Who is Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr? Quick backgrounder about the new DA chief

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (left) announces the appointment of fishing magnate Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. as the new Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) during a briefing with the Malacañang Press Corps at the Malacañan Palace grounds on Friday (Nov. 3, 2023). Laurel pledged to continue agricultural reform initiatives made by Marcos, who concurrently served as Agriculture Secretary since assuming the presidency in June 2022. (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced the appointment of fishing tycoon Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. as the new secretary of the Department of Agriculture on Friday, November 3.

This came weeks after it was first reported that Marcos would relinquish the post as agriculture minister to Laurel.

In a press briefing announcing Laurel’s appointment, Marcos said that he found someone who has a “fair understanding” of “what needs to be done.”

“Nauunawaan niya kung ano ang mga problema, at mga solusyon sa problemang iyon,” Marcos said, citing Laurel’s fisheries experience and his connections with experts in the industry.

“Malapit sa puso ko ang mga kapatid nating magsasaka at mangingisda dahil personal kong natunghayan ang mga hirap at pangarap nila. Asahan po ninyong laging bukas ang aking tanggapan para sa inyong lahat,” Laurel said in a speech following the announcement.

Laurel is president of family-owned Frabelle Fishing Corporation — a Philippine-based company that began in the industry through its small trawl fishing operations in 1966.

Frabelle was established by his parents, Francis and Bella Tiu-Laurel.

It has since expanded its operations beyond the Philippines with a fleet of over 100 vessels and a market that extends into Asia, Europe, South Africa and the United States, according to a report by Boo Chanco.

Its website describes the Navotas-based Frabelle Group of Companies as one that holds diversified business interests in industries such as “deep-sea fishing, aquaculture, canning, food manufacturing and processing, food importation and trading, cold storage, shipyard operations, wharf development, real estate development, and power generation.”

In an interview with CEO Magazine, Laurel said he was only 28 years old when he took over Frabelle Fishing Corporation as president. 

But Laurel, a computer science graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, has been involved with the company since he was a teenager, starting out in its engineering division before moving into its sales department.

For five years straight, he would spend an average of 45 days at sea on one of the company’s shipping vessels.

“While you are onboard a ship, there is so much machinery and engineering to use and operate, which I gladly helped out with. I learned so much from those experiences last for the next couple of generations, if not more — forever, if possible — but without sustainability, that will not be possible. So for the survival of our first business and for it to remain one of the biggest businesses we have, we need to be sustainable,” Laurel said. 

““I am proud to say that Frabelle Fishing Corporation is one of the Top 3 fishing companies in the world for the last 20 years; a 100% Filipino-owned company known and respected worldwide in the tuna industry,” he said in his commencement speech during the 40th Commencement Exercise of UP Visayas.

Laurel added: “We hope to make you realize that there is a future in fisheries, the mariculture industry, with the vast marine biodiversity in our territorial and archipelagic waters.”

The new agri chief is also the president of Agusan Power Corporation, which inaugurated its 24.9-megawatt Lake Mainit Hydropower Plant in Jabonga, Agusan del Norte in July 2023.

Marcos was present during the power plant’s inauguration. “As our power demand continues to increase, initiatives and projects such as this are most welcome as they help the country increase the energy supply and improve our energy mix by prioritizing the use of renewables,” he said in his speech during the power plant’s inauguration.

According to business news website Bilyonaryo, Laurel was one of Marcos’ top donors in the 2022 elections.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported that Laurel gave P20 million to Marcos’ campaign.

Laurel would later be appointed as a member of Marcos’ Private Sector Advisory Council.

Prior to the appointment, farmers’ group Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food expressed its support for Laurel, saying that he is “a good guy and has good knowledge of our problems in agriculture.”

Meanwhile, the fisherfolk group Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas expressed alarm over the report of Laurel’s appointment, contending that Frabelle ranks among the Philippines’ prominent large-scale fishing companies,” engaging not only in industrial fishing operations in deep seas but also in extensive land reclamation activities along coastal areas and municipal waters.

Marcos took on the post of DA chief after he was sworn in as Philippine president in 2022— a decision he was criticized for following issues with sugar importation and rice prices.

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