by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – Billions of pesos are earmarked for irrigation and road projects, and the money will be handled by a department that critics say is prone to commiting acts of corruption.
The alliance of fisherfolk Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) urged anti-corruption watchdog groups to look into the implementation a P120-million ($ 2.7m) irrigation project, as well as a P92.3-million ($2.1m) farm-to-market road construction in Calabarzon areas.
The group issued the call immediately after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) announced its release of a total of P2.96-billion ($69.7m) to the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the acceleration of rehabilitation work on irrigation systems and farm-to-market road infrastructures destroyed by typhoons Pedring and Quiel in September.
Pamalakaya vice chairperson for Luzon Salvador France said the DA cannot be trusted with the funds given its track record of being involved in multi-million scams during the previous Macapagal-Arroyo administration. He was referring to the P728million ($16.9m) fertilizer scam of 2008 and the P455-million ($10.5m) scandal surrounding the overpricing of ice-making machines in 2010, as well as rampant rice smuggling that continues to the present.
“We appeal to anti-corruption crusaders to consistently monitor the implementation of these projects and demand transparency from Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. We don’t want taxpayers money and public funds to be used again for irregular and corruption-ridden irrigation projects and farm-to-pocket roads systems,” he said.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad announced that the P212-million ($4.9m) budget for Southern Tagalog will be released for post-typhoon rehabilitation efforts, as well as for development to ensure food self-sufficiency and help farming families achieve sustainable livelihood.
In the meantime, of the P2.96-billion ($69.7m) allotment, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) will receive P829.7-million ($19.3m) for its irrigation projects. The agency said it will construct new irrigation systems in 3,387 hectares of agricultural land and restore non-functioning ones in another 1,752 hectares. Abad also said the NIA will also rehabilitate damaged irrigation systems in 7,024 hectares throughout the country. He pointed out that the project is expected to benefit 8,100 households, with the bulk of the funds going to Central Luzon (P302-million or $7.02m), the Ilocos region (P150-million or $3.48m) and the Region IV-A or the Calabarzon area (P120-million or $2.79m).
The NIA is also set to receive and use some P411.4-million ($9.55m) for its Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project. The project seeks to build pond facilities to control water releases from the San Roque Dam. The NIA also said there is a need to repair the Agno River and the Ambayaoan-Dipalo Irrigation Systems.
Some P560.7-million ($13m) will also be released to the agriculture department to construct and rehabilitate farm-to-market roads battered by previous typhoons. The biggest beneficiaries aside from Calabarzon region (P92.3-million or $2.1m) are Western Visayas (P70.2-million or $1.6m) and Cagayan Valley (P65-million or $1.5m).
The Pamalakaya leader said anti-corruption groups should not take President Benigno Aquino’ III’s word that corruption has been eradicated under his administration. On the contrary, France said, corruption remains very much a part of the Aquino bureaucracy.
France noted that the P2.96-billion ($69.7m) in allocations for irrigation and farm-to-market road projects were primarily apportioned to regions previously noted for being “vote rich,” namely provinces in Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Ilocos and Western Visayas regions. The fisherfolk leader said it was hard to dismiss the possibility of a link between the huge allocations and the Aquino government’s early preparation for the 2013 mid-term polls.
“It’s questionable that the implementation of these projects appears to be very selective and the areas targeted for the implementation have been determined by the number of voters who live in them. So many other regions have been devastated in worse ways by the recent typhoons, so why has the Calbarzon area been picked? Is the Aquino administration and its allies already gearing for 2013?”?
Pamalakaya has long been campaigning for transparency in the financial dealings of the agriculture department. Recently, it called attention to Secretary Alcala’s failure to initiate an investigation on the ice-making machine scam that involved his predecessor Arthur Yap.
Another P237.5-million ($5.5m) will be allotted to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for mangrove reforestation and mangrove farming; while P919-million ($21.3m) has been set aside for the Mindanao Rural Development Project, which is also for the construction and rehabilitation of farm-to-market roads and communal irrigation and water systems. The budget release will be coming from the the Aquino administration’s P72-billion ($1.67b) accelerated disbursement plan, which was given the green light last October.