Seamlessly fluent, our eminent guest speaker declared that the problem is not poverty but inequality due to the fact that, in this country, only 2,200 people control 80 percent of the Philippine economy. There is so much money, so much wealth that FDIs (Foreign Direct Investments) are not needed, but the 2,200 who possess 80 percent of the wealth prefer to invest outside the country, in real estate projects, enormous commercial centers, even vineyards in Europe. Investments, the guest speaker insisted, should be made here, in the fields of education, health, infrastructure, and science. He added that President R. Duterte is serious about promoting “science for change”; there are 280 scientists for every 1,000 Filipinos, so we must take advantage of that incredible ratio.
That was last Tuesday at the weekly meeting of the Agribusiness and Countryside Development Foundation, an affiliate of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). The guest speaker was Rep. Joey Salceda of the second district of Albay, vice chairman of a number of congressional committees – appropriations, climate change, economic affairs, local government, ways and means, among others. I think he has Pres. R. Duterte’s ear.
Rep. Salceda gave a Power Point presentation about agriculture, financing, recovery, budget and appropriations, but he fast-forwarded a number of slides because he wanted to explain the tax reforms of the Duterte administration. He made perplexing statements: “If you tax the rich, you’ll hurt the poor. This country subsidizes the rich…you have to return [the money from taxes] to the poor. …Tax the rich and transfer it to the poor…the rich don’t pay as much as they should…. The more you are regulated, the more profitability…”
As I quote Rep. Salceda, I do not mean to take his statements out of context and turn them into bullets that hit you between the eyes. During the open forum that followed, I said that he was being downright subversive, talking about “inequality” which implies an infirmed distribution of wealth. If we were still in the 1960’s, he would surely be branded a Communist and thrown in jail. He gave me a stern look but did not object to what I said.
He spoke in praise of the OFWs who he said are no longer splurging on “made in China” things but investing heavily the education of their progeny after which they spend for insurance, housing, and entrepreneurial activities. As we know, OFWs have been contributing to the economic stability of our country.
Rep. Salceda also said that he has authored a bill “ to liberate farmers” from burdensome loans of the Land Bank. Then he disparaged those who have been placed in charge of the Department of Agriculture for not doing anything.
Before Rep. Joey Salceda arrived, the members of this Tuesday group shared information about their own projects. Princess Kumala Elardo of Patikul said their “from armalites to ipads” projects have converted what used to be a “no man’s land” to a blossoming economic zone. One of their main products is “suling suling,” coffee grown in Sulu. They now supply URC and Ecostores in the National Capital Region. A Filipina expat from Germany brought samples of her products. She has several hectares of the world’s smallest cucumber; a single plant is productive for ten years. She sells them raw and also processes them into pickles, prunes, and cosmetics. Quietly powerful, Filipinas are creative and enterprising.
An Australian spoke about plantation forests which “take pressure off the native forests” because these can be harvested after ten years, exported or sold to the domestic market. However, communities have to be organized around plantation forests to assure that market demands are met. Plantation forests are ideal for reforestation.
Mr. Gonzalo Catan talked about the benefits of green charcoal manufactured by his company, Mapecon. Another member explained how important professional managers are to small farmers and the use of environment-friendly bamboo and cacahuate to combat soil erosion. The cultural heritage of wine was the concern of yet another member who is promoting tuba, basi, and other native brews.
Mr. Ernesto Ordoñez former lynchpin of an anti- agricultural smuggling team, is currently working on a water map of the Philippines. He was assigned to welcome the ineffable Rep. Joey Salceda and he did so by quoting from the Bible, Corinthian 1:3: “I thank God for you.”