Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/ ALEXIS CORPUZ
MANILA, Philippines–Another stalwart of President Aquino’s Liberal Party is in hot water for the alleged misuse of billions in public funds.
The Department of Agriculture (DA), under Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, squandered more than P14.4 billion in 2013 in questionable projects that it implemented despite violations of laws and regulations, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).
The COA made public its report on Tuesday, a day after the Sandiganbayan sentenced Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali Jr. to up to 10 years in prison for graft.
Umali is the treasurer of the Liberal Party, which is expected to field Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as its presidential candidate in next year’s elections.
Both Alcala and Umali are political supporters of the President, who has made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of his “tuwid na daan” (straight path) governance.
In its review of the agriculture department’s financial transactions, the COA said the department wasted huge sums on several anomalous programs using the regular funds it received from the national government and allotments from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
The Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional the PDAF, a pork barrel of lawmakers, and the DAP that pooled savings of agencies and funded various projects aimed at pump-priming the economy.
Some of the irregularities in the DA that state auditors discovered were the releases of funds to several nongovernment organizations (NGOs), including one set up by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the suspected architect of the P10-billion pork barrel racket.
The COA also found out that some attached agencies of the department, such as the National Agricultural and Fishery Council (NAFC), implemented projects that were not part of its mandate.
It said a number of projects were left incomplete despite the release of allotted funds while others were undertaken without the necessary documents for the proper liquidation of funds.
P7.8B for roads
Of the big-ticket projects it approved, the DA spent the biggest amount for the construction of 1,079.2 kilometers of road networks under its Farm-to-Market Road Development Project (FMRDP).
The COA said the department allocated P7.8 billion for the infrastructure project in 2013, but it was only able to complete 270.4 km worth P1.7 billion after a year.
The audit agency said the remaining P6.1 billion for farm-to-market roads were “either not yet started or implemented,” still ongoing or “no status provided.”
Under the law, the COA said, among the DA’s tasks was to finance infrastructure projects involving the “restoration and rehabilitation of irrigation systems, postharvest facilities and farm-to-market roads aimed at providing better opportunity to [a] majority of the farmers by increasing their income and making food more affordable to the public.”
With the help of local government units and the Department of Public Works and Highways, the agriculture department was mandated to construct rural roads infrastructure “that act or function as access roads to production areas and are not otherwise classified as national, provincial, city or municipal.”
The FMRDP includes the construction of barangay (village) roads, road openings and upgrading or improvement of existing farm-to-market roads.
“The goal of the FMRDP to provide transport facilities for agricultural and fisheries commodities to reduce the production costs of farmers and fisherfolk, and making food affordable to the public was not fully attained,” the COA said.
“As a result of the delayed and non-implementation of the projects, the objective of the program to provide efficient transport facilities to farmer-beneficiaries for their products was not fully attained as of yearend,” it noted.