"Farmer leaders say Secretary Dar has been attentive to their problems and needs."
The attempt to destroy the credibility of Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar by accusing him of spearheading centralized corruption within the agency resulted in nothing but an epic failure for whistleblower wannabe – Rosendo So of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura or SINAG.
According to So, Dar’s procurement of fertilizer was tantamount to being the second coming of the infamous P700-million fertilizer fund scam which was hurled against former DA Undersecretary Joc-joc Bolante. This of course was never proven or substantiated.
In his allegation, So insists Dar’s procurement cost of P950 to P995 per 50-kilogram sack of urea, was higher than the average going rate which was P850 per sack.
However, records presented by Dar shows that contrary to so’s claim the actual average price per sack of fertilizer was P978. And this does not even include additional costs like transportation, incidental services and other applicable taxes.
In fact, Dar said the agency’s acquisition cost of fertilizer was below the approved budget for the contract P1,000 per 50-kilogram sack of urea.
Further, the acquisition cost, Dar said, was lower than the prevailing rate of P1,043 to P1,062 per sack in March to May as according to Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority.
Nonetheless, the Agriculture secretary said he was very much willing to face a probe should one be called for.
Dealing the death blow for So’s allegations were the statements of the leaders of two big farmer groups who not only backed Dar but even lauded the Agriculture Secretary for instituting programs to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the crisis-stricken agriculture sector.
Arnel Caparos, chairman of the Pambansang Ugnayan ng Magsasaka at Manggagawang Pilipino (PUMMP), said that with the sales of farm produce virtually grinding to a halt during the early stage of the nationwide quarantine declared by President Rodrigo Duterte in response to the contagion, Dar quickly responded to the farmers’ needs.
“There was no transportation to ferry our goods to the market. And even if there were, people were not going to the market because of the quarantine,” recalls Caparos who also heads the Mountain Blooms Multipurpose Cooperative in Benguet, a federation of more than 300 cooperatives, whose main produce are highland vegetable, high-end flowers, and succulents.
According to Caparos, the Department of Agriculture, through its Kadiwa Program, procured the Benguet’s farm products and resold them in Metro Manila. Some were also bought by Vegetable Import Export Vendors Association.
This, according to Caparos, was a big help to the farmers who were then at the mercy of the middlemen who were rejecting their products citing problems in transportation even when delivery of food products was declared exempted from the quarantine, forcing farmers to dump their harvests.
Aside from procuring their products, the DA extended no-interest loans to the farmers. For the Benguet farmers under the MBMC, Caparos said the DA extended them a P10-million loan payable in 10 years at no interest, which they then loaned to their members.
“From the P10 million we got as loan from the DA, we in turn extended a P25,000-loan to each of our members which they have to pay in five years at zero-interest also. In that way, the DA can then use the money we have repaid for other purposes beneficial to the farmers,” says Caparos.
Aside from those, the DA, Caparos said, provided them with fertilizers, pesticides and other materials for planting.
It was not only in Luzon Dar extended assistance as he also accorded help to the farmers from down south, as attested by Roy Moreno, chair of the Koronadal Integrated Corn Farmers Association in South Cotabato.
As in the case of the Benguet farmers cited by Caparos, Dar supervised the procurement of products from South Cotabato when there was virtually no movement during the lockdown.
The DA also extended P15,000 financial assistance to each farmer per hectare but with a maximum of two hectares and provided them with seedlings.
The two farmer leaders said they could not see any problem in the way Dar has been handling the issues concerning the agriculture sector especially during the pandemic.
“He has been attentive to our problems and needs. We really appreciate his efforts,” the two said in unison.
The two also refuted claims there was anomaly overpricing in the procurement of fertilizers under Dar’s watch as claimed by So.
“We are not aware of any anomaly regarding the procurement of fertilizers by the DA,” the two echoed.
Thus, instead of destroying Dar, So ends up on the defensive side.
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