PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Former President Fidel V. Ramos expects President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to cling to power and survive until her second and final term expires in 2010 because the country has “no better options.”

“My support for her is only so incidental and secondary to my protection and enhancement of the national interest,” Ramos said.

Asked why, he quipped: “So tell me, what are the options? Wala, lalong gugulo (None, everything will be messed up).”

Ramos was at the University of the Philippines- Los Baños to receive a special award given by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

Asked if Ms Arroyo still deserves to be the President until 2010 amid calls by civil society groups and some Church leaders for her to resign, Ramos said only the people could make that opinion.

What Filipinos should all think of was how “to keep the national interest and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country well-protected,” he said.

Dr. Arsenio Balisacan, SEARCA director and doctor of philosophy in economics, said the agency presented the award to Ramos for his accomplishments when he was President from 1992 to 1998.

Liberalizing access

“If there is a single person in Philippine history who really did a great job in starting broadening the base of development in this country, it is this guy (Ramos), by liberalizing access to technology — particularly telephone, airlines, interisland shipping, banks,” Balisacan said.

In his keynote address, Ramos said his administration had focused on modernizing the country’s agricultural sector through reforms such as the enactment of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (Republic Act No. 8435) and the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act (RA 8435), and the establishment of agrarian reform communities.

He enumerated his programs, such as farm-to-market- roads, irrigation networks, rural electrification, seaports, city expressways, and mass-transit systems.

The infrastructure facilities, according to Balisacan, established a strong link between the urban and rural areas.

But the SEARCA official stressed that most of Ramos’ development programs were discontinued by his successor, Joseph Estrada.

Arroyo’s problems

Ms Arroyo, according to Balisacan, had exposure on agriculture but had problems in getting the right people to manage the sector.

“And productivity growth still remains the problem,” he said. “The main reason we have zero productivity growth in agriculture already for two decades is the lack of efficiency-enhancin g measure.”

Balisacan said the Arroyo administration was not receptive to the idea of long-term investments in research and extension to enhance efficiency because these would not yield immediate results.

“But efficiency-enhancin g measures are cumulative, and it is only after three to four years that you could see and feel the impact,” he said.

Waste of time

Balisacan said he was dismayed with the government’s program on subsidizing hybrid rice as a waste of time. “The risk is high, and its yield-turnout is very low,” he said.

“The government must have done the testing of the new technology first in different agriculture areas because it might not work out here,” he said.

Ramos was presented the award on the occasion of SEARCA’s 40th founding anniversary and the launching of the Dioscoro L. Umali Achievement Award for Agricultural Development for Southeast Asians, named after the national scientist and SEARCA founder.