Senator Cynthia Villar is asking the Department of Agriculture (DA) to report out the status of its disbursement of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF).
The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food expressed Thursday her plan to look into the use of the ACEF which she said could help farmers and fisher folk cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ACEF is another source of support for farmers…so we would like to know if the funds are being distributed and utilized for their intended purposes and beneficiaries. The Senate Committee which I chair has oversight authority over ACEF, so we would like to look into it and get regular updates from the DA,” Villar said.
The ACEF was established in through the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 or Republic Act (RA) No. 8178, which earmarks the collection of duties and taxes collected from imported agricultural products, except rice, to enhance the competitiveness of local producers affected by trade liberalization when the country joined the World Trade Organization in 1995.
It was supposed to expire in 2007 but was extended in 2008 by RA No. 9496 until 2015, and then by Republic Act 10848 in 2016. The fund shall be in existence until 2022.
Villar, a principal author and sponsor of RA 10848, said she wanted to make sure that the ACEF is being utilized as mandated by law.
“ACEF was mishandled and misused before, we don’t want a repeat of that. The loans were extended to big corporations and influential people instead of to small farmers and fisher folk. It’s been almost five years since ACEF utilization was extended, we want to see how effective it has been in uplifting the lives of farmers and fisher folk,” she said, recalling the time when the ACEF was suspended due to anomalies.
Villar said the Senate agriculture committee would also look into complaints from farmers’ groups that ACEF funds remain unreleased by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).
While the P1.44 billion had been released for the credit-fund allocation in the ACEF in 2019, the DA asked the DBM last month for an additional P2.1 billion.
“We are in a crisis right now, so farmers need all the support they can get to deal with setbacks caused by the ongoing pandemic. If the funds are there, then it should be released to the farmers and fisherfolks,” Villar said.
Under RA 10848, 80 percent of the ACEF shall be utilized in the form of loans with minimal interest to support farmers and small and medium-scale agricultural enterprises; the rest shall be appropriated for research grants and scholarship programs.