WHEN it rains, it pours.
To Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, some more questions are pouring in on top of those surrounding the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), parts of which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last July 1.
In a fit of existential despair, farmers banking on government support in preparation for regional free trade in 2015 have asked Abad to explain where is the P5 billion earmarked by a law to help them compete with foreign agricultural products.
“Secretary Abad has done nothing for us,” said Nestor Macaraig, a hog raiser, of Bauan, Batangas. “He has abandoned us. He has deprived us of the government commitment to us. He should now explain: Where’s the money?”
Macaraig is one of 28 farmers whose loans the Aquino administrations had approved, charged against the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF), the release of which Abad had blocked the past several months.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, farmers asked if Abad had treated the P5 billion, the last-known ACEF balance, as savings, and subsequently used it up under DAP.
“May pera pa ba talaga (Is there money left for ACEF)?” asked the group’s spokesman, Myles Guillermo, a Peking duck raiser.
“We need the fund badly for our expansion,” added Merly Alvero, a shrimp producer. “Are they really serious about their plan to ensure food security?”
Since the high tribunal handed down its decision on DAP, Abad has hardly been seen in public. He has not replied to calls for an interview. But in a previous occasion, Abad said the remaining P5 billion is intact, stored in the General Fund.
“So the fund is idle? Guillermo asked. “Or missing?”
ACEF FOR MODERN PH FARMS
ACEF was created by Republic Act 8178 in 1996 to help prepare farmers and fishermen compete with their counterparts in countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in time for free trade in 2015.
Over the last 19 years, the fund generated close to P20 billion, sourced from the collection of tariffs imposed on imported agricultural products. The program was supposed to end in 2005, but another law, Republic Act 9496, extended it up to 2015.
Over time, allegations of corruption, misuse, abuse, and neglect have marred the program, prompting the Aquino administration to stop the program in 2011, but only after approving the different projects of the 28 farmers with an aggregate loan amount of some P370 million.
The 28 farmers brought their questions and complaint against Abad to President Aquino in two separate letters dated June 7 and June 12. Macaraig signed the letters on behalf of the 27 other farmers. The letters were duly received by the Palace, but they have yet to receive a reply.
One Friday afternoon, some of the farmers sat down with ABS-CBN and showed a copy of the letter. The President has completely ignored them, they rued.
Guillermo lamented why the Aquino government stopped the program when there is a law and the need for it to continue. Echoing a senator’s assessment of the fund and the need to run after the fund’s bad debtors, he said: “We should not burn the entire house while running after the rats.”
In their letter to the President, the farmers, most of them based in the Visayas and Mindanao, said they also sent Abad a number of letters and fell in line at the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) trying to catch Abad’s attention, but to no avail.
Of the P13-billion fund, about P8.5 billion has been lent to borrowers, mostly due to political patronage during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It had no interest, no collateral. The program has not yielded any solid result for the agricultural sector so it can keep pace with trade liberalization in the ASEAN region.
The Aquino administration imposed an interest rate and collateral on the loan for the 28 farmers to ensure payment, but until now, farmers have no idea why their loans to improve their farms have not been released.
“We initiated a series of communications to DBM…so that we can start with our lined-up projects on food production, but they demanded irrelevant documents. We have been running in circles,” he said.
“This government has no master plan for farmers. No Plan A, no Plan B. Come 2015, we are on our own. And we will remember this government for this.”