Villar vows to closely monitor agri fund

SENATOR Cynthia Villar on Thursday assured the public that they will closely monitor the disbursement of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) and is urging the Department of Agriculture (DA) to report out its status, similar to what is currently done with the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). 

“ACEF is another source of support for farmers, just like RCEF, so we would like to know if the funds are being distributed and utilized for their intended purposes and beneficiaries. The Senate Committee which I chair has oversight authority over ACEF, so we would like to look into it and get regular updates from the DA,” said Villar.

The senator is the primary author and sponsor of Republic Act (RA) No. 10848 or “An Act Further Extending the Period of Implementation of the ACEF” until 2022.

It amended RA No. 8178 that originally created ACEF in 1996, when it replaced quantitative import restrictions with tariffs on agricultural products, except rice.

To recall, ACEF expired and its utilization was discontinued in 2015 due to anomalies.

“ACEF was mishandled and misused before, we don’t want a repeat of that. The loans were extended to big corporations and influential people instead of to small farmers and fisherfolks. It’s been almost five years since ACEF utilization was extended, we want to see how effective it has been in uplifting the lives of farmers and fisherfolks,” cited Villar.

ACEF was aimed at helping Filipino farmers and fisherfolks to be more competitive amidst increased regional competition when the ASEAN Economic Community took effect five years ago.

Thus, RA 10848 identified where the funds should be channelled.

Eighty percent (80%) of the fund is in the form of credit with minimal interest, which shall not exceed five million pesos (Php5,000,000) per project loan, for the acquisition and establishment of agri-based production and processing machineries, equipment and facilities to achieve modern agricultural practices to be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Out of the remaining twenty percent (20%), ten percent (10%) will be extended as grants for research and development of agricultural and fishery products, and the commercialization of such, including the upgrading of research facilities, of qualified state universities and colleges (SUCs), which again shall not exceed five million pesos (Php5,000,000) per project; and the other ten percent (10%) will be used for the funding of a comprehensive scholarship and attractive grant-in-aid program for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

It likewise provided for the accounting of duties collected from the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) and for the report to be submitted to the ACEF Executive Committee or Execom and the COCAFM composed of the Senate and the House Committees on Agriculture and Food, Appropriations and Finance.

The law directed the Bureau of Customs to report duties collected from the MAV; the Bureau of Treasury to report on the funds remitted and credited to ACEF Special Account 183; and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for Fund Releases to DA to implement the ACEF.

Villar added that her committee will also look into complaints from farmers groups that ACEF funds remain unreleased by the DBM. The DA itself is requesting DMB to release PhP2.1 billion as it recently transferred ACEF money of about P1.44 billion to the Land Bank.

According to the DA, it has a total portfolio of about PhP6 billion that farmers, fisherfolks and agri-preneurs can borrow under the ACEF.

“We are in a crisis right now, so farmers need all the support they can get to deal with setbacks caused by the ongoing pandemic. If the funds are there, then it should be released to the farmers and fisherfolks,” Villar said.