Monitor the DA budget now
The private sector must monitor the Department of Agriculture (DA) to turn the agriculture industry’s failure into success. This was a key conditionality in the Senate ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last Feb. 21. The Senate asked the executive branch for compliance by May 21. Alas, it has yet to come to fruition.
Why do I keep harping on this? Last Jan. 3, a total of 131 organizations signed a document warning that RCEP, without the proper government preparations, would severely damage agriculture. This happened after our 1995 accession to the World Trade Organization. Unlike Vietnam which prepared and succeeded, we did not move and so we failed.
To compete effectively in RCEP, the industry must be competitive. Our agriculture industry is not. Sen. Loren Legarda, the RCEP committee chair and who successfully sought approval for the conditionalities, argued that for our competitiveness to be achieved, the DA budget must be properly used—and thus, properly monitored.
And yet here we are, still waiting for things to happen.
Budget and performance
The agriculture industries of Vietnam and Thailand previously trailed us, but are now significantly outperforming us. In 2022, their agriculture’s share to their national budget were 6.5 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. Ours was only 1.7 percent.
Budget impacts agriculture performance. Last year, agriculture exports were as follows: Vietnam, $23.6 billion; Thailand, $35.6 billion; Philippines, $6.8 billion.
If only we used effectively our budget like Thailand, our agriculture exports would have been equal to, and could have replaced, our overseas remittances. There would have been no need for our workers to find jobs abroad.
What’s worse is that the DA budget, small as it is, is being lost to corruption and waste. The Commission on Audit had reported in 2020 unliquidated and unexplained expenses in the DA budget worth P22 billion, followed by P23 billion more in 2021. No action has been taken thus far to look deeper into the anomaly.
While we wait for the Senate blue ribbon and agriculture committees to act on Alyansa Agrikultura’s request for an investigation, private sector monitoring must be implemented immediately to help prevent further corruption and waste.
If we assume the same one-third of this year’s DA budget continues to be lost to corruption and waste, the six-month delay in implementing the conditionality mentioned has already resulted in the loss of approximately P15 billion, or P2.5 billion a month. Must the delays continue?
The practice before was that regional directors give a complete list of DA-funded projects in their respective regions to the private sector-led provincial and municipal agriculture and fisheries councils.
Today, with access to just a partial list, the private sector was still able to discover major discrepancies. In one region, a corn sheller worth P200,000 was reported as P1 million. They were told it was only a typographical error, but the private sector found out the same thing concerning several locations.
There were also nonexistent projects. They were told a different barangay had a certain project, but that this barangay was not identified. This happened a few months ago, and as usual, no action has been undertaken to look into the irregularities.
Our agriculture is in trouble, and I dare say this will continue with our RCEP accession. Our senators have vowed that if the conditionalities are not implemented, they would recommend termination of the trade deal.
Implement the crucial private monitoring now. We can still stop the sector’s continued hemorrhaging and regain our leadership status in the region. INQ