Palace says DA, DAR can clarify COA audit
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Thursday stood by its agencies that the Commission on Audit reported had misused public funds.
“All government agencies are accountable to the people for the proper use of public funds,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press briefing at the Palace.
He said the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) “have declared that contrary to published reports, all efforts are being exerted to ensure that such funds were utilized in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations.”
In its recent reports, the COA said the DA misused more than P14.2 billion in 2013 in “questionable projects” while the DAR had failed to complete two major projects in farming communities amounting to P12.8 billion.
Citing the DA explanation to the audit report, Coloma said the P14.2 billion cited in the COA report was allocated for three types of projects: the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) projects; those under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF); and the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (Acef) projects.
Funds for the DAP projects were all allocated to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), local government units and DA regional field units and other implementing agencies, Coloma said.
“The DA is now working with other agencies on how the implementation of these projects may be expedited,” he said.
Citing a DA statement, Coloma said legislators had identified the PDAF projects but they themselves “stopped releasing PDAF as early as 2013, even before the Supreme Court announced its unconstitutionality.”
The Acef projects were suspended in 2010 “due to poor collection performance,” Coloma said.
“On the reported P4.3-billion unpaid Acef loans, which were granted from 2000 to 2010, the DA is working on improving collection of the same,” he added.
As for the DAR, “corrective measures initiated in 2012 achieved results in 2014, thereby accelerating” the implementation and completion of the projects under question.
Coloma said the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica)-assisted Agrarian Reform Infrastructure Support Project Phase 3 had achieved a physical accomplishment of 95 percent, while the Asian Development Bank-funded Agrarian Reform Communities Project had a physical accomplishment of 76 percent as of end 2014.
“The implementation of the Jica-assisted Mindanao Sustainable Agrarian Assistance Development project and the Italian-assisted ARC Development Support project were adversely affected by the delays in the procurement of consulting services for project implementation,” Coloma said.
He added “other projects take into consideration the provisions of the procurement law and the provision of the financing agreement between the Philippines and the Japanese and the Italian governments.”
The DAR also noted that the audit report was for 2013 and the Italian project became effective only on Aug. 27 of the same year.
In the statement cited by Coloma, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that funds totaling P14.4 billion were not squandered.
Alcala said that the amount, part of which was attributed to releases under the previous administration, was under liquidation.
The COA report itself, the DA said, mentioned the difficulties encountered in the implementation.
Among such challenges are unstable peace-and-order condition in the project site, problems on right of way, obstruction within the construction limits, and other related problems that are being addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Even so, the DA directed its officials to submit their formal responses to the COA report, Alcala said.
“For the record, the department has always ensured the prudent use of public funds entrusted to us to benefit farmers and fishers and the Filipino people,” Alcala said.
The DA said the DAP funds mentioned in the Inquirer report were not all within the disposition of the department. Some P2 billion was allocated to the DPWH as implementor of farm-to-market road projects.
Alcala said P1 billion was used to finance the Agrarian Production Credit Program managed by Land Bank of the Philippines and the Mindanao Rural Development Project (MRDP).
WB’s ‘model of transparency’
A total of P919 million was used as counterpart in MRDP projects intended to spur development in Mindanao, Alcala said.
He noted that the MRDP was recognized by the World Bank as a model of transparency and effective project implementation, paving the way for upscaled version dubbed Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP).
The PRDP will make available P27.50 billion to cover and finance as many project proposals from local government units, and farmers’ and fishers’ groups nationwide as possible, Alcala said.
He said the fresh attack on the name and integrity of the department was undermining the gains of the partnership between the agency, and the farmers and fishers.
“Rest assured that we are abiding by our mandate and are continuing to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability in governance,” he said.—With a report from Riza T. Olchondra
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