Peasant leader Danilo Ramos said some congressmen in Bicol are “fast-tracking” the distribution of fertilizer bags and even cash allegedly to refute claims that no farm inputs were distributed to farmers under the controversial P728-million fertilizer fund of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) chair Danilo Ramos told Bulatlat in an interview that Felix Paz of KMP-Bicol reported that some congressmen in Bicol are “fast-tracking” the distribution of fertilizer bags and even cash allegedly to refute the claims of many farmer groups that no farm inputs/implements were distributed under the controversial P728-million fertilizer fund. The funds were released by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in February 2004.
But, Ramos said, it will not hide the fact that the fertilizer funds was just a scheme to fund the campaign of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. KMP members have already submitted sworn statements confirming they have not received any fertilizer or money under the said allocation.
Ramos also said that these sworn statements will be presented and submitted to the Citizen’s Congress that will try the president on Nov. 8 and 9 at the University of the Philippines and Nov. 15 and 16 at the University of Makati, where he will participate as an “expert witness” to testify on the fertilizer funds issue.
Not given any
KMP, a nationwide organization of peasants with 64 provincial and 320 municipal chapters, said their members did not receive any fertilizer.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Jaime Quieta of KMP-Caraga denied receiving any form of assistance from the controversial fertilizer funds. “Ni isang butil na abono ay wala kaming natanggap.” (We did not receive any fertilizer.)
Greg Rivera of Pampanga also said he did not benefit from the P5 million supposedly allotted to his province’s 2nd district.
Quieta, who lives in San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, said they were not given any fertilizer or farm equipment, even if there was P3.25 million given to Rep. Prospero Pichay for the 1st District alone. Quieta was surprised to learn their congressman received “such a big amount” in December last year. P3.25 million and P1.75 million were also allotted for Pampanga’s 2nd and 3rd districts, respectively.
Meanwhile, Quieta told Bulatlat that Rep. Jesnar Falcon (2nd District, Surigao del Sur) distributed a multi-cab vehicle for each of the 60 barangays (villages) in March and April last year, just a month before the elections. The money used for purchasing the multi-cabs allegedly came from the fertilizer fund.
Also during the campaign period, they reportedly observed how two bags of fertilizers were sold to some farmers for the price of one.
During the Oct. 26 hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, it was revealed that four of eight non-government organizations listed as beneficiaries of the fertilizer funds were not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) nor with the Cooperative Development Authority.
The following were cited as examples: Gabay Masa Development Foundation Inc., which got P30.5 million for Region IV; Peoples’ Organization for Progress and Development Foundation Inc. (POPDFI) , P13 million, Region V, X and IX; Magsasaka Foundation Inc., P11.5 million, Region IX and IV; and the Matatag na Republika, with no specific amount recorded.
The POPDFI was the conduit for the 2nd and 3rd District of Surigao del Sur. But Quieta, whose chapter is from Surigao del Sur, denied any knowledge of such transaction nor hearing of such organization.
In a press release dated Nov. 2, DA assistant secretary for administration and finance Felix Jose Montes said “most of these NGOs have been dealing with the DA for several years already and that they have submitted their accreditation papers with various regional offices.” If found that the submitted documents were spurious, Montes said the groups would have to reimburse the DA the whole amount released to them.
Ramos however said that more than the local government units (LGUs), it is the responsibility of the DA to examine the NGOs it transacts with. He added that most of these are only “NGO bureaucrats” used as front organizations for personal interests.
He also said that based on the Senate hearing, the LGUs did not know anything about the disbursement of the funds.
Jojo Villano of the League of Provinces of the Philippines on the other hand said the League was unaware of the so-called fertilizer funds. He said they only came to know about it from media.
The Commission on Audit (COA) reported that the DA list of recipients included 105 congressmen, 53 governors and 23 municipal mayors. It was able to identify 104 congressmen, 46 governors and 34 mayors as actual recipients.
Ramos said these recipients are mostly the president’s allies or party mates. The only opposition member he noted was Rep. Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur. Meanwhile, there were also congressmen who earlier denied receiving anything from the fertilizer funds like Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin of Makati.
Ramos said Rep. Darlene Custodio of Cotabato was included in the original list of beneficiaries but deleted possibly because of her support for Macapagal-Arroyo’s rival Fernando Poe Jr.
Meanwhile, Ramos said, there are those like Rep. Federico Sandoval (Malabon-Navotas ) who supposedly received P3 million for a tornado shredder machine but which COA could not find.
COA reports showed that of the P728 million, the DA only released P723 million for its regional field units (RFUs). Of the P723 million, only P615 million were given out to the beneficiaries-conduits. The remaining P108 million was supposedly for “administrative expenses.”
However, COA officials said that of the total amount released, P91.1 million went to supplies, P371 million to LGUs and P152.5 million to NGOs. Of the last, only about 51 percent had so far been liquidated, said COA officials.
“Mukhang lumilitaw na ang abono para sa mga magsasaka at palayan ay mukhang inabono na para sa kampanya ni Arroyo at ng kanyang mga kaalyadong politiko noong 2004 elections, (It appears that the funds for fertilizers were used to fund the campaign of Arroyo and her allies during the 2004 elections)” he said.
Meanwhile, Quieta said the Surigao del Sur LGU refuses to release any information regarding the fertilizer fund. Local DA officials on the other hand claim they do not know anything about it.
“Sabi pa ng personnel ng DA, ‘di nila alam na meron palang malaking halagang ganon para sa magsasaka,(Personnel from DA said that they did not know that there was such a big amount alloted to farmers) ” he said.
Not just the fertilizer funds
Aside from the controversial fertilizer funds, Ramos said the sequestered Marcos ill-gotten wealth should also be given attention.
Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, sequestered ill-gotten wealth should be used for land distribution purposes.
The U.S.$540-million escrow account at the Swiss Bank was transferred to the Philippine National Bank (PNB) in 1997. P35 billion was later transferred to the Bureau of Treasury in 2004.
Ramos said that their initial investigation showed that almost P4.9 billion were released from February to April 2004. The government also released, he added, P5.6 billion under the Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) and an undetermined amount to the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). (Bulatlat.com)