No results yet on probe of P30M NIA fertilizer project

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/28 Oct) – Close to four months after the Department of Agriculture started investigating the controversial P30-million National Irrigation Administration’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer Subsidy Project in Northern Mindanao, no results have been released so far.

Lawyer Charissa Kay Alvarez, legal officer of the regional office of the Department of Agriculture, told MindaNews Tuesday that they already submitted the report to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. But she said the secretary has not responded to the report yet.

Alvarez declined to answer when asked when the report was submitted.

Danilo Negre, Bukidnon officer of the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority, said Monday the decision will become the basis on what will be done with the P2.3-million worth of organic fertilizers and pesticides in Valencia City following complaints by farmers over alleged substandard quality, overpricing, and rigged bidding. The stocks were subjected to SUMS (“stop use/stop move/stop sale”) order. So far, Negre said, the fate of the stocks is  still unknown.

About 2,700 bags of Grow Organic Fertilizers and 3,741 liters of Green Organic liquid fertilizer-pesticides have been placed inside a motor pool building in the NIA compound after these were delivered in the first quarter of 2010.

Jimmy Apostol, NIA Bukidnon irrigation officer, told MindaNews in August the fertilizers and pesticides are part of the last of three tranches of the NIA’s Bio-Organic Fertilizer Subsidy Project in Northern Mindanao initiated in June 2009.

The stocks have been put on hold since last June 4 by virtue of an FPA SUMS order pending their own tests of samples.

Four months after samples were taken, the fertilizers and pesticides are still kept in the open motor pool building.

Julius Maquiling, NIA-10 regional director, confirmed to MindaNews via telephone Tuesday that the report has been submitted but he refused to give details. He referred MindaNews to the Bukidnon NIA office.

In July, the Department of Agriculture gave a fact-finding team 45 days to probe the NIA organic fertilizer subsidy project after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan initiated an inquiry into allegations of rigged bidding, poor quality of fertilizers, among other things.

Alvarez, a member of the three-person committee, told MindaNews they started investigations in July and were expected to submit a 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 Secretary, 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 back then, 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 is a subsidy project that does not require farmers to pay back, “it is still people’s money (and) must be explained.”

MindaNews contacted FPA 10 regional director Sonia Calleja on October 25 for comments but she did not respond to text messages and did not take the attempts to call.

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,” Julius Maquiling, NIA 10 regional director, said last June.

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. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)