The eighth edition of the Philippine Harvest falls in the hands of a woman who has been a staunch advocate of Philippine produce for most of her career.

Newly minted Department of Tourism (DoT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat had been an Undersecretary for almost 12 years at the Department of Agriculture when she was called upon to replace the seat vacated by the beleaguered former Secretary Wanda Teo.
The new Cabinet member talks fondly about the Philippines’ varied produce. At her former post, she had scoured most of the Philippines’ greenest and most productive lands, wanting to connect with the grassroots to have a better grasp of farming at the most basic level. And now that her new post affords her the chance to visit even more places than ever before, she can’t help but be excited.

“As DA Undersecretary, I was able to go all around. When you visit the farms, you get to taste the food only found in that province, locality or city. And I’m just so happy now being the DoT secretary, I am able to share all my favorite finds from all over the Philippines. I want to share it to everybody who was not able to have the chance to visit our country,” enthused the tourism chief.

The treasure trove of finds has been gathered under one roof via this year’s Philippine Harvest, which opened on June 14 and runs until today, June 17.

At the ground floor of the Central Square Mall in Bonifacio High Street, a delectable array of artisanal produce is on display. Most of these are not found in popular retail chains, but in Sunday markets and bazaars.

Sweet-tooths will be delighted to visit the booths of Chocoliz and Auro. Chocoliz is a double treat as the chocolates are made from whole organic cacao grown by upland farmers in Luzon. Davao, too, proves to be a rich cacao haven with Auro sourcing its beans from there.

Chicharon comes in a healthier package with Jalees Mushroom Chicharon produced in a farm in Indang, Cavite. Oyster mushrooms are made into a healthier version with different flavors such as hickory BBQ, original peri-peri, garlic, beef tapa and chili.

Besides these cult finds, there are the classic favorites that make up the 40 local food exhibitors participating in the fair. There’s the vaunted Alavar sauce from Zamboanga; dried fish from Bantayan Island; chili peppers for the hot dessert siling labuyo ice cream of Bicol; El Union Coffee from La Union; and quail eggs, miki noodles and pork belly for the noodle dishes pansit Cabagan and pansit batil patong from Isabela.

“Whenever you go to a province all over the country, don’t we usually ask what’s the most tasty or popular food in the area?” posed Romulo-Puyat.

The merging of her two loves -— food and travel -— has made it easier for the secretary to carve her own path in the office she is heading.

With these interests, this year’s Philippine Harvest was organized under her new office in partnership with Central Square and the SSI Group. But this is only the beginning.

She shared that she wants to focus on culinary tourism and farm tourism as her mantel pieces. She cites two laws — the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016 and the RA 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 — as tools that can help her achieve her office’s mandate.

“The Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016 aims to promote increased awareness on the value of tourism through advocacy campaigns and marketing activities like the Philippine Harvest Trade fair. We hope that through events like this, we can urge local and foreign tourists to experience farm tourism in any of the 52 DoT-accredited agri-tourism farm sites,” said the secretary in a statement.

She updated this information at the fair’s launch during a huddle with reporters. Farms are essential pieces in her priority projects. She further zeroes in on one sub-category in particular.

“It has always been our goal to make organic the choice not only for the rich, but also for the poor. It’s actually cheap. We want everybody to eat healthy,” she enthused.

She said that organic farming is steadily rising, now with 230,000 hectares of organic lands from a mere 14,000 hectares in 2010.

Auxilliary to farming is another project that she has long been a part of as an official at the DA. Foodies, she said, will have to wait for the fourth year of the highly anticipated Madrid Fusion Manila in summer of next year. The food summit had been put into light recently when it was sidelined by the DoT’s Tourism Promotions Board early this year when the agency announced that it would hold the now-controversial project Buhay Carinderia instead of Madrid Fusion Manila.

Puyat said she would rather not talk about said project that had the former DoT secretary and TPB chief operations officer Cesar Montano vacating their posts after being involved in allegations of irregularities. It is out of her hands since the cases are with the office of the Commission on Audit.

She, however, in a TV news report, shared that restaurateur and blogger Erwan Heussaff expressed his interest to return the P1 million talent fee that had been paid to him as Buhay Carinderia’s content creator. Heussaff has yet to confirm this report as of press time.

“I wanted sana Madrid Fusion, but we lack time. We don’t have proper time for bidding, processing. I don’t want to push it. So for this year, I’m just on a learning curve,” Sec. Romulo-Puyat said.


Article: Daily Tribune