By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Sugar Hicap and Billy Javier Reyes
MANILA, Philippines- A party list lawmaker urges his colleagues in the House of Representatives to investigate the reported irregularities concerning the Agricultural Competitiveness Fund (ACEF). In a press statement sent to house beat reporters in Congress, Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Rafael Mariano asked the House Committee on Agriculture and Food chaired by Batangas Rep. Markto investigate the status of the Agricultural Competitiveness Fund (ACEF), especially with new evidences of irregularities in the use of the P10-billion agriculture fund intended to help small farmers and fisherfolks during the administration of former President, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On May 17, 2011, Mariano filed House Resolution 1270 seeking a congressional inquiry into the status of ACEF, including the disbursements made, loan balances, interests gained from each loan, individual/ corporation/ organization/ cooperative which availed of the fund and beneficiaries of ACEF funded projects.
“The Committee hasn't called for any inquiry since our office filed the resolution. Now that there are new evidences coming out on the previous administration's 'misuse and abuse of funds' intended for farmers and fisherfolks, it is high time for the Committee on Agriculture and Food to investigate the issue,” said Mariano.
“The Committee must schedule a hearing as soon as Congress resumes session next week,” he added. Mariano who also chairs militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said he expects the Committee to 'summon' former Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary, now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, to explain before Committee members and to stakeholders, his knowledge and involvement on the alleged anomalous disbursement of the ACEF.
“Rep. Yap's membership in the Committee does not automatically exempt him from scrutiny by his colleagues in the Lower House as well as farmers and fisherfolk groups who want to know the truth. A congressional probe is the best venue for Rep. Yap to explain how ACEF was spent during his term as agriculture secretary.” The Arroyo administration have made a milking cow out of billions of funds allocated for the agriculture sector.
“The 728-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004 is only the tip of the iceberg. Arroyo and her ilk have benefited so much from agri funds.” ACEF's 10-year life-span should have expired in December 2007, but Yap, then DA Secretary, extended the funding until 2015 with an allocation of additional P6-billion. Yap is also being involved with several borrowers and beneficiaries that availed of the funds. The activist-solon also reiterated that DA Secretary Proceso Alcala must continue the suspension of the implementation of ACEF, pending investigations by the Senate and Lower House.
Alcala previously said DA will soon resume providing credit assistance to organized groups of farmers, fisherfolk, and agri-fishery entrepreneurs under the new ACEF implementing guidelines. Based on the new guidelines, final loan approvals will no longer be the exclusive authority of the DA Secretary, but will now include the concurrence of the chairpersons of the Committee on Agriculture and Food at the Senate and Lower House.
The ACEF - created in 1996 under Republic Act No. 8178 - is a pool of funds consisting mainly of the duties or taxes collected from the imports various of agricultural and fishery products, except rice, covered under the minimum access volume (MAV) mechanism. The fund shall be set aside and earmarked by Congress for irrigation, farm-to-market roads, post harvest equipment and facilities, credit, research and development, other marketing infrastructure, provision of marketing information, retraining extension services and other forms of assistance and support to the agriculture sector.
No moral ascendancy
Mariano's colleague in the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) supported his calll for the House of Representatives to immediately probe the controversial P10-billion Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (Acef) that was allegedly drained during the administration of President Arroyo.
The KMP issued the statement after Senator Edgardo Angara called on the Senate oversight committee on agriculture to conduct a performance audit on Acef and draw a list of its beneficiaries.
KMP deputy secretary general Randall Echanis said the House should immediately probe what he described as the “multi-billion plunder of the decade” involving agricultural funds.
“Sen. Angara has no moral ascendancy to conduct a probe on the Acef funds because he himself is among those accused of benefiting from the funds. It appears that Angara has been used to practicing conflict of interest,” says Echanis noting that Angara is a member of the Senate panel of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization.
Recent reports said that an audit by the agriculture department found that Aurora, Angara’s province, benefited from two grants from Acef—P200 mililon in 2008 for the concreting of the Baler-Casiguran Highway and P100 million in 2007 for the Aurora State University for a project called Enhancement of Technology-Based Agribusiness Industry.
Echanis also assailed former DA secretary Arthur Yap’s statement that “low repayment rate does not make the Acef a failure or a scam.”
“It is the height of callousness for Yap to simply dismiss the reports that only big businesses and corrupt bureaucrats benefited from the Acef while farmers suffer from the brunt of the massive flooding of imported agricultural products in the local market,” the peasant leader said.
“Filipino farmers affected by the impacts of agricultural trade liberalization are more than willing to testify that we did not receive a single cent from the Acef,” Echanis said.
Echanis said House Resolution 1270 filed by KMP chairperson and Anakpawis party-list Rafael Mariano last May 17, 2011 is already pending before the lower House.
HR 1270 states that “a document from the Department of Agriculture (DA) revealed that as of September 2010, the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) totalled to more or less P10.6 billion while the total amount of ACEF-Execom approved activities/projects totalled to more or less P8.6 billion.”
“However, the document did not disclose the specific activities/projects that were funded by Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) as well as the specific proponents of these activities/projects,” the Anakpawis resolution stated.
It added that “as of September 2010, the ACEF-assistance in the form of loan amounted to more or less P5.9 billion (69.64%) and ACEF-assistance in the form of grant amounted to more or less P2.5 billion (30.36%).”
“The status of the Fund including the disbursements made therefrom, the loan balances, interests gained from each loan, individual/corporation/organization/coop