"The secretary inherited a mess."
As this article is being written, we still await the President’s pronouncements on the continuing community quarantines in several parts of the country, particularly Metro Manila.
We know of course that Cebu has become the latest “epicenter” of the viral contagion, as DILG Sec. Eduardo Ano described recently.
We have had the longest lockdown among all countries in the world, yet the case figures are not abating; they are instead travelling to other parts of the country. And the health system continues to be highly challenged by the increasing number of infected persons.
The next peak travel season for the country starts November until the 2021 Lunar New Year, when the climate cools down a bit, but pleasant for citizens of countries where winter cold can be quite severe, which are also our major markets: South Korea, China, North America mostly for balikbayans and Japan.
For the last two years, the number of visiting Taiwanese have been on the rise, although a lot more Filipinos visited our nearest neighbor to the north. But today’s Taiwan News, which quoted the WHO report about our country being numero uno in rising COVID-19 cases will be a dampener to DOT efforts to open up the country to selected travelers from low-risk countries, which Taiwan certainly is.
One area that could be added to Sec. Berna’s travel bubbles, insofar as Taiwanese tourists are concerned, would be Batanes, which is just 40 minutes away from the Kaohsiung airport, and an hour away from Taipei. But the holding capacity of Batanes is quite low, and its airport in Basco, the capital, cannot handle jets.
Still, the biggest hurdle, as I wrote last Monday, is the credibility of the Philippines as a “healthy” and “safe” destination, while the whole world is still deathly afraid of contagion, and no vaccine has yet been perfected or massively distributed.
For us in the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, the zero number of visitors, and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus from here to the Philippines is a financial mega-disaster. Eighty percent of our wherewithal is derived from visa application fees. Think of how the office can survive with just 20 percent of previous year’s gross revenues. We do not get any allocation from the national budget.
We maintain three offices here in Taiwan: the main office in the capital, Taipei; one in southern Kaohsiung; and another in central Taiwan’s Taichung City. These were offices established way back during the Ramos administration.
Good that we were able to accrue some savings from the past three years, but how far that could be stretched to cover bare-bones overhead and personnel salaries, which have already been slashed considerably, is a life-and-death proposition.
We read with interest the alleged “over-pricing” of fertilizers bought by the Department of Agriculture because the allegations of overprice are so picayune in comparison to the liquid fertilizers purchased by the DA during the GMA administration under the direction of then Usec Joc-Joc Bolante.
Congressional investigations brought out certain findings: the “foliar” fertilizers were of dubious utility value; the regular price of the basically useless product of 150 pesos was just about one-tenth of the price at which the department procured the same (over 1,500 pesos per bottle); they were distributed to almost every congressional district in 2004, an election year, even to such “highly agricultural” places such as Metro Manila.
Many years after, the Sandiganbayan exonerated the alleged mastermind, Joc Joc Bolante, while a dozen or so regional directors, who were merely following orders to distribute the fertilizers, are still languishing with cases filed against them in the Sandiganbayan. These regional directors who had to follow directions “from above” are kept holding the blame, and have exhausted their meager retirement pay on attorney’s fees.
Back to the urea allegedly overpriced by a hundred pesos or so per bag, it comes as a major distraction for newly-minted DA Sec. William Dar, who has to worry about major food security problems in the time of Covid and beyond, but detractors and losing bidders are having a field day throwing unjust accusations.
Of course, it does not help Willy Dar that he inherited a mess. Worse, that almost all his underlings (nine undersecretaries) and a dozen assistant secretaries, as well as agency heads, are not his recommended appointees, other than Noel Reyes, the DA’s designated spokesman.
But food security is a major-major issue, and thankfully, a competent person who knows what must be done, true to the Spanish meaning of his surname “dar” (to do), is now at the helm of agriculture.
Speaking of food products, which are a concern of both DA and DTI, we would like to report a highly successful Philippine product display last month at the big RT Mart, a chain of supermarkets here in Taipei which is actually run by the French retail giant Auchan Holdings.
The two-week display netted sales of $ 5.84 million, led by Cebu’s famous dried mangoes, Sunflower’s Mango sandwich cake and dried banana slices by Tropic Farms, among others. This year’s sales was 20% higher than last year, despite the Covid pandemic.
Next in line is another Filipino product display at Carrefour, another French retail giant which runs many supermarkets all over Taiwan.
The Indian government, in retaliation for the death of 20 Indian soldiers in the Kashmir border disputed by China, banned nearly 60 Chinese mobile apps, including the immensely popular Tik-Tok.
In the Philippines, even cabinet members preen and dance on Tik-Tok. Oh well.