Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A capital sin against the farmers

Many years have passed since the Senate concluded its probe into the P738-million fertilizer scam. Now there is good news that pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy would be shedding light on it, which could result in those behind the scam finally getting jailed.

According to Luy and his lawyer, pork barrel PDAF scam alleged architect Janet Lim Napoles also had a hand in the fertilizer scam and was a major beneficiary.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd even ordered the Department of Justice last week to review of the fertilizer scam. This could, we hope, lead to the reopening of the case.

The Manila Times strongly believes that the Aquino administration should not leave any stone unturned in prosecuting those who perpetrated and benefited from the fertilizer scam, because it was a crime of stealing the food on the table and the money for the livelihood of the lawful beneficiary of the fertilizer fund—the Filipino farmers. And they are unfortunately still among the poorest of the poor in the country today.

If the P728-million had been properly utilized by the Department of Agriculture instead of being allowed to line the pockets of the corrupt individuals, the following items of assistance could have been given to small Filipino farmers for free:

1. 4,800 hand tractors worth P150,000 each that can reduce the hours of work in a farm, particularly for tilling the soil.

2. Some 145,600 sacks of high-quality hybrid rice seeds worth P5,000 per sack that could have boosted yield per hectare 2, 3 up to 10 times, depending on the situation of the farm.

3. 14,550 pieces of portable rice mills worth P50,000 each that would have made farmers less dependent on private rice millers.

4. 182 combine harvesters worth P4 million each, which, if they had been given to farm cooperatives, could have reduced harvesting time by as much as 70 percent.

Or the P728 million could have been loaned out to 7,280 farmers at P100,000 each at an interest rate below those offered by banks.

Another idea is the building of small water impounding systems (SWIPs) for farms not covered by national irrigation systems. With P728 million at a cost of P1 million to P1.5 million each, about 485 to 728 SWIPs could have been built that would have served anywhere from 10 to as much as 100 hectares of farm lands.

The impact of any of the aforementioned on the farming sector of a province or even a region cannot be underestimated. It is a known fact that small Filipino farmers have been wanting of assistance of various kinds from the government.

This administration and previous ones have neglected the agriculture sector, against the appeals for the past decades of our country’s best economists–notably Dr. Bernardo “Dr. Boom” Villegas—who has been saying that food production and the well-being of Filipino farmers should be given top priority by government policy-makers and planners. He has been appealing to the powers not to neglect the farming sector because that is where the biggest segment of Philippine labor is. Unfortunately, his writings in newspapers, his speeches at economic forums and his contributions in dialogues with government officials have gone unheeded.

We hope in the last two years of the Aquino administration truly drastic moves are made to make Filipino farmers and Filipino agri-business entrepreneurs to flourish.

And it should prosecute the culprits in the fertilizer scam with the public welfare at heart and in mind. It should not pursue the fertilizer scam with political advantage and hurting former president Gloria Arroyo as the main objective, which is what has made the PDAF scam prosecution the delayed and sorry mess that it seems to have become.

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