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DAR hit for P1.6-b projects

AN activist lawmaker blasted on Wednesday the Department of Agrarian Reform for seeking an additional P1.6 billion in foreign-funded projects even after admitting that it misused P11.3 billion in foreign loans that went to bonuses, medical benefits and clothing allowances of its personnel instead of to the intended recipients, farm-to-market roads for the farmers.

“Utang pa more [Borrow even more],” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon mocked the agency as he demanded answers during the plenary debate on the P3.002-trillion national budget for 2016 in the House.

“How can DAR even have the gall to again ask for more loan money for foreign-assisted projects even if it bungled the implementation of past foreign-funded projects? How can DAR assure the public that P1.6 billion it is again requesting will not be funneled to corruption?” Ridon asked.

Ridon slammed DAR Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes over several adverse findings of the Commission on Audit on the department’s use of over P11.3-billion funding for several foreign-assisted projects over the past years.

Upon questioning by Ridon during the plenary debate, Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves, sponsor of the agency’s budget, admitted there have been “certain difficulties” and bottlenecks that resulted in the low utilization of the budget for FARs since 2013.

Citing the audit report for 2013 released by CoA last April 2015, Ridon said despite the release and use of billions of loaned money to finance development projects, DAR has “little to show as accomplishments.”

For Agrarian Reform Community Project Phase II, the Italian assistance, which was funded from a P4.49-billion loan from the Asian Development Bank, was used only to complete 2.25 percent of the project that began in March 2009 despite utilizing P3.6 billion out of the P4.8-billion allocation.

Due to non-implementation or slow implementation, this resulted in DAR paying a commitment fee totaling P14.79 million, he said.

“CoA also noted that DAR used P3.6 million from the project funds for bonuses, medical benefits, and clothing allowance of its personnel,” Ridon said.

“DAR’s slow and even anomalous use of foreign loans is suspect. Funds allotted for farming implements, farm-to-market roads and bridges may already be flowing into the pockets of corrupt executives. It is doubly troubling since we’re talking about foreign loans, loans that the Filipino nation need to repay in the years to come,” Ridon said.

According to Ridon, as of December 31, 2013 or six years into the eight years project duration of Agrarian Reform Infrastructure Support Project Phase III, only 41.92 percent of the infrastructure component was completed.

This, Ridon said, despite the utilization of P7.76 billion or 97.43 percent of its total project cost of P7.96 billion.

“COA also noted that expenses amounting to P4.17 million not related to the project were charged to the project funds. About P6 billion of the total funding for ARISP III was loaned from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC),” he added.

In the case of the Italian Assistance to Agrarian Reform Community Development Support Program (IAARCDSP), which is funded by a P1.57 billion loan from Italy, COA noted that DAR has not yet accomplished anything 11 months into the project, despite the release of P20.7 million initially in 2013, Ridon said.

COA also noted the slow accomplishment rate for the Mindanao Sustainable Agrarian and Agriculture Development Project (MINSAAD), which posted only a 12.46 accomplishment rate.

“COA also noted the irregular and unauthorized use of P6.254 million from the project fund. MINSAAD is primarily funded by a loan from JICA,” Ridon said.

Ridon also chided Reyes for brazenly defying COA’s audit recommendations, with COA reporting that the agency did not fully implement any of its 17 audit recommendations in year 2012, while partially implementing only 12 recommendations, and ignoring five other recommendations.

“It appears that not even COA can restrain DAR from its unscrupulous use of public funds. Is this the tuwid na daan [straight path] the President is touting?” Ridon asked.

“Despite the adverse findings in COA’s 2013 audit report on DAR, especially with regard to use of funds for foreign-assisted projects, the agency is again asking for authority to use P1.6 billion more funds, mostly sourced from foreign loans, for 2016,” Ridon said.

He said DAR is again asking for authority to use P365.9 million for IAARCDSP, of which P363.58 million is from loan proceeds; P821.8 million for MINSAAD, of which P667.29 million is from loan proceed; and P442.9 million for Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment, of which P374 million is from loan proceeds.

“DAR should not be allowed to incur additional foreign loans if it has no actual capacity to absorb the funds, and in turn resulting to little to no benefit for farmers,” Ridon told the plenary.

 

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