Graft-tainted fund to aid farmers, fishers extended
THE HOUSE has approved a bill extending the corruption-tainted Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (Acef) by another seven years up to 2022.
The House committee on agriculture and food approved House Bill No. 6162 extending the Acef which was to end this year with at least P2 billion in funds still unspent.
The Acef was established in 1996 as part of the government’s safety net for farmers and fishermen adversely affected by the opening of the domestic farm sector to imports. The fund was originally set to expire in 2007 but was extended eight years.
The fund, which was disbursed by Congress, was sourced from tariffs on quota imports of farm goods. The fund was initially meant to provide low-cost funds for irrigation, farm-to-market roads, postharvest facilities, credit, research and development, retraining, extension services and marketing infrastructure for the agriculture sector.
The bill would expand the beneficiaries to include local government units, state colleges and universities, government institutions, nongovernment organizations, people’s organizations, cooperatives, farmer and fisher organizations, and other farm groups.
The Acef was suspended in 2011 by the Department of Agriculture after officials uncovered anomalous loan transactions involving legislators and individuals who did not repay their loans or failed to account for their projects.
Former Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who was the presidential adviser on food security until recently, had said the Acef was used as a pork barrel by allies of the Arroyo administration with at least P8.5 billion of the fund going to favored legislators and farmers.
The loans were given without interest or collateral and were taken out by operators demanding kickbacks from farmers. The Acef was continued in the Aquino administration with hardly any improvements in the collection or establishment of a comprehensive agriculture development strategy.
The suspension of the Acef was lifted in 2012 after the House committee adopted safeguards to check against abuse of the fund.
Under the bill, authored by Batangas Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza, at least 10 percent of the Acef would be allocated to scholarships for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and veterinary medicine education. Gil Cabacungan