Wednesday, July 29, 2015



The government’s P89 billion farm budget for 2015 must be exempt from underspending, Sen. Chiz Escudero said, as he called for more investments to boost the agriculture sector and increase the household income of farmers.

Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance made the call when he met over the weekend with farmer leaders on the sidelines of the T’nalak Festival in South Cotabato, one of the country’s agricultural powerhouses.

“Two heads are better than one, or make that two carabaos pulling one plow are better than one, so I can’t imagine why there can be slackening in the implementation of our farm programs, “ Escudero said.

He was referring to Proceso Alcala, secretary of Agriculture, and Francis Pangilinan, presidential assistant for Food Security and Agriculture Modernization, which is a Cabinet rank designation.

For 2015, the DA offices under Alcala have a budget of P51.7 billion while the four agencies in Pangilinan’s turf – the National Food Authority (NFA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), National Irrigation Authority (NIA), and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) – have a combined allocation of P37.3 billion.
With the country‘s food import now climbing to almost P300 billion a year and with 36 percent of families considering themselves as “food poor,” funding to boost food production must be released without delay, Escudero said.

The major programs this year are the following: P22.3 billion worth of irrigation projects to cover 54,954 hectares; P15.2 billion for various farm-to-market roads; P1.3 billion in assorted fishery infrastructure; P4.2 billion for farm mechanization; P7 billion in support activities to boost rice production; and P4.1 billion to increase coconut production.  

But completing these, plus the important aim of raising farming household income by up to four (4) percent this year, is contingent on the quick and timely release of funds, Escudero said.

“Hindi yan matutupad kung may artificial drought of funds,“ Escudero said.

The lawmaker cited the case of cassava farming, which may not be able to achieve its full potential and target of 13 tons of produce per hectare every year if there is always a delay in the release of some P2.1 billion in available funds for high-value crops.

Escudero described the agriculture budget “as something of a good conditional cash transfer” to the sector which, despite making up 12 percent of the GDP, hosts the most number of poor people.

According to official statistics, poverty incidence among fishermen is the highest among nine surveyed sectors at 41.4 percent, followed by farmers at 36.7 percent.

One in three employed Filipinos are in the agriculture, or about 12 million as of latest count.

Escudero said he will soon ask his counterparts in the House of Representatives to convene the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Public Expenditures to look into the spending trends of agriculture agencies. 

“Titingnan natin ang absorptive capacity, ang status ng mga projects nila. Mahalaga ang agrikutura kasi ang investment mo doon mabilis ang balik. Magbigay ka ng pondo, may sukli kaagad na pagkain, “ Escudero said.

Escudero announced the mid-year review as the national government spent P78 billion short of its P582.2 billion spending program in the first quarter.

Last year, underspending reached P303 billion, or 13 percent of the total appropriations for 2014.

In 2011, the expenditure program was set at P1.711 trillion, but actual spending was P1.557 trillion, or an underspending of P154 billion.

Underspending tapered down in 2012 to P62 billion based on actual disbursements of P1.778 trillion against a budget of P1.84 trillion.

Out of the P1.984 trillion budget in 2013, only P1.88 trillion was utilized, resulting to an underspending of P104 billion. /MP

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