The government should immediately draw up a contingency plan for the agriculture sector following the announcement of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) that the country would experience El Niño conditions in the coming months, opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero said.
"El Niño means adverse conditions for our agriculture sector. The government needs to come up with a contingency plan that will assure our farmers of minimal impact on their livelihood and at the same time ensure that food supply will not be disrupted too much," Escudero said.
The senator said the government should look into realigning its economic pump-priming program to the agriculture sector. Irrigation facilities should immediately be upgraded, and storage facilities need to be established or expanded in key hubs in agriculture centers in the country, Escudero said.
"We must make sure that the inventory of food stocks are maintained, lest we be forced to import shortfalls that may otherwise be avoided if we draw up plans now," he added.
Escudero said early planning may avoid a costly importation program and allow a studious review of spending activities for agriculture.
Earlier, the 39-year old senator lambasted the government for its rice-import dependency policy. He estimates that the government may have lost between P5 billion to P13 billion in the importation of 1.5 million metric tons of rice from Vietnam early this year.
The Philippines now stands as the world's biggest importer of rice.
"The government's near-sighted approach to food security is really deplorable and unacceptable. And with the expected transition of El Niño conditions, the country may be headed for a disaster of massive proportions unless the government shows some foresight," Escudero said.
He also warned the Arroyo administration against using El Niño as an excuse to "pump-prime" graft and corruption through overpriced purchases and projects.
"Huwag naman sana, at maawa naman sila sa mga Pilipino. I will be keeping a very close eye on the government's spending especially during these times of economic struggle," Escudero said.
The El Niño is a weather phenomenon characterized by lack of rainfall. El Niño conditions would impact negatively on sectors that depend on water, such as agriculture, energy, and even health.
Pagasa announced the possibility of El Niño conditions in the country following a report by the US Climate Predictions Center, which is under the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, that the equatorial Pacific Ocean has "transitioned ….to El Niño conditions."