Former NIA chief offers to replace questionable fertilizer stocks amid probe

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/27 March) —  A former chief of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) whose firm was the supplier for Northern Mindanao’s controversial P30-million organic fertilizer subsidy program, is willing to replace the questionable stocks amid investigation by the Department of Agriculture legal office, Jimmy Apostol, NIA Bukidnon irrigation officer, told MindaNews.

Apostol said Carlos Salazar, former NIA chief and owner of 3K and C Enterprises who is recovering from a stroke, contacted him earlier this month to make the offer. But Apostol said he could not decide on the offer as the program is under investigation by the DA national office.

The DA has yet to release its probe on the controversial P30-million National Irrigation Administration’s Bio-Organic fertilizer Subsidy Project in Northern Mindanao.

Lawyer Charissa Kay Alvarez, legal officer of the regional DA office, told MindaNews in October 2010 that they submitted the report to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala but the latter had not responded.

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

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

Apostol told MindaNews in August 2010 that the fertilizers and pesticides were 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 were put on hold since June 4, 2010 by virtue of an FPA SUMS order pending their own test of the samples.

Until now, the stocks remain in the motorpool.

Julius Maquiling, NIA-10 regional director, confirmed to MindaNews in October that the report had been submitted but he refused to give details. He referred MindaNews to the Bukidnon NIA office.

Earlier, in July, the DA gave a fact-finding team 45 days to probe the NIA organic fertilizer subsidy project after the Sangguniang Panlalawigan initiated an inquiry on allegations of rigged bidding, poor quality of fertilizers, among others.

Alvarez, a member of the team, told MindaNews they started investigations in July and were expected to submit a report to the agriculture secretary by 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 was DA-10 supervising agriculturist Remina Occena, chief of the 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 then, Peduche, who initiated the probe, said that even if it is a project that does not require farmers to pay back, “it is still people’s money (and) must be explained.”

The NIA 10 subsidy package included a fertilizer and pesticide distribution to farmers in Region 10 — 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 integrated activities of related agriculture agencies to make the country “rice-sufficient,” Maquiling said in 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)