MANILA - The Department of Agriculture said Tuesday it was willing to open its books, following claims the agency bought urea fertilizers that were overpriced by at least P150 per bag.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) said the agency bought overpriced fertilizers, upon comparing the results of their canvass to the price ceiling set by the Department of Agriculture.
The DA allocated P5.6 billion for the procurement of urea fertilizers under the Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra COVID-19 Program (ALPAS SA COVID-19), which is aimed at assisting farmers boost the country’s food sufficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on SINAG’s computation, the agency could have saved at least P250 million had it bought the fertilizers at 850 pesos per bag.
“Pwede nilang bilhin ulit ng fertilizer so additional number of bags na mabibigay sa mga magsasaka, or yung di nila magagamit for fertilizer pwede sana nilang ibalik sa national government, so malaking pera yan,” SINAG Chairman Rosendo So said.
Agriculture Chief William Dar said he was open to any investigation and that the agency’s books are open.
“As the secretary of Agriculture, I am one who espouses that there must be no corruption at the DA,” he said in a press conference addressing the issue on Tuesday.
He however defended the price of the fertilizers, saying these were even cheaper than the prevailing price of the same fertilizer based on the data of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority for March and April which is at 1,043 to 1,060 pesos per bag.
Dar also compared their procurement price to the prevailing price in December, 2019 which is at 1,140 pesos per bag, according to the Philippine Statistic Authority’s data.
“They (SINAG) failed to consider that the contact price includes the cost of fertilizer, transportation cost, incidental services and applicable taxes. The end-user or the Da field ops svc requires the winning bidder to deliver and distribute the urea fertilizers to diff municipalities covered under the rice resiliency project,” he said.
But farmer groups have argued all these were already factored in the retail price at 850 pesos per bag.
Through bidding held May to June, the agency procured 1, 811, 090 bags of fertilizer for 990 and 995 pesos each, after setting the ceiling price for bidding at 1,000 pesos per bag.
SINAG said this was much higher that the retail price at 850 pesos per bag, which the agency should have followed.
“Paano yung bidding ng importer, mas mataas pa sa retail price ng mga outlet. Almost 150 pesos difference from the retail price. Anong nangyari, bakit ganun kataas ang bidding sayang itong bidding na ito, pera pa ito for COVID-19 para sa food security natin nasayang yung pera,” said So.
Another farmers' group, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), agreed that the retail price was only at 850 pesos per bag.
“Hindi lang naman yan ang bini-bid out ng DA, mayroon pa silang seeds, mayroon pa silang makinarya and a lot of other supplies. If there is overpricing in fertilizer, hindi natin alam baka ganoon din sa ibang mga bini-bid out nila so we have to put a stop to that,” said FFF General Manager Raul Montemayor.
Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food Chair Cynthia Vilar, who already received the letter from SINAG asking for investigation, said the issue warrants a probe as it involved government funds intended to arrest the negative economic effects of COVID-19.
“Once the Senate opens, we will of course, look at all the sides to this issue. We have to ensure that the funds made available by the government to help our countrymen cope with the ongoing pandemic are being used for their intended purpose and beneficiaries, particularly the farmers,” she said.
The DA has P3.8 billion left to buy another batch of fertilizers. Dar said they will retain the 1,000 pesos ceiling price per bag for the next bidding.