Legarda: Where are El Niño funds?
By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BAROTAC NUEVO, ILOILO—Nacionalista Party (NP) vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda Thursday took Malacañang to task for failing to promptly release emergency funds for El Niño under the 2010 General Appropriations Act.
Legarda demanded the prompt release of the funds after talking with rice farmer Pio Bernardo while campaigning in this third-class municipality, a one-hour car trip from Iloilo City.
Bernardo complained to Legarda and NP standard-bearer Manuel Villar that the weather phenomenon had drastically reduced the palay harvest from the usual 120 sacks of palay to a measly 10 sacks per cropping on his 1.5-hectare farm.
“It’s a yearly cycle,” Bernardo said.
Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said the El Niño funds should be released by the budget department to rehabilitate the irrigation systems and small water impounding projects of local government units, farmers and cooperatives.
P882 million needed
In Manila, the Department of Agriculture said its task force on El Niño would spend an initial P882.18 million to help affected farmers and fisherfolk in 14 provinces in Luzon and the Visayas. The dry spell in these areas is expected to last until July.
“Yes, we have funds because proceeds from the Malampaya (natural gas exploration) that should have been the source of (cash gifts to) victims of Storms ‘Ondoy’ and ‘Pepeng’ have yet to be released,” Legarda said.
“Second, there’s a provision for El Niño because the Department of Agriculture budget, which I worked for, is climate-sensitive,” said Legarda, the United Nations’ regional champion on climate change and disaster risk reduction.
According to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, the task force had set aside P52 million for cloud seeding in northern, central and southern Luzon, Bicol, Western Visayas, Zamboanga, northern Mindanao, Davao and Soccsksargen (South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Saranggani-General Santos).
Some P260 million will be spent on optimizing water delivery and rescheduling; P398,930 for the purchase and distribution of 2,500 units of pump and engine sets; P25 million for pest and disease management; P1.149 million for veterinary drugs and biologics; P35 million for mobile diagnostic laboratories; P104 million for fishery inputs and livelihood; and P5.9 million for crop shifting projects.
A militant party-list lawmaker scored the Arroyo administration’s “lack of preparedness” to help farmers fight the El Niño phenomenon, saying this could be due to the “rampant corruption and wastage of funds” in the agriculture department.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano cited a 2008 Commission on Audit report, which noted that the department “wasted almost P7 billion and is the ‘top performer’ in wasteful fund management either through bungled project implementation or missing and diverted funds.”
“Almost everybody in the agriculture department is fully aware that El Niño will hit the country. Unfortunately, funds intended for farmers and agriculture to counter drought are nowhere to be found,” Mariano said in a statement. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza and Riza T. Olchondra