'Anomalies' observed in farm equipment distribution

The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) is now investigating fraudulent activities that have been taking place in the distribution of farm equipment funded by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

In a briefing, PHilMech Executive Director Baldwin G. Jallorina revealed that there are reports of “certain individuals” asking for "facilitation fees" from farmers and cooperatives so they can get farm machines under the RCEF-Mechanization Program.

But Jallorina refused to believe that PhilMech employees are involved in the fraudulent activities. He added, however, that he “doesn’t have any assurance” about that.

“I believe in my staff. They are loyal. It is within their hearts to serve,” Jallorina told reporters.

As part of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or Republic Act (RA) 11203, PhilMech is supposed to get an annual fund of P5 billion from RCEF to implement the government’s mechanization program for the rice sector. The mechanization program aims to bring down the cost of producing rice in the Philippines.

Jallorina said that PhilMech is now conducting an investigation with regards to the aforementioned fraudulent activities, which he said has been going on for more than a year now. “We have started receiving reports as early as 2020 but we decided to be discreet while observing the situation,” he said.

PhilMech has already notified the local government units (LGUs) involved in the matter as well as doubled its communication efforts, the PhilMech chief said.

He also said that Agriculture Secretary William Dar will be informed about this matter once the PhilMech already has a verified report of the activities. The alleged fraudulent activities have been observed in Pampanga, Bulacan, among other provinces.

“From the start of the implementation of the RCEF-Mechanization Program, we at PHilMech have set the objective of making the distribution of farm machines free of graft and corruption. However, there are still people with ill motives who take advantage of the target beneficiaries of the RCEF-Mechanization Program, which are the qualified farmer cooperatives and associations (FCAs), and the suppliers of the program’s farm machine requirements,” Jallorina said.

“Amid these reports, we at PHilMech would like to emphasize that we never authorize nor tolerate the collection of both the processing and facilitation fees. This means that FCAs that are interested to become beneficiaries under the RCEF-Mechanization Program need not pay any fees to become recipient of free machines under the program, and to avail of the training related to the program, both hands-on and online,” he further said.

Earlier, Business Bulletin reported that PhilMech has only spent merely 6 percent of its RCEF allocation from 2019 to 2021, three years since RTL became effective.

Figures from the Department of Agriculture (DA) showed that of PhilMech’s total authorized appropriation of P15 billion from 2019 to 2021, its notice of cash allocation (NCA) as of August of this year only stood at P11.31 billion, while the agency only obligated P8.64 billion.

Disbursement also stood at P859.68 million only, which is merely 6 percent of the agency’s total RCEF appropriation and nearly 10 percent of the obligated fund.

PhilMech’s mechanization efforts should be able to help lower the production cost of rice farmers from P12.41 per kilogram (/kg) to P9/kg.