Tumult in Emmanuel Piñol’s agriculture turf

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

No man, not even a cabinet minister, is a prophet in his own land. Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol is doubted in his North Cotabato home province. He hails two solar-powered irrigation works he set up there as the Philippines’ way to rice self-sufficiency. Farmers scoff that they’re white elephants.

Costing P6.5 million each, the irrigations in two arid villages are unworkable. Reason: not enough water to draw and gush onto paddies.

Piñol had picked the locations because, with farmers dependent on rain, cropping is only once a year. With suction pumps running on solar panel-generated electricity, he ballyhooed, planting can be twice a year or more. Four hectares supposedly can be irrigated per day, or 60 hectares in 15 days. Going nationwide, he can then water 500,000 similarly rain-fed hectares to boost rice supply. He pulled in President Rody Duterte to inaugurate the first site in Janiuay, Mlang in Feb. 2017. Mlang was where Piñol began his political career as mayor.

Here’s the catch. Precisely because the two locations are dry most of the year, there are no irrigation sources. Ponds and creeks are too shallow. Last Monday the Janiuay barangay council petitioned Duterte to inspect the never-used facility.

A later one in Manubuan, Matalam looked more promising. A 350-cubic meter reservoir was installed, to release water during the parched months. But recent photos show it inoperative. An El Niño drought is expected this year.

In Pigcawayan, gentleman farmer Reynaldo Palomero questions Piñol’s dole last month of expensive tractors to 20 barangay captains. Writing to the Presidential Complaints Center in Malacañang, he says the equipment should have been given instead to qualified farmers associations. Commission on Audit (COA) guidelines state that beneficiaries must be groups verified as working on over a hundred hectares. The barangay chiefs have hectarages of only two to 20. Palomero sees politics behind the deal. Allegedly, a high official in the Dept. of Agriculture (DA) in Region XII, covering North Cotabato, chose the 20 barangay captains for elevating a kinsman to municipal councilor. The regional officer is Piñol’s appointee.

A certified public accountant and member of the Institute of Internal Auditors, Palomero is a stickler for rules. He seeks investigation if the grantee-barangay chiefs filed proper application forms and the DA properly vetted them.

In Kidapawan, the city government refuses to implement one of nine DA projects. From a P2-million grant, the poultry production would have improved farm incomes. But there are kinks with the DA’s chosen recipient, Diamond Agri-Venture Farmers Association. For one, DAVFA, formed in 2016, was registered with the SEC only in 2018. COA rules state that grantees must have at least three years’ financial statements. A seven-man special committee of city hall found DAVFA officers unfamiliar with its finances.

There’s worse. Of DAVFA’s 71 members, 49 (or 69 percent) are employees of the Office of the City Vice Mayor. Twenty-nine of the latter are contractual, 18 are temporary hires, and two are co-terminus with Vice Mayor Bernardo F. Piñol, the DA secretary’s brother. All the DAVFA trustees are with that office. A city ordinance and DA guidelines debar city hall employees as grantees, the committee noted.

DAVFA’s members are unregistered with the Federation of Farmers Associations, or Kapisanan ng mga Magsasaka sa Lungsod ng Kidapawan. Neither is DAVFA accredited by the Kidapawan City Livelihood Desk. It has no business permit, the committee added. City Hall withheld the poultry startup until the DA qualifies DAVFA and certifies no conflict of interest.

Elsewhere agri-businessmen and farmer leaders lament the mess in DA. Hog and poultry raisers lost billions of pesos in late 2018 to early 2019 due to oversupply. DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry had over-imported pork and chicken, says Engr. Rosendo So, head of Samahang Industriya at Agrikultura (SINAG). Over 398 million kilos of foreign pork and 288 million of chicken flooded the country. Domestic growers account for 97 percent of pork and 98 percent of chicken supply. The BAI should have allowed importation only of the three and two percent shortfall. That would be about the 45 million kilos of pork and 24 million of chicken that the Philippines commits to the World Trade Organization to let in.

SINAG being the largest umbrella of agriculture concerns, So reported everything to Piñol. Allegedly he got a scolding for talking to the press.

Due to the over-importation, farm-gate prices of hogs and poultry fell. Citing the chicken situation, So recounts buyers quoting only P45-P50 a kilo when the raisers’ cost of production was P75-P80. Severely hurt were backyard hog and poultry raisers, 65 percent of the suppliers. So anticipates a drop in domestic production this year. Having been burned, raisers will scale down or shift business.

So has alerted Senators Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe, as heads of the agriculture and public services committees, respectively. He also raises the alarm about a supposed DA purchase of fertilizers at P600 per bag when the going rate is P450, for distribution to rice farmers. Another worry is the lack of footbaths at international airports – a duty of DA’s veterinary quarantine – against a spreading African swine fever.

Cash croppers have also been burned by overproduction. In 2017 Laguna growers had to let rot hundreds of tons of tomatoes they had been enticed to plant. Last year it was melons in Pampanga, carrots and other vegetables in Benguet, and tomatoes again in Pangasinan and La Union. In the age of instant telecommunications, DA has not been informing them of what to plant where, and how to stagger harvesting.

Piñol has been unreachable on any of his known mobiles.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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