Hallelujah! A more enlightened DA is upon us
Since governance is too important to leave to government alone, the recent support for private sector participation in agriculture is a most welcome development.
At the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) annual meeting last April 25, this was clearly demonstrated. Similar to what happened at the Senate when it made a historic move by identifying conditionalities recommended by the private sector as an integral part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ratification, the PCAF likewise endorsed—by highlighting the conditionalities—the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) 2024 budget proposal. This was never done before.
The proposed budget of P390.6 billion is a 151-percent increase from the previous program of P157.8 billion. But because of President Marcos’ unprecedented approval for a 40-percent increase this year, it may be difficult to get that 151-percent increment.
The private sector made important observations on the DA budget presentation. Raul Montemayor of the Federation of Free Farmers and Hazel Tanchuling of Rice and Action Watch Network noted the DA’s accomplishment showed more activities rather than results.
They highlighted there was no report on income changes insofar as the strategic thrust of “raising farmers and fisherfolk incomes” was concerned. There was also no report on nutrition improvements vis-a-vis “ensuring accessible, affordable and nutritious food.”
Fast forward to today, the private sector can now participate in identifying priority areas if the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) moves to tweak—and therefore, snip—the DA budget. Previously, the private sector is not anymore allowed to participate in the DBM-DA exclusive deliberations on budget cuts.
Consider the table below, which shows the situation before the 40-percent budget increase this year.
Take note of the Philippine agriculture budget share versus that of our neighbors’, which largely explains why we have double their rural poverty rate. Quantity, rather than just quality budget support, is also paramount. Over the years, we saw misplaced priorities and execution.
The second conditionality proposed was the restoration of the private sector monitoring of the DA budget, which was previously abolished at the provincial and municipal levels. This is actually legally mandated by the 1997 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.
When the Alyansa Agrikultura joined the PCAF, it recommended that the DA regional directors be required to submit all DA-funded regional projects to their respective municipal agriculture and fisheries councils for monitoring. When the DA unilaterally abolished this, corruption returned as anticipated.
It bears repeating that the Commission on Audit (COA) found P22 billion worth of unliquidated and unexplained expenses in the DA’s P66-billion budget in 2020. No one, of course, was penalized.
Sans a response up until now, the Alyansa Agrikultura thereafter examined the COA report on the DA’s expenses for 2021 (the 2022 report is not yet available). Again, not surprisingly, more than P20 billion in unliquidated and unexplained expenses were uncovered.
The precondition that the private sector be involved in monitoring has received full support from the new DA Undersecretaries Merceditas Sombilla and Agnes Miranda, both of whom are under the leadership of Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban.
Indeed, there is a welcome wind blowing across the department that now favors, instead of kills, private sector participation. We hope this wind of change will finally bring agriculture to a more desirable destination.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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