather than producing economy. Proof of this is clear; we import most of our basic industrial needs, like agricultural machines, even down to simple pins, bolts, nuts, needles, nails.
In effect, a progressive Filipino economist asserts that the absence of a sound, integrated and Filipino-owned industrial sector in turn keeps the country’s science and technology sector backward resulting in the inevitable brain drain of the country’s best and brightest; keeps us dependent on foreign goods and services and prevents us from benefitting from our natural resource.
Our capital resources are confined to few big families, owning most of big commercial banks, even development and lending institutions. Funds for agricultural development are minimal and biased against farmers and farmworkers; agrarian reform beneficiaries, and small agricultural producers, have a hard time to access these funds.
Instead of helping spur local agricultural and economic growth, these forces have been sidelined to marginal producers, with hardly surplus to talk about. Most are still dependent on loan sharks.
Worse of all, of course, is the condition of our labor forces. Regular employees are reduced annually for several years now, while contractuals, job orders and piece rate (pakyaws) workers are increasing quickly by several folds.
Except for some professionals, most our skilled workers, engineers and scientists flock abroad, for simple reasons that there’s no better, gainful and secure jobs here.
The conditions of our land, capital and labor are three most concrete manifestations that our region needs urgent and major socio-economic reforms, and this should begin in agricultural development and rural industrialization. A road map for this should be developed.
The road map should be able to put in place the following; 1) sound land use plan which prioritizes agriculture development than non-agriculture ones; 2) support program to agrarian reform and comprehensive development of agricultural producers; 3) develop basic industries in support of agricultural development and modernization. 4) sound and nature friendly infrastructures for energy, transportation, communications, information technology and basic services; 5) develop value chain from production to finished goods; 6) building infrastructure support for fair trading and marketing systems so our producers get the best or premium price for their products.
There are other items to achieve what we want. They can be provided in proper avenues and time.
But for now, it is of great importance for the administration of Bong Lacson, and of course, other agencies as well, to note that the government plays a pivotal role in all this, in all the aspects of inclusive and sustainable development. It should reclaim its being the voice of the voiceless and powerless, and never let again the powerfuls and untouchables dictate on the kind of life our people must live.*