AN umbrella group of agriculture stakeholders have appealed to the Senate agriculture committee to immediately investigate the allegedly overpriced fertilizer supply contracts that are part of a P5.69 billion emergency procurement to help farmers weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairman Rosendo So said a probe on what he described as a fertilizer fund mess becomes even more crucial after President Rodrigo Duterte himself underscored in his fifth State of the Nation Address the importance of a robust agriculture sector for the country's economic recovery.
"How can we Plant, Plant, Plant if the fertilizer supply contracts of the Department of Agriculture are overpriced and the winning bidders are unable to deliver on their obligation on time? Farmers should have done top-dressing and should have planted by now but could not do so because the fertilizers have not been delivered," So said.
So urged Senator Cynthia Villar, who chairs the agriculture committee, to investigate why the DA approved a reference price that was higher by at least P150 than the prevailing market prices for urea fertilizer.
"The supply contracts are grossly disadvantageous to the government. Taxpayers' money have gone down the drain because of these overpriced urea fertilizer purchases. The DA could have done better if they just bought directly from retail outlets where prices are lower instead of bidding out these contracts," he said.
"Some of the winning bidders have also failed to deliver the contracted fertilizer. The Senate should look into this as well," So added.
In May, the first contracts amounting to P1.8 billion were awarded to La Filipina Uy Gongco Corporation for Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Western Visayas and Atlas Fertilizer Central Visayas.
Farmers have complained that the winning bids were higher than prevailing retail prices by as much as P150 per bag.
The supply contracts in question were part of the DA's P5.69 billion emergency stimulus program Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra COVID-19 (ALPAS sa COVID-19).
La Filipina Uy Gongco, in particular, still has to complete the delivery of 911,073 bags which should have been done in full by the end of June.
The supplier was supposed to deliver 50 percent of the contracted fertilizer volume in May, and the remaining half two months ago.
Former agriculture chief and Federation of Free Farmers president Leonardo Montemayor said the delay in the delivery of urea fertilizer will have an impact on food security as he called on both the House of Representatives and the Senate to push through with their respective investigation into the alleged overpriced contracts.
"One would expect that since it was a centralized bidding, and they were buying in bulk, the winning bids should be lower than prevailing retail prices. What happened here goes against common sense. How will the DA explain to farmers why the retail price is lower when it already includes additional costs?" he said.
"A lot of questions remain unanswered. These congressional investigations must push through because these are in response to legitimate issues raised by farmers on the ground who will be most affected by these issues. It is the duty of the House of Representatives and the Senate to act on this," Montemayor added.
At the Lower House, militant party-list lawmakers earlier filed House Resolution No. 992 seeking a joint inquiry of the Committees on Agriculture and Food and Good Government and Public Accountability on the urea fertilizer procurement.
Under the House resolution, the lawmakers cited a monitoring done by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas which showed that the average retail price of urea in the regions covered by the supply contracts were lower by as much as P150 per bag (Tarlac at P850 per bag, Nueva Ecija at P830 to P870 per bag and Iloilo at P880 per bag).