MANILA - The Department of Agriculture defended before the House plenary on Monday its proposed P50 million confidential funds for next year, saying it is necessary to curb smuggling and price manipulation of agriculture and fishery commodities.
DA’s budget sponsor at the House of Representatives, Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio “Tonypet” Albano, said the amount will cover reward to informants, who will provide tips to catch smugglers, as well as operational expenses including vehicle rentals, internet expenses, intelligence summits, and coordination meetings.
“One of the major national security goals is food security. Food insecurity, this destabilizes the economy and displaces the marginalized community, resulting into overall social instability. All of the direct threats to food security is agri-fisheries smuggling, because it affects the overall well-being of farmers, fisherfolk and agricultural stakeholders. It contributes to the losses of government revenues,” Albano said during the House plenary debates on DA’s proposed 2024 budget.
“As the lead agency in ensuring a food secure and resilient Philippines, the Department of Agriculture is therefore, mandated to address this threat through curbing agri-fisheries smuggling, and price manipulation, leading to economic sabotage, which involves apprehension and prosecution of illegal smugglers. That is the reason for the budget of P50 million,” he added.
Kabataan Party List Rep. Raoul Manuel is unconvinced, noting that the Department of Trade and Industry also monitors against price manipulation of basic commodities, yet is not requesting for confidential funds.
“Bakit ang DTI, bagamat gagawin din nila ang kanilang mandato to go after, for example, ‘yung nagma-manipulate ng presyo, ang gagawin nila, kahit wala silang confidential funds, they will closely coordinate with law enforcement agencies para mahuli at mapanagot talaga ang mga gumagawa ng mga mali, when it comes to supply and prices of goods and commodities. Why can’t the DA be inspired by that response of the DTI, kung pwede rin pala na magawa ang kaparehong objective ng walang confidential fund?” Manuel asked.
“In the Department of Agriculture, we have seen price manipulation, smuggling, and therefore, the P50million is a miniscule amount that has to be given so that we can actually make sure that we can fight all these ills,” Albano replied.
"Hindi tayo convinced and tingin natin hindi pa rin justified ang request… While we want to exhaust various means para mapanagot ang mga smuggler, hoarder, cartel, hindi sana maging knee-jerk option o hakbang natin ang pagre-request ng confidential funds,” Manuel said.
He also called out the agency for having 8 undersecretaries and 9 assistant secretaries. But Albano said the number of DA’s undersecretaries is less compared to the previous administration. He also issued a commitment that the agency will “substantially reduce” vacant positions by the end of the year. Of the 8,299 authorized plantilla positions for the DA, only 5,664 were filled up as of December 31, 2022.
AGRI Party List Rep. Wilbert Lee, meanwhile, questioned the slow utilization of the budget for major post-harvest programs this year. He said that of the P19.63 billion allocation, an estimated P14.92 billion remain unutilized.
“Ang underspending, kasalanan sa taumbayan ‘yan. Ipinagkait natin sa tao ang ayuda at suporta na kailangan nila at nararapat na makuha nila,” Lee said, as he urged the DA to simplify the requirements for farmers to avail of the programs.
Albano said the DA will look into where the requirements can be streamlined.
The lower House terminated on Monday evening the plenary debates on DA’s proposed 2024 budget.