P10B Philippine Agriculture Funds Drained

philippine toiletFrom: Philippine Inquirer News

A P10-billion fund meant to help small farmers, fisherfolk and agriculture entrepreneurs raise their skills and production was used as a cash cow of agriculture officials, politicians and businessmen “favored” by the Arroyo administration for almost a decade, officials said.

The discovery of irregularities in Acef (Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund) has led lawmakers and agriculture officials to suspend the program in January and to review its implementation.

What they saw, according to officials who checked the Acef records, was a long list of companies and beneficiaries who failed to pay back their loans.

Complaints

The same officials also heard of complaints from borrowers who said that agriculture officials demanded kickbacks in exchange for loan approvals.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said his office had received complaints from beneficiaries and those who tried to apply for the fund that former agriculture officials had asked for kickbacks in exchange for approving their loans.

Legitimate projects were also set aside in favor of proponents who have questionable projects but are willing to provide kickbacks, officials said.

“As we investigated it, we found out that the majority of those who did not pay were the ones who were complaining about the kickbacks,” Alcala said. “It was as high as 20 to 35 percent,” he noted.

A senior agriculture official also noted that the Acef executive committee was lax in approving projects. Some proponents, who promised to give commissions, were not even required to appear at the Department of Agriculture to explain their projects, the official said.

Alcala said it was the Acef management that was accused of being the recipients of bribes. “They got money out of proceeds. After the funds are released, something goes to them,” he said.

Although the reports and complaints were numerous, Alcala said it was difficult to pin down the errant officials. “Of course, these had no receipts,” he said.

Some borrowers were also reluctant to say something on record because they knew that they got the deal out of bad faith, Alcala said.

The practice of asking for commissions in exchange for loan approval was confirmed by Gregorio San Diego, president of United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra).

Four years ago, Ubra applied as a cooperative for the Acef to build a broiler breeder facility in Pampanga. San Diego said his group was encouraged by then Secretary Arthur Yap, but when the application reached the central office of the agriculture department, it was denied.

“They asked 10 percent from us,” he said, noting that it was considered a discount. “Others were told to give 35 percent,” he added.

In the end, Ubra decided not to push through with its application, San Diego said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, cochair of the congressional oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization, and sources confirmed that some of those who applied for the fund were personalities and politicians “favored” by the past administration.

ed.

 

 

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