It’s now nearly impossible for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to get its desired P66-billion stimulus package for the agriculture sector for this year despite the budget proposal being a special mention during President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Nevertheless, the DA, according to Agriculture Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes, is still thankful to the Senate and welcomed its decision to set aside at least P17 billion of the P140-billion Bayanihan to Recover As One Act” (Bayanihan 2) budget to the farm sector.
“The P17 billion is not yet final and we welcome the amount set aside by the Senate,” Reyes said in a text exchange.
“We are now waiting for the HOR [House of Representatives] version. Thereafter, both will convene for bicameral, reconcile, and finalize Bayanihan 2,” he added.
To recall, the Senate approved on Tuesday the third and final reading of the Bayanihan 2, which allows the government to spend as much as P140 billion to implement further COVID-19 measures.
Of this, the approved budget for the DA’s Plant, Plant, Plant program is P17 billion, which is only 25 percent of the P66 billion that the agency supposedly needs to bankroll its own COVID-19 measures for the struggling farm sector.
Earlier, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the DA’s P66-billion stimulus package will go to the agency’s three main focus right now, which includes efforts to increase domestic food production, the establishment of food markets and improving logistics in the sector, and the provision of cash for work programs in the agriculture sector.
When asked if P17 billion is enough to implement these programs, Dar only said “we will do it in phases”.
“Initially, we will get P17 billion. The rest of the P66 billion will be worked out in the 2021 budget,” he further said.
During his SONA, Duterte, after expressing gratitude to police and soldiers for maintaining food security in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said the agriculture sector is crucial when it comes to propelling the country’s economy amid the recession.
“The growth of our economy depends on a robust agricultural sector,” Duterte said.
He then cited the P66-billion stimulus package – dubbed as ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program – proposed by the DA to both Houses of Congress, which he said should help the entire Philippine economy recover from the pandemic.
The country’s chief executive even said that the DA’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program is easier to achieve than the massive ‘Build, Build, Build’ program of his administration.
Dar celebrated this pronouncement and said he hopes the Congress could finally release the P66-billion stimulus package for the agriculture sector.
He even said on Tuesday that it is okay if the entire P66 billion will not be provided to DA this year as
long as portions of it, or at least about P21 billion, will be released immediately so emergency measures for the agriculture sector could be finally implemented.
“They can give us the P45 billion next year on top of the proposed budget of the DA,” Dar said.
The DA is currently asking the Congress for an annual budget of P280 billion for 2021. This is more than three times higher than the P64.7 billion the agency received for this year.