MANILA — The Department of Agriculture (DA) has released guidelines to regional offices on the rollout of biofertilizer use to prevent a repeat of the fertilizer fund scam, Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian said Friday.
Sebastian, who was implicated in the sugar mess last year that led to his resignation as an undersecretary, said they have learned things from previous experiences, prompting the agency to issue Memorandum Order No. 32 on April 27.
“We don’t want a repeat of this fertilizer scam that is why we developed these guidelines so we can have a fair, transparent, and sure implementation o kaya ang implementation natin ay maganda… para ma-attain natin ang magandang outcome ng paggamit ng biofertilizer,” Sebastian told Palace reporters.
“We assure you our regional offices will follow a good guide in order to have a good implementation of a biofertilizer program na kasama ang iba,” he added.
This guide, the official said, would ensure that biofertilizers procured would have competitive pricing and be compatible to regions where it would be used.
The document was also “transparent and fair” to prevent suppliers and influential individuals from dictating the prices of biofertilizers and “put a tailor-fitted specification during the bidding process” without the assurance it would work.
Its guidelines include pricing, on-site testing for efficacy and effectiveness, capacity for technical support, and local production.
Farmers will not be forced to buy biofertilizers, the official said, as this is just part of the government’s plan to integrate it in the country’s fertilizer mix. It also does not mean an overhaul of the urea and other inorganice fertilziers.
“Kung titingnan mo ang ating ginawang guidelines may criteria siyang cost-effectiveness, efficacy of that product in that location, hindi lang nationwide, in that region. Pagkatapos, mayroon din siyang requirement na ung biofertilizer na yan must be locally produced and the last one is, you do not just sell to the government,” he said.
The fund scam issue broke out in 2004 after former Senator Panfilo Lacson accused then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of buying votes using fertilizer funds
After separate investigations by the Senate and the Office of the Ombudsman over the next years, a plunder case was filed in 2011.
The DA allegedly allocated P1,500 for every liter of fertilizer, when the supplier was only paid P150
WHY THE PUSH?
He reiterated that the government’s plan to roll out biofertilizers aims to make rice production sustainable and productive, since inorganic fertilizers have been “unsustainable.”
Agriculture group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) had questioned the haste of the biofertilizer push, and urged the DA to leave the decision of fertilizer type to farmers.
But Leocadio said inorganic fertilizers are “making our soil acidic, and is making our production plateauing.”
“Ang kagandahan ng biofertilizer, kapag katagalan, magiging more sustainable, mas maganda ang magiging klase ng lupa natin, maibabalik ang kalusugan. Yung inorganic kung urea ang ginagamit mo, nagiging acidic ang lupa.”
His agency plans to include biofertilizer use in the agency’s budget for 2024, with an initial P1.9 billion proposal for the program.