PBBM names fishing tycoon Tiu Laurel Jr. as new DA chief

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President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Friday announced the appointment of fish tycoon Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. as the new secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The Chief Executive made the announcement at a news conference in Malacañang. 

Marcos said he decided to turnover the leadership of DA, which he held for over a year, since he is confident in the capability of Tiu Laurel, whom he has known since childhood, to address the issues, which he identified in the agriculture sector. 

“We have come to that point where we have a very good idea where the problems lie and where, what we need to do to solve those problems,” the President said. 

‘Focus, fortitude’

Senator Grace Poe, citing the gargantuan tasks ahead facing newly named DA chief, said Tiu Laurel, must “have the focus, fortitude to get things done and genuine feeling for the sector.”

Reminding Tiu Laurel that agriculture is a vital component of the economy, providing food on the table and sustaining the livelihood of millions, Poe however noted the sector “has been on a steady decline as a contributor to growth and employment generation.”

She suggested, “As the first order of the day, we hope the new DA chief would take to heart the President’s warning in his State of the Nation Address against smugglers, hoarders and price fixers.”

 Tiu Laurel thanked the President for his appointment and committed to prioritize the modernization of the agriculture sector to help boost its production and ensure the welfare of farmers and fisherfolk.

“It is my main objective to ensure a bountiful harvest to ensure it will reach the tables of Filipinos,” Tiu Laurel said. 

Marcos instructed Tiu Laurel to gain control of the prices of food commodities and address the impact of climate change to agriculture. 

Laurel is the President of Frabelle Fishing Corporation and director of the Frabella Corporation.  

He also served as honorary consul of the Federated States of Micronesia in the Philippines.

Finding the balance

House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez, for his part, expressed optimism that the appointment of Tiu Laurel as the new secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) will lead to policies that balance profit with public welfare, ensuring fair compensation for farmers and fishermen, improved access to modern technologies, and opportunities for growth.

“I warmly welcome the appointment of Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. to the helm of the Department of Agriculture. Secretary Tiu-Laurel’s extensive background in the private sector provides him with a wealth of experience that will be invaluable in steering our country’s agriculture and fisheries sectors,” said Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez. 

“The private sector, with its innovation, efficiency, and competitive spirit, has much to offer when integrated with public sector objectives. By merging private sector strategies with the public sector’s broader goals, we can harness the best of both worlds,” he added. 

According to Romualdez, Tiu Laurel’s leadership of Frabelle Fishing Corporation showcases the potential of private enterprises in bolstering the nation’s food security, economic growth, and technological advancements in agriculture. 

“His firsthand experience in managing a large-scale operation gives him insights into the intricacies of supply chains, market demands, and global trends. This expertise will be instrumental in fostering partnerships between the government and private entities, bridging gaps, and creating synergies that benefit the agricultural sector as a whole,” said the Speaker.

Moreover, Romualdez said the collaboration between the private sector and agriculture is not just about business.

“It’s about ensuring that the fruits of economic growth are equitably distributed, reaching the grassroots level and benefiting ordinary Filipinos. With a leader who understands both worlds, we can anticipate policies that balance profit with public welfare, ensuring that our farmers and fisherfolk receive fair compensation, access to modern technologies, and opportunities for growth,” he said. 

Expectations

As stakeholders welcome Tiu Laurel as the new Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), farmers’ groups on Friday said expectations are high for Laurel to bring about positive change in the agriculture industry. 

One of the key expectations from the new DA Secretary, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet said, is the alignment of his actions and policies with the directives of President Marcos.

He said the focus is on supporting local production and boosting the local agriculture industry.

“We hope that he’ll live up to the expectations and directive[s] of the President in supporting local production and boosting the local agri-industry, and that importation is only a last resort and not the principal policy,” he said.

Cainglet said he hopes to hear a firm commitment from Laurel to reject and, even more importantly, to support proposals to reduce tariffs on agricultural commodities.

‘Big challenges’ 

Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas national chairperson Fernando Hicap said the new DA chief will be facing “big challenges” in regards to reforming the policies in the agri-fisheries sector.

In a statement, the fisherfolk group also urged Laurel to “do away” with liberalization policies that allow the importation of agri-fisheries products at the expense of local food producers.

“The fishers are giving a standing order to the new DA Secretary to strengthen local food production by renouncing liberalization policies for the importation of agricultural and fisheries products. From 2018 to 2022, we have monitored more than 200,000 metric tons of various pelagic fish imported from other countries like China and Taiwan. This is an insult not only to us being an archipelagic country but also to the millions of Filipinos involved in the fishing sector,” Hicap said.

“The DA Secretary should know that opening floodgates for imported fishery products poses drastic impacts on the livelihood of local fishermen. Cheap and inferior-quality imported fish causes further price drops for local fishery products. For instance, every time the Philippine government allows importation of tens of thousands of metric tons of round scad [galunggong], the farm gate value of the aforementioned fish product further drops from P70-P80 per kilogram to P50-P60 per kilogram, an all-time low,” he added.

In addition to ending import-liberalization policies, the group said the government should implement several measures to boost the productivity of small fishers and make the country food self-sufficient.

Welcome

Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA) President Emeritus Jesus C. Cham and the Tugon Kabuhayan group, meanwhile, welcomed the appointment of Laurel.  

“Secretary Laurel brings with him a wealth of experience and understanding covering the livestock and fisheries sectors. We look forward to working with the new secretary,” Cham said. 

For its part, Tugon Kabuhayan said, “We welcome his appointment; he is very competent and familiar with the realities and challenges of production post-harvest and marketing.”

Former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he is expecting Laurel would prioritize the policy of the complete value chain.

“Secretary Laurel belongs to a family that operates one of the oldest fishing companies in the country. His appointment is a major breakthrough for the fisheries sector, which has long been neglected,” he said.

“Moulded in the corporate world, Sec. Laurel is expected to institute reforms in Philippine agriculture that will focus on the policy of complete value chain,” he added.

Image credits: Presidential Communications Office