Rep. Sharon Garin Wants Local Agricultural Functions Reverted To DA

AAMBIS-Owa Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin said she has filed a bill that seeks to revert the basic agricultural functions devolved to local government units (LGUs) to the national government in order to rationalize services for the benefit of poor and marginalized farmers.

Appearing before the regular Party-list Forum at the House of Representatives, Garin said she filed House Bill No. 4027, or the Re-Nationalization of Basic Agricultural Functions Act, due to her concerns over a study made by Social Watch Philippines which supposedly showed that the devolution of agricultural extension services to LGUs has resulted in low agricultural productivity, hampered agricultural development, and food insecurity.

Basic agricultural functions and responsibilities are discharged to Local Government Units (LGUs) under Republic Act 7160, also known as the Local Government Code of 1991.

It is in line with the goal of the national government to achieve economic development at the regional and local levels by decentralizing their powers and responsibilities in favor of LGUs.

However, Garin said economic and political realities have impeded LGUs to fully exercise their agricultural functions, much to the detriment of poor and marginalized farmers.

“Agricultural programs at the local level have been poorly implemented due to the glaring disconnect between the devolved responsibilities and the financial resources available. Local government officials are also expected to function both as economic managers and administrators to their localities. The lack of appreciation of the devolved tasks has resulted in the under-utilization of technical personnel,” she lamented.

“I filed the bill not because the municipal agriculture offices (MAOs) are ineffective, but agriculture needs a general direction. We are competing with other countries now, so we need a national policy,” Garin said, underscoring the need for local governments to have its role re-examined and redefined in light of community interest, needs, and demands.

She further maintained that reinstating the agricultural functions and responsibilities to the national level will address the problem of coordination between municipal and provincial agriculturist on the national programs that needed to be implemented, especially in a demand-driven and fast-changing environment.

“Mahirap i-coordinate kung separate yung municipal agriculturist sa Department of Agriculture (It is hard to coordinate if the municipal agriculturist is separate from the DA). There should be a better system than devolve the whole DA function to the LGUs,” Garin said.

Her sentiments were shared by Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Party-list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan.

“We are not saying that LGUs are inefficient and incompetent as food czars, what we are saying is that mukhang napuputol hanggang regional offices ng DA ang programa ng ating gobyerno pagdating sa larangan ng agrikultura (but it looks like government agriculture programs only reaches up to the DA regional offices),” Sangcopan said in the same press briefing.

She added that there is also the lack of a memorandum of agreement between the DA and the DILG over the devolution of agriculture functions to the LGUs.

“There should be a MOA to make it clear that DA has control and supervision over the provincial and municipal agriculturist. If the DA has no extent of authority over these workers, we cannot expect that our programs from the DA will be felt there,” Sangcopan said.

Furthermore, she said reverting agriculture functions to the DA would raise the morale of the municipal agriculturists.

Sangcopan noted that the salary of MAO personnel is based on the classification of the municipality they are in.

In contrast, the former regional secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) pointed out that salaries of personnel from the municipal agrarian reform office (MARO) are based on the salary standardization law.

“Whereas MAOs and MAROs basically have similar functions and serve the same constituents, the discrepancy in their salaries is big. Putting the MAO back to the DA will address that. It is one of the reasons that I fully support HB 4027,” Sangcopan said.

If HB 4027 is enacted into law, all personnel, technicians, facilities, and properties previously transferred to the barangay, municipalities, provinces, and cities shall be returned to the national government.

In lieu of local agricultural offices, the bill mandates the creation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Review Panel which shall identify the problems of the industry under the re-nationalization set-up and recommend measures to enhance agriculture productivity.

The panel shall be chaired by Secretary of Agriculture, with the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government and President of the National Agriculture and Fishery Council as members.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Local Government on August 28, 2019. (PNA)