There is a move now in both Congress and Senate to look into the proposal to create a new government department - Fisheries- separating it from the Department of Agriculture.

Earlier today, I was asked in separate interviews what my position is on this issue which they said came as a result of the neglect of government on the fisheries sector.

I do not want to sound sarcastic but if every sector in agriculture would be separated simply because it does not receive enough attention and support, then what would stop people later on from proposing the creation of the Dept. of Vegetables, Dept. of Animals and Dept. of Chicken?

Levity aside, I have very serious misgivings on the proposal to create a new department.

1. The creation of a new department runs counter to the advocacy of President Rody Duterte for a leaner, less bureaucratic and more effective government.

2. A new department would entail additional expenditures for government as the current budget of P7-B per year for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) which is under the DA would have to be increased.

3. Compartmentalizing specific concerns adds up to the bureaucracy and would render difficult the task of consolidating programs and projects which would contribute to greater food production.

4. Inter-agency coordination has always been a problem. When the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the National Food Authroity (NFA) and the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA) were separated from the DA on orders of then President Benigno Aquino, the synchronisation of programs and projects became very difficult.

5. In many provinces, especially those who have coastal areas, farmers are also fishermen. So, how do we identify him when we deliver interventions? The fisheries department will have its own intervention for the fisherman who then will present himself to the DA as a farmer and get another project.

To address rice farmers problems on water and the repair of irrigation canals, DA has to coordinate with NIA; to intervene in the problem of Basilan on Cocolisap, DA has to work things out with the Office of the Cabinet Secretary and even the introduction of livelihood projects and new crops to coconut farmers whose farms were devastated by the infestation presents a complicated problem.

Here is a situation where the DA will use its livelihood funds and undertake interventions to assist coconut farmers who are technically not covered by the agriculture department's concerns because they are supposed to be served by the PCA.

And then there is this situation now where the rice and corn farmers are complaining that the buying price of their produce has plummeted but there is nothing much that the DA could do because the NFA is not under its direct supervision.

The fact is that the DA is not even a member of the NFA council which decides whether to import rice or not, an activity which could adversely affect the interest of the Filipino rice farmers supported by the agriculture department.

Now, back to the Department of Fisheries proposal.

The DA which has direct supervision over the Fisheries sector now has started a program to really develop fisheries, aquaculture, mariculture and even the seaweed industry.

A strong campaign against illegal fishing and the rehabilitation of the seas as sources of fish have been implemented.

To fully rehabilitate the seas, the DA-BFAR will implement a nation-wide 3-month closed fishing season to allow the fish to breed and multiply.

In order for the fishermen to earn a living during the 3 months that there will be no fishing in his coastal waters, the DA will introduce livelihood projects like hog raising, poultry raising and nursery operations growing mangrove tree seedlings.

So you like to separate Fisheries from DA?

Who would provide the livelihood projects for the fishermen?

Who would make sure that the hogs, poultry and the seedlings of mangrove trees are marketed?

As the DA Secretary, I have assumed the role of the Top Salesman of agri and fisheries products by conducting world-wide promotional fairs. Should I leave behind high-value aquatic products because it is not part of agriculture?

I believe that the creation of the Dept. of Fisheries is a knee-jerk reaction to a simple problem of a neglected sector.

Besides, if indeed the fisheries sector was neglected, this new administration surely is not to blame.

The fisheries sector is an area of special concern by the Dept. of Agriculture now.

Already, almost 2,000 fishing boats have been distributed for free to the poorest fishing families all over the country.

The establishment of ice-making and cold storage facilities will follow.

Through the representation of the DA Secretary, who sits in the board of the Land Bank of the Philippines to represent the farmers and fisherfolk, loans will now be made available to fishpond and fish cage operators.

This may seem trivial but when you separate Agriculture from Fisheries, how would we classify the seaweed farmers?

Is the seed weed farming an agriculture or aquaculture activity?

The name of the name now is connectivity not disconnectivity.

In fact, early on I have proposed to President Duterte the creation of a National Food Security Coordinating Council so that all agencies of government which are directly or indirectly involved in food production - DA, DENR, DOST, PAGASA, DPWH, DAR and others - would work closely together.

This was done last night with the approval of the proposal of Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco for the clustering of the different agencies of government to address specific concerns.

By clustering the different departments, the message of President Duterte is simple: consolidation is the name of the game.

It's convergence not divergence.

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