MANILA - Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol was grilled on Monday at a Senate budget hearing, with Senator Cynthia Villar questioning the shift to loans from aid for farmers and fishermen.
Piñol said the Department of Agriculture shifted to credit financing to make do with a smaller budget, and because it wanted to do avoid "anomalies of the past."
Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on food and agriculture, told Piñol that shifting to loans did not necessarily mean the program is free from anomalies as with the case of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enchancement Fund or ACEF.
The lawmaker said about P8 billion in public funds were lost from the ACEF and that the program failed to help small farmers and fishermen improve their productivity in time for free trade within the ASEAN region.
"We already did that before, and we lost P8 billion there. It was managed by DA and the Cocofund. So we transferred that to LandBank. Now why are we going back to that model. It's the same thing," she said.
Villar also questioned why the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC), a policy-making body, was supposedly allowed to give loans to local cooperatives, when its mandate is only to create programs for banks to follow.
"I read the mandate of ACPC, they are not allowed to give credit. You don't transfer the money to ACPC. You give it to a bank. You make the model how the bank will give it out. But the bank will give it out, not DA," she said.
Piñol answered: "Actually the money is with Landbank. ACPC does not hold the money."
"E bakit nandun ang pera sa ACPC?" Villar rebutted, referring to the proposed budget increase for the policy-making body to around P3.54 billion for 2019, from the previous P1.12 billion.
The Executive Director of the ACPC, Joselyn Badiola, said the agency is mandated to administer the funds. Credit lines are opened to cooperatives through 163 banks nationwide, she said.
Villar, however, was not convinced with her explanation. Piñol then requested to tackle the matter in a separate briefing in order to present more data, to which the senator agreed.