Alcala faces grilling for withholding emergency aid to storm-ravaged farmers

A whopping 68 percent of the Agriculture department’s budget for Yolanda victims were still unreleased, even as the Yolanda-affected areas remain largely unassisted.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – As farmers face deeper bankruptcy after typhoons “Luis” and “Mario” destroyed their crops, Gabriela lawmakers said the agriculture department has to answer serious questions about its seeming ineptitude at helping these farmers. Gabriela Women Rep. Emmi de Jesus concluded that despite having “different slush funds stashed away in the confusing maze of pork pockets within the Department of Agriculture,” it frequently abandons the storm-ravaged farmers.

The Gabriela lawmakers’ tenacious questioning of Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala in past committee hearings has compelled the department to furnish them with a listing of unspent Unprogrammed Funds and Quick Response Funds (QRFs).

The listing horrified the women lawmakers, who vowed to continue questioning the agriculture department when budget deliberation resumes tonight.

Typhoon “Luis” and Tropical Storm “Mario” destroyed an estimated P1.14 billion worth of crops. Typhoon Glenda has come and gone and so did the strongest on record, Yolanda, which hit the country nearly a year ago. But based on agriculture department’s record, affected farmers got little to no emergency aid from the government. For this year, as an example, De Jesus said it was scandalous the QRFs worth P500 million were still unobligated as of August, despite several typhoons and monsoon floodings that occurred.

As defined by RA 10633, QRFs are standby funds dedicated to provide seeds, fish fry, livestock, fishing gear and boats, and repair services for irrigation after calamities, epidemics, crises, and catastrophes.

De Jesus lamented how Unprogrammed Funds formed various lump sums in this year’s budget, yet, as intended aid to farmers so they can recover from the bankruptcy caused by destroyed crops, most of these funds were not released.

Denial of emergency agricultural aid spells greater suffering to millions of poor farmers and families, the Gabriela women legislators said. “In the first place the government does not help nor subsidize agriculture, and on top of that, it withholds emergency aid to those whose crops were destroyed by typhoons,” said de Jesus.

She reiterated the question frequently aired by typhoon survivors: “where are the billions of funds supposedly allotted for us?”

In 2013, of the P1.045 billion supplemental budget passed as RA10634 or Reconstruction Assistance for Yolanda-affected farmers, only about a third was obligated, leaving some P711.597 million still unmarked. Gabriela lawmakers said it means a whopping 68 percent of the budget for Yolanda victims were not yet spent on them, even as the Yolanda-affected areas remain largely unassisted.

Yolanda survivors who trooped to Manila to bring news of the actual state of government relief and rehabilitation there had repeatedly demanded aid in agriculture, but the government rejected their proposals.

Even funds allotted to aid farmers affected by Typhoon Pablo have not yet been obligated, based on the list of unspent Unprogrammed Funds and Quick Response Funds (QRFs) of the agriculture department.

As if these examples of neglect of farmers despite the availability of funds are not yet enough, De Jesus said the Aquino government is worsening the plight of farmers with its “misguided rice importation policy.” Due to this policy, de Jesus said, half a million metric tons of imported grains will arrive in the country beginning October this year. Farmers have complained that it will bring down farmgate prices of next month’s harvest, thus worsening their plight.

Gabriela lawmakers vowed that they would question Agriculture Seretary Proceso Alcala for all these. They also questioned the decision of Alcala’s boss President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III who, “Instead of assisting typhoon-ravaged peasants desperately trying to earn some income to compensate for the devastation left by typhoon Mario, is impounding billions more of unspent pork barrel money and doing nothing to save farmers from bankruptcy.” ()

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