A tragedy in agriculture
Aside from missing true development, another tragedy in our agriculture governance is the lack of transparency and accountability.
The Senate is currently deliberating the proposed Department of Agriculture (DA) budget of P191.8 billion. This is 3.1 percent of the entire P5.768-trillion national budget.
Although this is much better than the average 2 percent that the department got in the last five years, it is still less than one half of Vietnam’s 6.7 percent. It is alarming, too, that one-third of this already meager budget is most probably lost to waste and corruption.
The Commission on Audit (COA) had officially reported unliquidated and unexplained expenses in the DA ranging from P21 to 23 billion for each year from 2020 up until 2022. Note that the DA (excluding its attached agencies) had worked on a budget of less than P70 billion for each of those years.
The Alyansa Agrikultura has officially requested the Senate to investigate this, but there has been no response so far.
But even without a Senate probe, there is an effective way—one that has been proven successful—to stop corruption in the department.
The group had proposed a monitoring system that was implemented by the competent and committed staff of the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF). However, the system was abolished by top management in the DA.
How did it work? Each DA regional executive director was required to give a complete list of DA-funded projects in his or her region to the private sector-led regional and provincial agriculture and fisheries councils for monitoring.
But just as past higher management of the DA abolished the critical international trade committee that prevented the private sector from suggesting improvements to international trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), they likewise abolished this anticorruption practice.
The international trade committee has already been restored, but not this.
With no monitoring by the private sector, corruption will flourish. Just take a look at what the COA had reported.
Because of its importance, the Agrifisheries Alliance (composed of farmers and fisherfolk led by Arsenio Tanchuling, agribusiness led by Danilo Fausto, and science and academe led by Emil Javier) proposed this practice as a key conditionality for the ratification of RCEP.
Championed by Sen. Loren Legarda, this was stated in the RCEP ratification document passed unanimously by the Senate last Feb. 21. The document further stated that if key requirements are not met, the Senate would recommend a possible withdrawal from the trade deal. It has been eight months since and this conditionality has yet to be implemented.
During the past week, interviews were conducted with elected private sector heads of the regional agriculture and fisheries councils. Not one said he or she has received a complete list of DA projects for monitoring.
Passing the blame
Very often, the DA downloads its funds to local government units (LGUs) for implementation.
Since many LGUs do not liquidate nor explain the use of these funds (with the possibility of connivance with the DA), the DA claims it is not to be blamed for the turnout.
However, it is the DA’s responsibility to report these incidences so that corrective action can be done. The COA reports show that no action has been taken. The fund hemorrhage continues, and will not stop unless political will is exercised.
The ball is now in the Senate’s court. Will they approve the proposed DA budget without requiring the necessary accountability and transparency? It is time that the neglected and often abused farmers and fisherfolk know the truth. The senators whom they voted for must now come to their rescue. Such tragedy must be put to a stop.
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. Email [email protected]