CENTRAL Luzon farmers have slammed officials of the Department of Agriculture for callously approving an overpriced P1.8 billion fertilizer contract at a time when the government is scrambling for funds to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Farmers William Laureta of Tarlac and Ernesto Agustin Domingo of Nueva Ecija said the anomalous purchase was part of the DA’s stimulus program Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra Covid-19 (ALPAS sa Covid-19) that was intended to help farmers cope during this crisis.
"Farmers could barely survive this crisis, and even the government is virtually scraping the bottom of the barrel now just to look for funds to help the most vulnerable sectors, including farmers, and to keep the economy afloat," Laureta said in Filipino.
"These Agriculture officials should be taken to task for knowingly entering into an anomalous and overpriced contract. They have betrayed us farmers who need all the help we can get and have defrauded the government of millions of pesos of crucial funds," added Domingo.
The Agriculture department recently conducted a series of bidding for the procurement of 1,811,090 bags of urea fertilizers for P1.8 billion. This translates to a price of at least P1,000 per bag.
However, the prevailing average retail price on the market of urea fertilizer is pegged only at P850 per bag -- which would mean that the deal was overpriced by at least P271.66 million.
Laureta said in Tarlac, a bag of urea is sold for only P850 while the same bag, according to Domingo, fetches for P860 in Sto. Domingo town in Nueva Ecija.
"It is very clear that the government is on the losing end of this deal, losing millions of pesos -- money that could have been used to help more farmers hit by the pandemic," he said.
Domingo, for his part, said farmers are appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to make good his promise to crack the whip on corrupt officials who would dip their hands into funds meant for COVID-19 responses.
"If I discover some embezzlements...I am not a cruel man, but I will order your detention until this pandemic is over," the President had said.
Domingo said what made matters worse was that the DA was in a position to negotiate for an even lower supply contract since it was buying the fertilizers in bulk.
He said that some Agriculture officials may have earned millions of pesos in kickbacks from the deal.
Pursuant to Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the DA allocated P5.69 billion for the procurement of 5,691,477 bags of urea fertilizers at a price of P1,000 per bag.
The fertilizers should have been distributed to farmers in various regions during the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine.
After holding a bidding on April 29, the DA issued on May 5 a Notice of Award to La Filipina Uy Gongco Corporation for the delivery of 97,615 bags of urea at P990 per bag or a total amount of P96,638,850 for Region 4A, and 694,904 bags at P995 per bag or P691,429,480 intended for Region 6, or for a combined amount of P788,068,330.
After a separate bidding on May 4, the DA issued on May 8 another Notice of Award to La Filipina Uy Gongco for the supply and delivery of 911,073 bags of urea fertilizers at P995 per bag, which would be intended for distribution to farmers in Region 3, in the total amount of P906,517,635
A separate Notice of Award was also issued by the DA to Atlas Fertilizer for the delivery of 107,498 bags of urea at a price of P900 per bag or a total of P96,748,200 for Region 7.