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Solons, execs want Cotabato-born agri project extended

By Ali G. Macabalang

KIDAPAWAN CITY – Lawmakers and national executives are pushing for extension to 2028 of the North Cotabato-born national Special Area for Agriculture Development (SAAD) program, citing its positive impacts among marginal farmers and fishermen amid challenges aggravated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

As this developed, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chair Manny Piñol posted a statement Wednesday to thank proponent lawmakers and cabinet officials, even as SAAD field workers in the south heralded updates on the positive impacts of various SAAD packages of assistance on rural communities.

“This is a proud moment for me as a rural development advocate that the SAAD Program which I designed way back when I was Governor of North Cotabato is now acknowledged as an effective poverty alleviation program,” Pinol said in his  post that went viral in the social media.

Matalam, North Cotabato vice Mayor Cheryl Valdevieso-Catamco alongside SAAD workers Anisa M. Saaduddin and Ryan Colonia discussed over a radio station here specific people and villages’ improved livelihood experiences under the special program pursued nationwide by Piñol in 2016 when he was agriculture secretary. The program’s lifespan ends in 2022.

The House Committee on Rural Development has formed a technical working group (TWG) to fine-tune a proposal for the Department of Agriculture to continue the SAAD program, with the endorsements of the National Economic Development Authority, Philippine Statistics Authority, and Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The TWG started deliberating on Jan. 25 House Resolution 1421 filed by Masbate Rep.  Elisa “Olga” Kho extending the SAAD lifespan from 2023 to 2028 for it to further address poverty incidence in the countryside, said Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento, group leader, and Party-list Rep. Alfred Delos Santos, vice chair of the committee.

In their initial virtual hearing, Reps. Sarmiento, Kho and Delos Santos corroborated the views of DWSD Sec. Rolando Bautista, PSA-Poverty and Human Development Statistics Division Chief Bernadette Balamban, and NEDA officials acknowledging the potentials of the SAAD program in helping alleviate poverty incidence compounded in the COVID-9 pandemic and by the aftermaths of strong typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses.

Kho, chair of the House Committee on Rural Development, and other discussants welcomed the TWG formation to perfect the SAAD implementation mechanisms in order to optimize projects’ impacts on farmers and fishing people who are among those who have the highest poverty incidences in rural areas.

Sec. Bautista earlier told the committee through a letter that the extension of the implementation of the SAAD beyond 2022 “will further help the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors who are greatly affected by the pandemic.”

Balamban, for her part, said: “The extension will assist those living in rural areas and those relying on the agricultural sector. There is a need to reach out to them, especially as the country continues to face the impacts of pandemic.”

Under HR No. 1421, Kho urged the House leadership to extend the implementation of the DA’s SAAD program for six years from 2023 to 2028, noting that introduced in 2016 and implemented in 2017 for five years ending in 2022.

Kho and fellow lawmakers said the SAAD program deserves sufficient period of time and commensurate budget to amplify its workforce quantity and efficiency.

Born in North Cotabato

In his related post, Sec. Piñol narrated the evolution of the SAAD program.

He said he conceived and implemented the focal program when was governor in North Cotabato from1998 to 2007.

Aimed at serving communities with “sink holes” marked by high poverty incidence, Piñol piloted the project in Arakan, Magpet and Antipas and Arakan, all towns in North Cotabato known for presence of communist insurgents recruiting innocent residents with persuasive narratives about impoverishment. 

“When I became Secretary of Agriculture (in 2016), I introduced SAAD as a program of the DA which identified 10 poorest provinces every year (to be) given additional livelihood intervention,” he said.

He said his “original proposal was to fund P1-billion worth of projects for each of the 10 provinces every year to fully emancipate farmers and fishing people, who are feeding the nation but receiving dismal government support.

“The program was given only P100-M per province but it nevertheless posted dramatic effects in reducing poverty through agricultural production and capability building,” he recalled.

SAAD interventions were supposed to cover 60 provinces by the end of President Duterte’s term in 2022, but the momentum diminished when Sec. Piñol resigned after the passage of some provisions of the Rice Tarrification Law (ATL) he deemed affront to the welfare of farmers, according program field worker Saaduddin.

Some lawmakers and cabinet members backed by oligarchs succeeded in the railroaded passage of the ATL. But Senator Manny Pacquiao, amid studies revealing its ill effects of unregulated import of rice on poor farmers, filed a resolution calling for a review of the ATL – something that consoled pro-farmer officials like Piñol, Saaduddin said.

“This is a proud moment for me as a rural development advocate that the SAAD program …is now acknowledged as an effective poverty alleviation program,” said Piñol, whom Mr. Duterte named as MinDA chief in August 2019.

“Today, I smile with pride like a father seeing that my baby, SAAD,” the MinDA chair said in his Jan. 28 post.

He added: “It (SAAD program) is not a perfect program and it surely needs fine-tuning. It is a way better that the dole-out and cash aids.”

SADD interventions include provisions of focused trainings, farm and fishing inputs and equipment, micro-irrigation facilities, and supplying of livestock and fowl breeders in lieu of palliative state efforts based on cash aids, Saaduddin told the Philippine Muslim Today. (AGM)

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