MANILA — A fuming Sen. Cynthia Villar on Thursday repeatedly demanded the resignation of agriculture-related agency heads upon discovery that key programs given to them are either on a snail pace mode or are not progressing at all.
In a hearing, Villar berated Philippine Coconut Authority Administrator Benjamin Madrigal after learning that assistance and benefits of farmers through the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund (CFITF) Act have yet to be implemented 18 months after the law’s approval.
The initial implementation of the program is supported by a P5 billion fund, with 20 percent of the fund supposed to be going to seedlings, 10 percent for intercropping, 10 percent for public works, 10 percent for loans, 10 percent for health, and 10 percent for scholarship.
Defending his agency, Madrigal explained that the coco levy fund program still needs to go through the scrutiny and approval of other agencies like the Government Corporate Council (GCC) and the Office of the Government Corporate Corporation (OGCC).
But the layering of approval didn’t sit well with Villar.
“Eighteen months na, wala ka pang nai-implement. Bakit? Pinipigil n'yo ba ang implementation nito?" she asked Madrigal.
"Ang coconut farmers ang poorest in the country. On the average, they earn only P1,500 a month. Ikaw, tatanungin ka ba ng P1,500 a month?”
Aside from making loans available to them, coconut farmers are supposed to have PhilHealth benefits, free education for their children, and free seedlings from the government.
Madrigal said the delayed fund release is taking its toll on the program.
“The reason of the delay initially, the law provided that funds will be provided through the trust fund. But it was not released to us,” he said.
The P5 million initial fund was only released July this year, the official said.
Sen. Imee Marcos also finds having multiple approving agencies as time consuming for the PCA and disadvantageous to the effective implementation of the coco levy fund program.
When Madrigal went on to say that they are still waiting for the Board’s approval for them to request an additional fund from the Department of Budget and Management, Villar’s temper flared anew.
She was overheard telling Marcos to tell somebody to already replace Madrigal.
“Sabihin mo ke ano, palitan na 'yan,” Villar told the sister of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.
Dr. Junel Soriano, officer-in-charge of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), received also a tongue-lashing from Villar upon learning that the agency’s P1.1 billion fund dedicated for the procurement of composting facilities remains untouched.
Villar directed Soriano is spend the entire fund for composting facilities or resign.
“I’m not saying I will commit. I will do my best,” replied Soriano, an appointee of former Agriculture Secretary William Dar and who assumed the post only last Aug. 1.
“But your best is not good enough,” Villar retorted, threatening to sue Soriano for reportedly violating the law and for not performing his job well.
Dr. Dionisio Alvindia of the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) was also asked by Villar to resign if he fails to deliver his agency’s RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) mechanization backlog before the year ends.
This, upon discovery that PhilMec created an “advisory council” for the task which senators stressed are not stated in the law.
“What is the reason for this glaring non-performance? Hindi naman ganito dati,” Marcos asked.
“I asked for them to relieve me... We inherited a lot of problems,” Alvindia reasoned.
Villar later on demanded for Alvindia’s commitment to deliver the rest of the backlogs before the year ends, or tender his resignation.
“I will commit my resignation,” Alvindia said.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III advised the said officials to submit a letter to the Senate regarding issues they consider as obstacles in ensuring faster accomplishment of programs.
Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa asked the PCA to lessen the procedural stages for the coco levy fund so they could implement it faster.