If you want to be entertained (or annoyed), spend a minute or two listening to Senator Cynthia Villar, whose tactless (if somewhat uninformed) remarks almost always court controversy.
The lawmaker today said in a Senate hearing that land and irrigation are not necessary for a country to become an agricultural powerhouse.
In addition, the billionaire senator added that there’s nothing wrong with converting farmlands into homes because doing so drives the economy.
Yeah, that sounds about right, until one remembers that Villar became rich from developing hundred of tracks of agricultural land into middle-class subdivisions, where tiny homes are the norm. In 2018, in fact, she was accused by one group of using her chairmanship of the Senate’s agricultural committee to favor her company, Vista Land. That same company is the one behind the recent cutting of several fully grown pine trees in Baguio City, an act denounced by activists but supported by the Environmental Department.
In today’s agricultural hearing, Villar shared her wisdom to the attendees while waving a pencil to drive home her point. She used Israel as an example of a country that became an agricultural powerhouse without land — or so she says.
“In Israel, there’s no land, they’re a dessert, that’s why they hang their plants on air. Because they can’t use their land, it’s the dessert. They don’t have water, because their water comes from the ocean. It’s salty, they desalinate it. That’s expensive,” she said in English and Filipino.
Oh, yeah. The Philippines can afford to do desalination, too (or not). Villar added that despite the lack of land, Israel exports vegetables all over the Middle East.
“So, this means that we don’t need land, we don’t need water [for agriculture]. What we need is technology to be successful in farming. Those who say that we shouldn’t convert farmlands into houses and factories, that’s wrong. In cities, we can convert [lands into] small homes for Filipinos so they can have homes so they won’t be squatters,” she said.
“Those that are outside of cities, you can use that as farmland. Not all are being converted into homes and commercial [establishments]. It’s just limited to the cities. Why are you prohibiting that when it’s also important to the economy?” Villar added.
But here’s the thing: there are Vista Land developments even in agricultural areas such as Rizal, a neighboring province outside Metro Manila, something which Villar had conveniently forgotten about.
Villar made the public furious last month when she told medical workers that they should just improve their work instead of asking for a stricter quarantine to be imposed on Metro Manila, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has since apologized for her remarks, but medical workers have said that she has a history of dismissing the work of frontliners.
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