Jesus Tanchanco, Sr. Of Firsts and Truisms
With more than enough experience and candor, Mr. Jesus Tanchangco, Sr. discusses his career, and why the agricultural sector must start anew.
As early as 1997, the prospect of hybrid rice production has been ultimately positive, and by the end of 2001 the hectares cultivated with hybrid rice rose from 500 to 90,000-which, by 2003, looks promising at 107,000; a 3% increase, which compared to other Asian countries, are still in the stages of introducing hybrid rice production. One might say, of course, that we’re beginning to see brighter days in the agricultural sector. Mr. Jesus Tanchangco Sr. was one of the firsts to initiate the introduction of these kinds of rice production, pointing out the difference it makes, such as the all Filipino tropical rice hybrid SL Agritech (SL 8)-furthering rice production, with the advantages of its exportation to Bangladesh and Vietnam.
But this is not the only first he acknowledges. He established his own advertising agency as a student, but starting fresh as a Business Administration (major in marketing) graduate from University of the East, he first routed his career in 1955 in Product Development at Unilab Laboratories, which was then a modest pharmaceutical company specializing on medicines at the most affordable prices.
For 20 years, his work always seemed to be always ‘firsts’, a positive bearing indeed, as by the time when he graduated, he was one of 10 outstanding young men to be chosen during the pre-martial law years. With this kind of stature, he was given the opportunity to work for the government-definitely one of the biggest of his first. By 1965, he worked for the government in various offices, highlighted during the i97os which was when he pioneered the country’s representation to the World Expo in Japan as Committee General, which was one of the biggest world fairs conducted-Tanchangco says, “was successful because it ushered the Philippines in the agricultural sector among other countries, and in fact, our country was one of the most successful exhibitors that time.” When he came back, he was assigned to National Electrification Administration as board member, a then-newly established department whose main goal was to electrify rural areas, which, he recounts, “I was one of the first board administrators of that department.” A multi-tasker, he was working for the government and Unilab.
But his career would not be turned off by merely attending board meetings. Before martial law was declared in 1972, the country was swept away with a disastrous flood in Central Luzon: “in that flood… you cannot cross Pampanga without a boat, and the government issued massive relief operations… and it happened that the First Lady asked me to supervise the relief operations, which, coincidentally, made them impressed, and so after that they asked me to work for the Rice and Corn Administration (RCA).”
By 1972, when martial law was declared, he was the first one to be summoned to Malacanang. Tanchangco recalls, “At that time I was working in the office, I was called by General Leoro telling me that someone was going to pick me up because I was being called by the president. It was awkward since at that time, my journalist friends were arrested, and so when I went there, he asked me to manage RCA. I didn’t even have the time to tell my family.”
“At the time, I know nothing of rice except eating it,” he jokes. “But it also had marketing aspects so I thought that it was upon my reach. Also, the department was notorious for its corruption because rice is one of the more attractive commodities in the world, and I was ordered to clean it up. My first work was to stabilize the price of rice for the consumers because of importation and trader prices. We buy rice from farmers and traders and stockpile them, releasing them when the price rises so we can stabilize it for the consumers. Also, my work was to increase production, so I also streamlined the organization through modernization.” In his first day of work, he fired one of the more notorious employees.
It was around September-October of 1972 that RCA, by decree, was absorbed by the National Rice Authority, which, eventually, will become the National Food Authority. And so he was also one of the first to be famous for his thorough selection process in search of personnel. This was how he restructured the organization. Furnishing two screening process, going from the administrative to organizational, he says, “out of more than thousands of employees, only 18o remained in the organization. It was the hardest job I did. It was really emotionally hard as you will terminate the very agricultural careers of these people, but I also have to think about the interest of the organization, and ultimately, the country’s.” Setting the department anew, he anonymously advertised and wanted the freshest of graduates, one among the first in the selection process-in which 30% backed down the offer when they finally knew they were going to work for RCA.
By 1973, when a global food shortage was coming into view, importations were made to balance the demand for rice: “during that crisis, we were fortunate enough that there was a bumper crop of corn in Mindanao, and it was the first time that we introduced corn rice in Manila, and even setting up marketing strategies, like the Food Festival in Intercontinental, inviting celebrities Flash Elorde, Manny Paner and Pilita Corales, to be able to draw public attention.”
It was also in this situation that the realization towards self-sufficiency came. In the next years, various agricultural projects which ultimately led for our country to export its rice to 40 other countries in the world-the modernization of irrigation systems, post-harvest, and also emphasizing the role of the farmers by setting up seminars and trainings for them, as well as enabling them, through the Central Bank, to get loans easily. Corporate farming, which ordered the most successful companies to cultivate their own agriculture, also helped in raising food production, as well as the former First Lady’s Green Revolution project. Finances were being distributed within the country; and not being spent outside it meant companies are flourishing.
For 15 years, Tanchangco’s work in the RCA had its tremendous impact that helps marshal the importance of agriculture in the country. Even today, his views are highly regarded-from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the Department of Agriculture; he was certainly one of the first to pioneer agriculture in its crest. Today, Jesus Tanchangco is the Executive Marketing Director of the University of the East.
What are your perspectives regarding the agricultural sector today?
The sad thing is, they haven’t paid much attention to agriculture since then. I honestly think that we have lost many opportunities that would’ve helped us getting directed to being first-world countries, most specifically in rice. We have all the elements. Our production is higher than Vietnam and Thailand, and our farmers are the best I can think o£ I really don’t think that importation is a sad fact for us, seeing that we are an agricultural country. We’re the biggest importer of rice in fact. There’s this overemphasis on the idea of importation that we’re forgetting self-sufficiency. When you come to think about it, we have bigger land areas to cultivate than Vietnam, but we’re only cultivating around less than 3M hectares, while the former cultivates way more than that. They also eat less rice. More and more lands are being converted here. Those countries have 24-hour irrigation from the Himalayas, and water is the most important aspect of agriculture. Without water, there’s no crop, no matter how technological your methods are. I honestly think that we should be shifting to hybrid rice, because it will make us self-sufficient, but the cost is high-although that’s another story. In the fisheries also comes importation. It’s really sad that even galunggong, which is supposed to be the most accessible fishery in the market, is being imported since the late i99os. I come from Malabon and the sad fact that I see every time is, when you look at those supposed harvest, you see boxes that ultimately means imported frozen fish. This is time for us to really get disciplined about this.
What are your fondest moments in your career?
Initiating those projects, and working with people. In fact, I insist that the Filipino farmer is the best that I know of. People are saying that Vietnam and Thailand learned from us and now they’re better-that’s the biggest disservice you can do to this country. I personally would recommend that the farmer is the unsung hero-they’re the most amazing farmers. I haven’t seen any farmer getting struck with so many calamities and planting a crop at the end of the day.
What is your message to people who want to enter an agricultural business?
In someone else’s saying, it always takes “sipag and tiyaga” to really be able to have a successful business. Also, entering such business gives you more opportunities. In fact I know of someone who wasn’t a college graduate, but because of his perseverance and the work he’s put into agriculture, he’s become a millionaire… There is definitely money in agriculture. Especially now.