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Pangilinan urges DOF to restudy FTI sale due to food safety issues

By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated June 22, 2011 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Francis Pangilinan is urging the Department of Finance to restudy its plan to sell the Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) property in Taguig City considering that food security has become a matter of serious concern globally.

Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and Food and co-chairman of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization, pointed out that when the privatization of the FTI was initiated during the Arroyo administration, there was still no indication that food prices would be going up in the country and around the world.

“The planned sale of the FTI began a few years back, before the specter of spiraling world food prices hit us in 2008. We need to rethink the policy given serious major developments in food security requirements,” he said.

“The goal of the FTI was to have a food terminal where farmers can drop off their produce so as to bypass the middlemen and allow them to go direct to the market. The biggest market locally is Metro Manila, and direct access to that market would mean better prices for the consumer and higher incomes for a sector that remains poor,” he added.

The DOF has included the FTI among the assets of the government that is on the privatization block as part of the revenue generating measures of this administration.

Based on the plan of the DOF, 103 hectares of the 120-hectare FTI property would be sold because the remaining 17 hectares is owned by the National Food Authority.

The government is hoping to fetch more than P9 billion from the sale of the agro-industrial property.

Pangilinan noted that the administration has already gained significant ground with its Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program for various government programs and projects including those in the agriculture sector.

Consultations have been made with the private sector on how to beef up investments in the agriculture sector during the Agriculture and Fisheries Summit called AF2025 held earlier this year.

Pangilinan noted that among AF2025’s goals are to beef up investments in the agricultural sector, provide greater access to credit for farmer entrepreneurs, and make the supply chain processes more efficient to benefit both agricultural workers and consumers.

“We are making great headway, as far as Public-Private Partnerships are concerned, in addressing the myriad issues that threaten food security in the country. Government should reconsider the sale of the entire property in light of the critical effort at achieving food security and access to markets,” Pangilinan said.

If ever the government finds a buyer that could afford the price tag of the FTI and pushes through with the sale, Pangilinan emphasized that the proceeds should go to the benefit of the farmers, fishermen and the agriculture sector as a whole.

“Let’s look at the objectives of selling the property. If it is for the benefit of the agricultural sector then funds should be used to strengthen the capability of FTI in its role of providing access to markets,” Pangilinan said.

“Is the outright sale of the FTI the answer? Whether the property is sold or leased out, the proceeds must be plowed back to the agricultural sector, whose budget was cut in 2011. The funds should be used to increase public investments in the agriculture sector such as irrigation, farm to market roads and the construction of post harvest facilities,” he added.

“If we are to privatize what was originally meant to revolutionize the agricultural sector of the country, then it is this sector, first and foremost, that should benefit from this move,” he said.

In 2009, the public bidding held for the property was snubbed by the property developers.

Earlier this year, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said that the government is willing to enter into a negotiated bid with the Gokongwei-owned Robinsons Land Corp.

He also said that the government would entertain unsolicited proposals as long as the prospective investors would be able to provide “new technology.”

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