Meet the new agriculture secretary

Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
When former North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Piñol was appointed by Rodrigo R. Duterte as Agriculture Secretary under his forthcoming administration, he was completely surprised and ecstatic.
“Deep inside me, I told myself, ‘Wow, now I will be able to do what I had long wanted our agriculture officials to do,’ which is to produce more food for the Filipinos and improve the lives of our farmers,” he was quoted as saying by media.
A day after, however, he was, in his own words, “nahimasmasan,” a Tagalog word which means “come to senses.”
“I now realized that this is not an easy job,” he wrote in the wall of his social account.  “Agriculture and food production is the centerpiece of any governance, most especially for the Duterte Presidency because he promised ‘Available and Affordable Food’ for the Filipinos.
“If I fail, the President will fail, that is if he is not fast enough to kick me out right away,” Piñol further said.  “The challenges are tough and the odds very high.”
“Will (Piñol) be good or won’t he?” asked Rappler, which went on to explain that “his upcoming appointment is not his first foray into government.”  Just like Duterte, he also has long years of political experience under his belt.
Piñol never dreamed of becoming a politician.  In fact, there was an instance that he went into a seminary to become a priest but he dropped out to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist.  First he worked as deskman with the state-run Philippine News Agency.  Later on, he transferred to a widely-circulated Tempo as senior desk editor.
During the local elections in 1995, he had no other choice but to substitute his father for the mayoral position in M’lang, North Cotabato.  He won and in the following election, he ran for provincial governor.  From 1998 to 2007, he held the post. 
When he was no longer illegible for the governorship, he ran as vice-governor in 2007 which he again won.  When his term ended in 2010, he filed his candidacy as governor but was defeated by Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza.
Quoting officials from the Mindanao Economic Development Council, Rappler reported: “Piñol helped push the Malitubog-Maridagao irrigation project. He is also credited for the bottom-up agricultural planning program of the province which focused on rubber, oil palm, banana, and coconut.”
The two initiatives, the Rappler said, have propelled the province out of the poverty trap. 
“I consider as my greatest achievement the reduction of the poverty level of North Cotabato from 52.6% in 1998 to only 29% when I left office in 2007,” Piñol wrote in his social account.  “I entered politics poor and I left even poorer.”
On the so-called “bottom-up planning,” which he initiated and is now being implemented throughout the country, he explained: “It was during my term as Governor of North Cotabato when I advocated a reversal of the planning process for rural development and agriculture, emphasizing that the people at the bottom level should be made to decide what is good for them and all that government should do is to design a program which would address the need.”
Of those who questioned about his qualifications as head of agriculture, Piñol said, “I am not the kind of guy who brags about himself but for the record, let me just state here once and for all a few information that people must know about me.”
Piñol was born to a poor family.  There were 11 brothers and one half-sister. “All of us sons were brought up by a very strict father who taught us how to love the soil,” he said.  “I do not only understand the meaning of hunger and poverty, I felt it and I know how painful it is to be poor and hungry.”
He was already a governor when he finished his college education at the Kabacan-based University of Southern Mindanao, where he also earned his Master’s Degree in Rural Economic Development. “I am four subjects and one dissertation short of my Doctoral Degree in Rural Economic Development,” he said.
When Piñol lost in his bid to regain the governorship of North Cotabato, he retired from politics and concentrated on farming. “I am extremely proud that I was brought up in the farm,” he said. “I know how to plow the fields using a carabao-drawn plough; I know how to plant rice, corn, vegetables, trees, fruit trees; I love to breed chicken, goats, carabaos, sheep, dogs and cats. I understand organic farming and I produce vermicast for my own vegetables. I know how to harvest and thresh palay using my feet.”
This author had the opportunity of visiting his Braveheart Farm in barangay Paco in Kidapawan City a couple of years ago.
“Not only does the goat offer economic benefits to the farmer, it could also open the doors to additional sources of organic fertilizer and natural biological deterrents for pests and unwanted insects,” he told us.
At that time of our visit, he was in the early stages of his game fowl breeding project in the farm and weevils feasted on his stored feeds which affected greatly the quality of the feeds they gave to the chicken. But when he started raising goats, the weevils just disappeared.  
“Another problem that seemed to have been neutralized by our goats was the presence of termites in our farm,” he said.  The termites would attack his fruit trees, particularly mangos and lanzones, killing many of them.   “When we started using goat manure as fertilizer which was placed around the trees, the termite attack stopped.”
Like most farmers, Piñol also did some studies of his own to protect his animals from diseases. “Owing to the unpredictable weather in the area, I have decided to raise my goats in elevated pens that make health management easier,” he disclosed.   Another advantage: The system “enabled us to make use of their wastes for fertilizing the fruit trees we have in the farm.”
Being a hands-on farmer and a former government official, Piñol seems to be prepared to head the agriculture portfolio of Duterte.  “My field exposure as a local government leader made me realize the problems affecting the country’s farmers and why, in spite of the fact that we are endowed with so many resources, the country could hardly produce enough food for its growing population.”
“Most of all,” he added, “I feel that discontent, the needs, the dreams and the aspirations of the country’s farmers. I shared these dreams and aspirations and I promise that under the leadership of an incorruptible President Rody Duterte, I will ensure that change will come to the lives of the Filipino people.” 
But like most people, he admitted that he is still a human being.  “I am not a perfect person,” he pointed out. “I have my weaknesses and I made missteps and blunders as a leader but in all of those instances, I looked at those incidents as part of the learning process. I have personal issues too just like everybody else but I do not let these stand in the way of my desire to serve the people.”