By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is now facing fertilizer and import controversies, which several groups alleged to be a result in “diminishing participation and transparency” within the agency.
“We call on the DA to immediately restore regular consultations and activate committees so participatory governance and transparency within the Department can again be practiced for the farmers and fisherfolks benefits in particular,” said Elvira Baladad, a farmer leader of PARAGOS Pilipinas and the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan.
For several weeks now, the DA has faced different issues, such as the controversial government-to-government (G2G) importation of 300,000 metric tons of rice, the continuous importation of poultry products amid the oversupply in local production, and most recently the alleged overpriced fertilizer procurement.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar also spent the last few weeks defending his agency against the allegations.
For the rice importation, he said it is needed only as a contingency measure and that there isn’t a rice shortage, while he maintained that the country needs to continuously import poultry and other meat products because of trade commitments.
As for the controversial fertilizer procurement, he also maintained that the bidding conducted in related to this was aboveboard and transparent.
Still, Ruperto Aleroza, National Chair of Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK), cited the alleged lack of consultations under the administration of Dar that bought the DA in this situation.
He alleged that the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), the legally mandated arm of the DA enabling transparency, has not been holding regular consultations at the national level to discuss various issues including trade issues and other agriculture and fishery policies, programs and budgets especially Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) related programs.
Early this year, PCAF’s budget was cut by around 50 percent. “Secretary Dar has yet to explain to us his agriculture and fisheries constituency why he has let this happen,” Aleroza said.
“This is the result of a really bad policy. Private sector and CSO [civil society organizations] engagement are now at a loss where to legitimately raise our immediate concerns as the regular engagement platform that has been in effect or operating for more than 40 years has been castrated,” said Dhon Daganasol, a farmer leader of KATARUNGAN.
“Instead of curtailing PCAF, we call on the DA to strengthen this participatory body and initiate broader participation of various farmers and rural based organizations in monitoring agriculture and fisheries projects including the Rice Competitiveness Fund and the COVID Stimulus Fund at all levels,” he added.
The other day, after facing backlash from a farmers’ group, the DA recommended the cancellation of the G2G importation of 300,000 MT of rice, which was targeted to arrive during the lean months of July and August.
This was followed by a statement from the Philippine International Trading Center (PITC), an attached agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), that it is no longer proceeding with the said importation.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in the PITC statement that with the lifting of the rice export ban of Vietnam, the Philippines expects more comfortable buffer stock levels moving forward. Thus, there is no feed for the planned PITC importation.
Despite Vietnam’s commitment, PITC proceeded with the said G2G importation and formally opened the bidding on June 8.
However, PITC had to withhold the awarding of contracts because the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) won’t issue the P7.45 billion needed to bankroll the importation.
Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) then said that PITC should just abandon the said importation.
To recall, FFF already questioned before the legality of PITC’s planned importation, citing the Rule 6.4 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).
Such section indicates that for PITC to be able to proceed with the rice importation, there should be an official pronouncement of a rice shortage in the country as well as formal authorization of the President allowing Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and PITC to move forward with such a plan.