DA team starts 45-day probe on NorthMin organic fertilizer project

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/10 August) — The Department of Agriculture has given a fact-finding team 45 days to probe the P30 million organic fertilizer subsidy project the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) implemented in Northern Mindanao, a member of the team told MindaNews Monday.

Lawyer Charissa Kay B. Alvarez, DA-10 legal officer, a member of the three-person committee, said they have done an initial phase of the investigation by subjecting NIA officials to questioning starting July 20.

Alvarez, who represented DA-10 regional director Lealyn Ramos at the regular session of the city council here, declined to announce their initial findings saying they want to complete the investigations first.

She told MindaNews they are due to submit their report to the Agriculture Secretary in mid-September.

The DA sent the provincial board a copy of its memorandum order to the DA Legal Division, ordering its legal counsel, Vero Libroja to take“appropriate action,” according to Jenny Lumain of the Office of the Agriculture  ecretary, a copy of which was shown to MindaNews by Valencia City councilor Glenn Peduche.

The Sangguniang Panlalawigan, of which Peduche was a member until June 30, had earlier asked the DA to investigate the questionable project. The DA Legal Office tasked Roxana Hojas, DA 10 regional technical director to head the probe. With Hojas and Alvarez in the probe committee is DA-10 supervising agriculturist Remina Occena, who heads DA-10’s Regional Soil Testing Laboratory.

Peduche, now councilor of Valencia City and chair of its agriculture committee, summoned the regional directors of the DA and FPA to the session to shed light on the controversial organic project.

As provincial board member in June, Peduche had questioned the project for its alleged substandard quality, rigged bidding, and the supplier’s alleged lack of registration papers.

He said even if it’s a subsidy project that does not require farmers to pay back, “it is still people’s money (and) must be explained.”

Ramos sent representatives while FPA 10 regional director Sonia Calleja asked to be present instead next week due to a prior appointment.

Alvarez said they are looking at two angles, pricing and quality but did not dismiss possible violations of bidding requirements.

“So far the publication requirement has been complied with,” she said.

She vowed to the city councilors that they will conduct the investigation fairly.

In a letter dated July 2, the FPA head office in Manila sent Peduche a copy of its findings of their laboratory examination of fertilizer samples. But Peduche declined to reveal results until the FPA could explain it.

The NIA 10 subsidy package included a fertilizer and pesticide distribution to farmers in Region 10, including those in Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, and Misamis Oriental. But the program zeroed in on members of irrigators’ associations, which explains NIA’s involvement.

A total of 1,340 farmers from the four provinces of Region 10 received a total of 18,317 bags of fertilizers and 6,104 bottles of pesticides.

The program is part of the national government’s FIELDS program, which integrates activities of related agriculture agencies to make the country “rice-sufficient,” said Julius Maquiling, NIA 10 regional director.

FIELDS stands for the six areas of support the national government pledged to farmers—Fertilizer, Irrigation and Infrastructure, Education and training of farmers and fisherfolk, Loans, Dryers and other post harvest and facilities, and Seeds of the high-yielding, hybrid varieties.

The pledge costs P43.7 billion nationwide but Maquiling said they were able to access P30 million from the project.

Valencia City Agriculture officer Gerson Salvan told MindaNews earlier they were not consulted about the project. There was also no coordination with them. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)