Independent vice-presidential candidate Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero wants Agriculture Secretary Processo Alcala to account to the public every centavo that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has spent to help the farmers affected by the drought spawned by the El Niño phenomenon.
“I call on Secretary Alcala to disclose to the public where he used the taxpayers’ money entrusted to his department to help the agriculture sector. The public deserves no less than a complete accounting of the total and entire DA funds,” Escudero said in the face of mounting complaints from farmers battered by the extreme weather condition.
The violent dispersal in Kidapawan City of poor farmers demanding food and help from the government has brought to light the lack of funding and support from the DA, the agency mandated by law to look after the welfare of the agriculture sector.
“Taon-taon himihingi si Secretary Alcala ng pondo sa Kongreso para tulungan daw ang mga magsasaka at ibinibigay naman namin. Ang hindi katanggap-tanggap ay kung sino pa nagpapakain sa atin ay iyon ang walang makain. Nasaan na ang pera ng mga magsasaka?” asked the leading vice-presidential contender.
For 2016 the government has allotted a total of P91 billion for the agriculture sector, with the DA receiving the highest allocation of P40.33 billion from P39 billion last year.
The budget for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), which is responsible for irrigation development and management, was also increased to P32.74 billion this year from P28.75 billion in 2015.
“Nasa kamay ni Secretary Alcala ang pondo ng mga magsasaka. Walang dahilan para tipirin ang mga magsasaka sa perang sadyang inilaan para sa kanila. Sabi nga nila eh ‘aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?’ Ibuhos na ang pondong yan sa agrikultura para sa tunay na nangangailangan,” the veteran lawmaker said.
According to Escudero, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, funding is immediately available to assist El Niño-hit farmers if the government genuinely cares for the agriculture sector, which hosts 60 percent of the country’s poorest. “Kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw may dahilan.”
Under the current National Expenditure Program, some P39 billion in Calamity Fund can be tapped for food aid, various cash-for-work programs, farm subsidies and emergency employment, to help farmers reeling from the impact of El Niño.
On top of this, money is also available to assist the sector under the P6.7-billion Quick Response Fund farmed out to 12 major agencies, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development (P1.32 billion), DA (P500 million) and NIA (P500 million).
Since last year, Escudero has been pushing the DA, which is notorious for underspending, to download funds intended to help farmers and fisherfolks facing the threats of El Nino in the wake of repeated warnings from PAGASA that the farm sector should brace for the harsh weather condition.
Similarly, he asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to extend help to the sector by providing alternative livelihood and source of income.
Recently, Escudero has called on the DSWD to include calamity victims like the El Nino-hit farmers in the conditional cash transfer program but sans the usual requirements imposed on CCT beneficiaries. He also wants free irrigation for all farmers if he wins in the May elections.
Three farmers died and dozens others were injured when police tried to break a barricade set up by protesters along Cotabato-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City to seek food assistance. The farmers, including lumads, are asking the government to increase the three kilos of rice in government subsidies per quarter to 15,000 sacks of rice, and provide free seeds and other inputs to replace their crops./Office of Senator Chiz Escudero