Benguet execs lose trust in DA unit
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet —Officials of Benguet province urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to suspend the awarding of the management of a new vegetable trading area, called Agri-Pinoy Center, to National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) due to the agency’s alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Instead, Agri-Pinoy Center should be administered by its primary clientele, the farmers, said Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan and La Trinidad Mayor Edna Tabanda in separate interviews this week.
The officials expressed concerns about trusting Nabcor, one of the agencies that allegedly funneled lawmakers’ Priority Development and Assistance Fund allocations, more commonly known as pork barrel, to bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) linked to detained businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. Nabcor is a government firm attached to the DA.
“Agri-Pinoy Center should be managed by the farmers themselves. They should be the ones planning as to how the project could be maximized,” Fongwan said.
Metro Manila’s daily supply of salad vegetables, like lettuce, carrot, potato and cabbage, comes from Benguet.
The P400-million project was intended to make vegetable trading operations more efficient by providing a venue for and a system of shipping vegetables to lowland provinces at minimal levels of spoilage or wastage.
The project would be jointly funded by the DA, the Benguet provincial government, the La Trinidad town government and funds endorsed for release by the office of Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan.
Fongwan said the facility was designed to help Benguet farmers improve the packaging of their produce so they can compete with other producers once the Asean Free Trade Agreement takes effect in 2015.
DA officials in the Cordillera region declined to comment when asked about the issue raised by Benguet officials.
But Fongwan urged the agency to assemble an Agri-Pinoy Center management team, composed of officials of the DA, Benguet and Benguet State University, to resolve this matter.
Tabanda said she did not understand the management structure being proposed for Agri-Pinoy Center, which was launched here in 2011.
She said La Trinidad had pledged a P30-million counterpart fund for the center, but “we do not even know how we would transmit our share, in cash or in kind.”
The facility was scheduled for completion before 2016, but the Benguet government ordered work to slow down due to concerns about the area’s soil stability.
Nabcor has been used as a conduit of funds pocketed by legislators through the pork barrel scam allegedly put together by Napoles.
Napoles, three senators and another alleged key player in the scam are now detained after the Sandiganbayan started acquiring jurisdiction over the plunder case filed against the main players in the scam.
Many of the projects that passed through Nabcor ended up being implemented by Napoles NGOs. Kimberlie Quitasol, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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