Senators air early praise—and a cause for scrutiny
Several senators on Friday lauded the designation of businessman Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), while one signaled an intention to put his qualifications under scrutiny on account of his business interests.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Laurel, President Marcos’ choice to be his full-time successor as DA chief, should address “murmurs of conflict of interest” arising from his being a fishing tycoon.
“I firmly believe that the government’s commitment to food security and environmental protection should not be compromised for corporate and oligarchic interests,” said Hontiveros, without citing specific issues against Laurel.
“We will await Laurel when he goes before the Commission on Appointments so these issues affecting his capacity to lead the DA can be scrutinized and the concerns of our farmers and fisherfolk discussed,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said Laurel should be given the opportunity to prove his worth, but stressed that the newest Cabinet member should divest himself of all business interests.
Laurel is the president of the family-owned Frabelle Group of Companies, whose main business operations are in the fishing industry and energy generation.
“Given Laurel’s success as a businessman in the fishing sector, that may be evidence of his knowledge of some agriculture issues,” Pimentel said.
“However, I want to remind the new DA secretary of the constitutional requirement for divestment from business interests of Cabinet members. That would be a great sacrifice for him and I wish him all the best,” he told the Inquirer.
For Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, it was the right time for the President to hand over the DA leadership to a secretary who can serve in a full-time capacity.“Laurel has the management experience and the common touch to lead what is perhaps the most important agency in the country today,” Zubiri said.
Sen. Francis Tolentino also said Laurel’s knowledge and experience in the fishing industry would be put to the test, as “the agricultural industry is more than just fisheries and its underlying issues are firmly rooted.”
Sen. Francis Escudero, who once served as brand ambassador of Frabelle’s meat products, joined his colleagues in welcoming Laurel’s designation.
“(The President’s) choice has extensive exposure and knowledge in fishing and agriculture. I know him to be a sincere, no-nonsense, honest and hardworking patriot,” Escudero said.
For Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the President’s choice was a “signal that the agriculture sector needs practical and sensible solutions to boost productivity.”
“It is high time to open up the sector to corporations to invest in, especially in mechanization and building economies of scale which (Laurel has) experience in,” Gatchalian said. INQ