By Rjay Zuriaga Castor
Senator Cynthia Villar hopes the new Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary will implement more programs prioritizing small fisherfolk in the country.
Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food Chair, said Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. can fulfill his job but raised concerns about his ability to connect with and support small fisherfolk.
“Siguro naman [he can do his job] kasi successful businessman siya except siguro na kailangan niyang mahalin ang mga small fisherfolk kasi [engaged] siya sa fishing company, commercial fisherman siya,” she said in an ambush interview on Wednesday.
The senator pointed out that Laurel’s background as a fishing magnate might hinder his understanding of the local fisherfolk’s struggles, and she stressed the need for him to grasp their challenges because they require assistance.
“Mas hindi niya naintidihan yung buhay ng small fisherfolks. Dapat intidihin niya yun kasi that is very important kasi mas mahirap yun. Yun ang tinutulungan natin,” Villar added.
Meanwhile, Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. also welcomed the appointment of Laurel citing that the latter has vast years of experience in the fishing industry.
“Maayo man na. For a change, we have someone from the fisheries sector. We are confident nga indi pagpabay-an ang atun nga rice industry,” he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced the appointment of the new DA secretary during a press conference at Malacañang on November 3, just after administering the oath of office of Laurel.
In a short speech during the announcement, Laurel called Filipino farmers and fisherfolk his brothers and sisters.
“Malapit sa puso ko ang mga kapatid nating magsasaka at mangingisda dahil personal kong natunghayan ang mga hirap at pangarap nila. Asahan po ninyong laging bukas ang aking tanggapan para sa inyong lahat,” he said.
Laurel held the position of President at Frabelle Fishing Corp from 1985 until October 31.
Frabelle, which is recognized as the world’s third-largest tuna fishing company, is composed of businesses involved in different stages of the supply chain, including deep-sea fishing, aquaculture, food manufacturing, importation, trading, and cold storage.
Amid concerns about the supposed “conflict of interest,” Laurel said he has already divested himself of his interests from his companies.
“Basically, nag-divest na ‘ko. I have no more interest in all the companies that I used to own,” he said.
Laurel said that his appointment as a DA secretary is a “full-time job.”