Bloodsuckers in the DA
Reports that Janet Lim Napoles and her alleged network of bogus organizations received funds from the Department of Agriculture must be very disconcerting for Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap because as agriculture secretary during the time of former President Gloria Arroyo, the DA was in the center of mega anomalies. In fact, more than other irregularities that hounded the former president, it is the P728 million fertilizer fund scam that rankles the national consciousness because the funds were said to have found their way into the 2004 national elections that voted Arroyo as president.
A native of Manila, Yap was appointed Agriculture Secretary in August 2004 but was set aside for Domingo Panganiban in 2005. A year later, Arroyo appointed him again to head the DA, a position that Yap yielded in 2010 when he ran unopposed in Bohol’s 3rd district. And finally, before Arroyo bowed out from office, she appointed Yap as Cabinet Steward for Bohol projects. It didn’t take long for Yap to gain political control over Bohol’s 3rd district including gaining formal residency in Loboc town.
The 2010 local elections in Bohol would go down in history as the most bizarre because local political leaders practically conceded the third district to an outsider. But what could veteran politicians like Eladio Jala and his son Adam Relson Jala do when the president practically shoved Yap down their throats?
As DA Secretary, Yap funneled agricultural and agri-related infrastructure projects worth P350 million from 2008 to 2009. With DA funds at his disposal, the Jalas stayed out of the district race. In 2013, Yap ran for reelection and won unopposed for the second time.
If Yap thinks a seat in the House of Representatives would shield him from investigations related to his previous government stint, he is gravely mistaken. And for this, there will be no thanks extended to various NGOs like JLN.
The DA-Napoles connection had been a subject of formal investigation for more than a decade but each time Janet Lim-Napoles comes under scrutiny, she manages to slip away.
In September 2011, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food probed allegations that the P10 billion Agriculture Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund (Acef) was being used as a cash cow of agriculture officials, politicians and businessmen close to the Arroyo administration.
The Senate probe led by committee chair Francis Pangilinan looked into questionable DA transactions forged by the agency with a friend of Arthur Yap named Lyndon Tan, who runs nongovernment organizations Basic Necessity, Gemsum Marketing and Hi-Las Marketing.
In the course of the Senate investigation, officials discovered a long list of companies and beneficiaries who failed to pay back their loans. Other beneficiaries complained that some agriculture officials were demanding commissions from loans released through the Acef.
It must be noted that the DA Secretary has authority to sign P5 million in agricultural loans to beneficiaries subject to the recommendation of local agricultural officials. Upwards of P5 million, the DA executive submits to the oversight authority of the Senate Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization.
It’s not certain if former senator Pangilinan wrapped up the investigation with a final report. I’m a bit wary because it took the Senate Blue Ribbon committee more than four years to finish its probe on the P728 million fertilizer fund scam.
Former senators Richard Gordon, Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. and Joker Arroyo concluded the investigation with a report which in essence indicted former president Arroyo, former agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, Undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante and other DA officials including then-Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez.
Whatever it is, I am moved to share the lament of one co-operative leader, Mr. Gregorio Ubra of United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra) based in Pampanga.
Many years ago, the co-op applied for loans to build a broiler breeder facility. San Diego said the co-op was encouraged by the Acef’s collateral and interest-free loan window and by then-Secretary Arthur Yap himself who reached out to many farmers’ organizations to take advantage of the P10.2 billion fund.
However, when Ubra’s application reached the central office of the agriculture department, it was denied.
San Diego said agriculture officials asked for 10 percent of the loan. Stunned by such in-your-face extortion, he balked at the proposition. However, agency officials pressed on and explained 10 percent was actually cheap because they demanded 35 percent from other beneficiaries.
In the end, Ubra decided to drop the farmers’ co-op application.
It’s time for Congressman Yap to explain why he allowed huge amounts of money to be funneled into dubious conduits. Granting they were legitimate NGOs, the fact that the agency did not require beneficiaries to put up collateral made the Acef open to wolf packs. No wonder, despite the credit mechanism, the agency failed in its stated objective “to improve Philippine agriculture, provide employment in the countryside and raise the income or farmers and fisher folk.”
I am glad the focus on the pork barrel scam has diverted to shenanigans in the Agriculture Department. Like leeches in Congress and other state agencies, the DA has been sucking taxpayers’ money for the longest time.
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