DA budget at Senate: From hearing to 4-hour tongue-lashing
The Senate hearing on the proposed 2020 budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday, Sept. 30, turned into a four-hour tongue-lashing session as senators castigated agriculture officials for their failure to solve the perennial problems of the country’s agricultural sector.
A noticeably irate Sen. Cynthia Villar, the Senate agriculture committee chair, assailed the DA and its attached agencies for failing to use billions of pesos that Congress had earmarked to improve rice production and help farmers become more competitive.
Even the usually mild-mannered Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri lost his temper over the decision of the Sugar Regulatory Authority to continue exporting some 200 metric tons of sugar to the United States despite the fact that the country was still importing the same volume of sugar a year.
“I cannot understand why we cannot implement (programs to have) higher agricultural yields in our country. I’m really disgusted,” said Zubiri, who completed his college degree from the University of the Philippines Los Banos, the country’s top agricultural school.
“We do not need to send sugar to the United States… because we have a shortage of sugar here domestically. What we need to do is give these to processors and end-users,” he added.
“That’s the reason why other sectors are pushing for the liberalization of the sugar industry,” he said. “It really frustrates me. It’s poor planning and poor implementation of our laws.”
He also assailed DA officials for the lack of a comprehensive government program to prevent the spread of the African swine flu to the hog industry in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Villar, who presided over the budget hearing, lambasted officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) for insisting on buying rice as buffer stocks, arguing that the agency should have used its P7-billion budget to buy palay (unmilled rice) from small farmers instead.
As to corrupt NFA personnel, she said: “To those who cannot stand staying in the NFA because they could no longer earn (from their previous modus), then go in early retirement and look for money from the other industries.”
Raising her voice, the senator told NFA administrator Judy Carol Dansal that buffer stocking was “not important” and that the agency should be able to sell all its rice inventory.
“We are the ones being blamed (by the public). We now suspect that you are colluding with the (rice) cartels,” Villar bluntly told Dansal.
“You should not fail. I will really go to President Duterte if you fail. Remember that!” she said./TSB
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