Saturday, July 22, 2006

The job czar

FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas
The Philippine Star

Looking 10 years younger than 40, Secretary Arthur Yap walks through the corridors of power in Malacanang which many observers call a "snake pit." But it’s a pit that many would like to be holed in.

Watching him in action at a media forum Tuesday, I found him to be a bright, articulate, warm, self-confident and down-to-earth pencil-pusher-manager-technocrat, who places emphasis on team work and implementing practical and doable undertakings or projects that augment and complement the duties and responsibilities of line agencies, down to the LGUs, barangays, and family council units.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) director general and concurrent Presidential Adviser on Job Creation, Yap is one of the major players in monitoring and exercising oversight functions in the implementation of the development plans and programs of the Arroyo Administration. Specifically, he is the Job Czar.

One will recall that Yap, clearly a favorite among the President’s men, resigned his post as Secretary of Agriculture last year. At Tuesday’s forum, he explained that a charge of tax evasion had been filed against his family concerning a piece of real property in Pasay City. Although clear in conscience about the case, he resigned his post out of delicadeza.

As they say, you can’t put down a good man, particularly when the President views him as a good asset to the administration. Because the case is filed with the Ombudsman, not the Sandiganbayan, the President could still appoint him to a Cabinet position, which she did in December last year with the signing of Executive Order No. 475, creating the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Job Creation (OPAJC).

The executive order puts teeth to the President’s 10-point legacy program to create 6 to 10 million jobs, support three million entrepreneurs, and develop two million hectares of agribusiness land. The collateral objective of job creation, according to EO 475, is making food plentiful at reasonable prices to make labor cost globally competitive. The EO establishes an office to coordinate, on a full-time basis, the effective and timely implementation of government agencies’ job generation and food security programs.

Yap is suited for the role, having been a former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator in charge of the national rice supply situation as well as Secretary of Agriculture. At the DA, he led the effort to develop two million hectares of agribusiness lands by 2010, and developed programs to increase food production and market access for farmers.

He pioneered efforts to open up urban markets to food producers directly in order to lower food prices. Under his stewardship, the DA and the private sector began selling pre-packed vegetables in half kilo packs branded as "May Gulay" for just P5 per pack. He also started the Huwarang Palengke program with additional pre-packed chicken and pork products to be offered to the public for sale; the DA continues to run this program.

At the moment, the PAJC is championing specific skills matching of job lookers with job fairs especially designed for 19 priority areas in the Northern Capital Region, with the city of Manila’s barangays as the pilot site.

Yap, a lawyer (he finished law and economics at Ateneo University) said he did not want just another generic job fair "where both employer and applicants go home disappointed because each wasn’t fit to answer their needs." What’s unique about the program, he said, is its being tailored to the existing skills of job hunters, whether they be masons, carpenters, automotive mechanics or even being a service crew.

For the livelihood component of the program, OPAJC coordinates with the LGUs, Department of Labor and Employment, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Technology and Livelihood Resource Center in assessing learnable trades for those who want to venture into entrepreneurship. Ties are being established with micro finance credit companies for capital lending. (The private sector, he told the media forum, is a motor driver in the program.) And applicants will be taught to prepare their bio data as well as tips on how to behave and answer questions during interviews with prospective employers. Even skilled workers are assisted in overcoming shortcomings that did not help them land jobs, like lack of transportation money, or not knowing how to file for NBI clearance, Yap said that as the job czar, he is expected to dole out jobs. He is, in fact, he said, "a glorified coordinator," working as he does with different agencies to match demand and supply of trained workers.

Moving to other areas, Yap was asked how it felt working with the President, if she gave Cabinet secretaries a dressing down in front of everybody. The President raises her voice, he said, "not at the person, but on issues. You can understand the frustrations of the President." But, he added, "She’s liberal with praise more than what people know." Besides, no child has not been scolded by his parent, he said.

He said he sees that more things can be done under a unicameral system. "From my experience as former Secretary of Agriculture, I found it very time consuming and impractical to present and get budget approval for my department in a bicameral system of government. Can you imagine the time and money expended when budgetary hearings are done one after the other in the House of Representatives and the Senate to get final approval of the budget? So I strongly believe that a unicameral system of government is a lot better than the present bicameral system."

On UP Regent and ConCon Commissioner Nelia Gonzales’ question about the use of GMO treated seeds, Yap clarified that GMOs greatly increase crop yields, and the use of these seeds is necessary so we can reach self-sufficiency in staples faster, and produce a surplus of the commodity for export later on.

The secretary agreed with the observation of Peace Advocate and Center for the Promotion of Peace and Development in Mindanao (CPPDM) Director General Saeed A. Daof that we need to expand corporate farming in the country and that integrated corporate market-driven agri-business projects are important and viable main venues for massive employment generation.

Daof also said that there is a need to offset the loss of economic scales in commercial agricultural crop production of many developed agricultural lands as a result of land fragmentation under the land reform program of the government, and of course urbanization, and he suggested the opening and operation of economic-sized idle lands or new areas into integrated corporate agri-business farming projects like those that had been planned and implemented during the presidency of the late President Diosdado Macapagal in the early 60s. At that time, large tracts of idle lands in Mindanao were converted into banana plantations with the participation and cooperation of local and foreign stakeholders and investors.

When he was asked about the possible message of the President in her forthcoming SONA, he said he did not want to preempt the President, but "I can only speculate that she will mention the positive economic indicators and gains that the country is experiencing now, i.e. more than 5 percent GDP growth, accelerated employment generation, a smiling banking community because they are awash with funds to lend to the public, the noise of the opposition which is waning, increase in OFW remittances, and of course Charter Change."

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