ROYALTY His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III with his Royal Higness Prince Albert of Monaco (Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Afternoon Interlude with PNoy

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    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.—Martin Luther King, Jr. If you want peace, work for justice.—Pope Paul VI

    On a sunny day last week, we donned our Cora Manimbo pink baro’t saya to go to the Palace for the state luncheon hosted by President Benigno S. Aquino III in honor of his Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco, that tiny seaside municipality in the Mediterranean.

    Its 36,000 total population includes about 3,000 happy Pinoys in the service industry, working in yachts, restaurants, and hotels. This is the Monaco that Hollywood star Grace Kelly lost her heart to, thanks to Prince Rainier. The romance led to a beautiful wedding with all the glitz of Hollywood and the elegance of royalty. Albert is their eldest son, who inherited the throne after his father died.  Princess Grace tragically died in a car accident. Albert is passionate about the environment and flew to Palawan after visiting Malacañang to see the Tubbataha Reef and make a film there for his advocacy.

    The Palace was in bloom again with masses of roses, orchids, and other exotic ornamentals, thanks to Socials secretary Susan Reyes. The sit-down lunch by Gaita Fores was creative and the entertainment light and pleasing. The state lunch was probably the last in the Aquino administration which will bow out in June. The lunches and dinners in Malacañang will be remembered for their simple elegance and joie de vivre.

    After the lunch, we—the Bulong Pulungan core group composed of Jullie Daza, Rina Jimenez David, Joanne Rae Ramirez, Thelma Sioson San Juan, Domini Torrevillas—were invited by our host to his private office (which was President Marcos’ bedroom before and has been brightened up) for a personal briefing on El Niño and the Kidapawan incident. The briefing with the President at his working desk (Cory’s former desk) was casual but thorough with graphs and pertinent papers. The Chief Executive patiently answered our questions, although the discussions were “off the record.”

    On the lighter side, yes, he has started to pack, and he will live at Times Street, which is undergoing renovations. The old house is still too painful to go home to. Yes, he still prays to his mom and dad, but now, mostly to Tita Cory, especially in very difficult moments (and there are many, believe me!).

    He has only one painting done by his mother (“Borrowed pa nga”) as she thought he would give them away to friends who asked. “Probably true,” he mused ruefully. Who are you dating now? Someone managed to sneak in this delicate question. Nondescript answer from the president, but he insists, he hasn’t stopped hoping, for whatever or whoever.

    Now onto the campaign trail. “The poverty incidence in the country is at the lowest it’s ever been since 2006. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, we have eased to 26.3 percent during the first semester of 2015. But poverty is still, by and large, a rural phenomenon where agriculture is the primary (and sometimes sole) source of income,” former senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan told us in our Bulong Pulungan media forum recently.

    “Our farmers earn a measly R23,000 per year. That is less than R2,000 per month. Our fisher folk earn even less. If a family needs R6,365 for their basic food needs, our farmers need at least R4,000 more to be able to address their basic needs. We must give agricultural services a priority and benchmark incomes,” he said.

    MEGA FAMILY Kiko and Sharon Cuneta Pangilinan with KC, Frankie, Mie, and Miguel at home

    MEGA FAMILY Kiko and Sharon Cuneta Pangilinan with KC, Frankie, Mie, and Miguel at home

    If he wins a Senate seat (on the day of our forum he was tied for No.1 spot with Senate President Frank Drilon in the surveys), Pangilinan vows to champion agriculture and the cause of farmers “who have been sorely neglected.” “History influenced a culture that looks down on agriculture. Our farmers have been exploited and abused. The farmer has long since been denied of the respect and recognition they deserve,” Pangilinan said.

    He commits to pass bills that will bolster the growth of the agriculture sector. One of his priority legislations is the “Farmer Entrepreneurship and Development Act” or the “Sagip Saka Act of 2016,” which will push for farmer entrepreneurship and development that will help farmers move away from subsistence farming into viable farm enterprises, thus creating more jobs.

    “My daughter Frankie says it well: ‘We should treat our farmers like our parents, because they are the ones that feed us,’” he said.

    Pangilinan turned to farming for a year during his hiatus from the government and he still keeps the farm in Alfonso, Cavite which is named after his wife, megastar Sharon Cuneta. He found the hands-on experience rewarding and very informative. Then, he was appointed to the Aquino cabinet in May 2014 and was popularly hailed as the “Food Security Chief.”As presidential assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM), Pangilinan was able to bring down the price of rice, curb the cocolisap infestation, and cause the NEDA-approval of R30 billion worth of agricultural projects, all in just a span of one year and a half. He was in charge of four agencies of the Department of Agriculture crucial to food security and did a very good job of turning them around like the National Irrigation Administration and the National Food Authority.

    Pangilinan resigned in October last year, he is now seeking his third term in the Senate under the Liberal Party. He is a lawyer, holds an M.A. in Public Administration, and was a productive member of the Senate in the 12 years he served there. Yes, definitely, we want Kiko back in the Senate! The entire family is rooting and working to ensure his victory—Sharon, eldest daughter KC, and their children Miel, Frankie, and Miguel. (mb.com)

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