MANILA – Food security and safety is one of the prime concerns of the Department of Agriculture (DA) during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and as such, billions of stimulus funds are course through the department from the Bayanihan Law.
In a published report, two farmer-leaders in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija said that DA’s stimulus program – “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra Covid-19” (ALPAS sa Covid-19) had bought 1.811 million bags of urea fertilizer for a total price of Php 1.8-million, or roughly Php 1,000 per bag.
However, they noted that the average retail price of urea fertilizer in the market was only Php 850 to Php 860 per bag. So they surmised of an overprice of around P271.6 million of the particular transaction.
One of the farmers said, “Farmers could barely survive this crisis, and even the government is virtually scraping the bottom of the barrel now just to look for funds to help the most vulnerable sectors, including farmers, and to keep the economy afloat.”
They lamented that if this report would be found true, agriculture officials should have taken extra care in entering into contracts with private businessmen especially because it involves public funds. They said “(these government officials) have betrayed us farmers who need all the help we can get and have defrauded the government of millions of pesos of crucial funds.”
They further said the savings from the purchase of fertilizers could have been used for other expenditures of the government in its fight against the virus especially that funds of the government are dwindling.
It is worth noting that December 2019 report from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the average price of urea fertilizers in the country was then at P1,121.57 per sack. During this period, the PSA was seeing a downward trend in the price of fertilizers before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.
They urged President Duterte to look into the matter especially in the purchase of fertilizers in Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Central Visayas and Western Visayas. Officials of the DA have yet to respond to the claim of the farmers.