Farmers’ group seeks probe into P3.1-B ‘irrigation scam’

By Christian V. Esguerra
Last updated 08:58pm (Mla time) 09/09/2007

MANILA, Philippines–After the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004, could another scandal be in the offing after the government quietly released at least P3.1 billion for irrigation projects just months before last May’s elections?


The militant farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called on Sunday for a congressional investigation of the hefty allocation, expressing doubt it actually went toward the rehabilitation of irrigation facilities around the country.


“There is a certain stink to this and we fear that once again the funds allotted for farmers were used to bankroll the election campaign of the administration?but this time it is at least three times bigger than the fertilizer scam,” said KMP president Rafael Mariano.


The allocation was revealed by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo during the House committee on appropriations’ deliberations on the Department of Agriculture’s 2008 budget last week.


The KMP said the P3.1-billion outlay was released in two tranches before the May 14 elections?P500 million was issued in January and the balance of P2.6 billion two months later.


Under questioning by Ocampo, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the release of the funds just before the May elections was merely “coincidental.”


“That was the period when we really needed to repair (the irrigation facilities) because there was no rain,” Yap said. “The dry season is the best time to undertake infrastructure repairs for irrigation.”


A document shown to the Philippine Daily Inquirer by KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos included a list of 37 “focus provinces” that were supposed to have received portions of the P3.1-billion irrigation budget.


But a check with the National Irrigation Authority offices in some of the provinces showed “projects had not been started and a small number had not been completed,” Mariano said.


“When we asked the local NIA (offices) what was taking (them) so long, they replied that the funds had (not) been released,” he said. “How could that be when the funds were made available as early as January? This contradicts Secretary Yap’s statement that it was released at that time to (take advantage of) the dry weather.”


If irrigation rehabilitation work was undertaken during the dry season, Mariano said provinces like Isabela, Quirino, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Norte, Kalinga and Tarlac would not have suffered during the recent dry spell that devastated their crops.


Mariano pegged the destruction in these areas at P638 million.


In some areas like Nueva Ecija, he said the government came up with “showcase projects ? so that the people would think everything was above-board.”


“[The] majority of the supposed target areas for irrigation works had seen no such thing for the past six months,” he said.


“We think they (DA officials) learned from the P728-million fertilizer fund scam so now they make showcase projects and present these to the media,” Mariano said.


The fertilizer fund scam refers to the alleged diversion of P728 million intended for fertilizer purchases for farmers nationwide to the administration party’s coffers during the 2004 election campaign period.


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