In reply, Emmanuel Piñol admits project irregularities
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2019 - 12:00am

To my piece last Friday on complaints against him, Agriculture Sec. Emmanuel Piñol responded in his Facebook page. The five points I raised were based on official documents. His rejoinder, if not ascribing motives, mostly was name-calling. He said, for one: “You have become an instrument in a campaign by remnants of the Liberal Party in my province to demolish me.” Whoa! Given my exposés of sleaze during the LP or any admin, only a frog in a well would say that.

Interestingly though, Piñol in his diatribe seems to confess to anomalies as agriculture chief and as governor once of North Cotabato.

I reported how farmers were deriding as white elephants the solar-powered irrigations Piñol built in two parched Cotabato villages. Costing P6.5 million each, the pumps have no source from which to water the rice paddies. Photos show them inoperative. Officials in one barangay are begging President Rody Duterte to inspect the site where Piñol had him as inaugural guest in 2017.

“Yes, correct, confirmed!” Piñol said of the idle pumps. “Those two were the first of 169 units to be constructed nationwide (for) the Dept. of Agriculture. We expected challenges because this is new technology. One unit was used for two cropping seasons until the creek dried up. The other, a prototype, is undergoing corrective works because it did not operate according to standards... Drillings are now being done in one of the (sites) to establish a new water source... part of the learning curve as we embrace this new technology. We will improve the Solar-Powered Irrigation Technology as we move on. (For that) we are engaging the expertise of an Israeli agro-industrial corporation. The LR Group of Israel has offered to provide P44 billion to build 6,200 units all over the country.”

Hmm, new tech, substandard prototype, learning curve, he says. His two Cotabato projects cost P13 million. Yet the DA is not into research and development. That function is for PCAARRD, or Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development. Did Piñol consult that agency of the Dept. of Science and Technology? If so, it would have assigned the solar-powered irrigation R&D to a state university. That would have saved him the P13 million, plus corrective costs, for his trial and error.

Speaking of inter-agency coordination, did he secure environment clearance certificates and environmental impact assessments? An ECC is required before constructing anything, an EIA before drilling for water. Is there a feasibility plan for each of the 169 sites, lest they dry up more creeks? Environment and water-resource agencies need to know.

Who built Piñol’s solar irrigations? Was it the friend of a friend in Coachella Valley, California, whom he featured in another FB post? Was there a public bidding for the P13-million initial pumps and the 169 in all? Was the contractor vetted for product or service experience? No mention in any of his posts and press publicities. Taxpayers must know, before he brings in that P44-billion Israeli “expert” for them to bankroll.

Four other documented issues I raised, Piñol dismissed as politically motivated. Politics can distract. Four brothers and a daughter are running for congressman, governor, mayor, vice mayor, and board member.

One complaint is from gentleman farmer Reynaldo Palomero to Malacañang, about favoritism in DA’s award of tractors to 12 unqualified barangay captains. Another is the Kidapawan city hall’s refusal of a P2-million DA poultry grant to “farmers” who are employed at the Office of the Vice Mayor, Piñol’s brother.

Of this, he turned personal and asked me: “Are you saying we have to wait two years before newly organized farmers can be assisted?” He should direct that to city hall’s seven-man special body that, in recommending project suspension of the two-month-old group, cited the Government Auditing Code (Sec. 102) and City Ordinance No. 03-302.

Third issue is lack of DA info support. Farmers in Luzon lost money from price drops of overproduced tomatoes, melons, carrots, and other cash crops. Last is the complaint of agri-businessman Rosendo So about DA’s over-importation of pork and chicken, and inadequate port security against deadly African swine fever (ASF).

Piñol belittled So as a “charlatan who projects himself as champion of Filipino farmers.” Long before Piñol tried gardening, So co-founded a decade ago Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, the largest umbrella of hog, poultry, pond fish, and cash crop growers; irrigators; and other agricultural sectors. SINAG has exposed cartels in garlic, onion, and ginger trading. So had written Senators Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe, heads of the agriculture and public services committees, about the looming ASF epidemic and the over-imports that crippled domestic backyard growers. Piñol sneered at critics’ “strategy (of) using their connections in the Senate to get rid of me.”

Wednesday, senators heard So’s documented complaints. Since Villar and Poe were campaigning for reelection, Sherwin Gatchalian and Miguel Zubiri presided. They were aghast to learn from Usec. Segfredo Serrano that DA had no game plan against the ASF that kills 98.5 percent of afflicted hogs. Viral transmission can be from live or dead pigs, by contaminated pork or feeds, and fomites (shoes, clothes, knives, vehicles, equipment). There is no vaccine. 

If ASF spreads in the Philippines, as it did in Vietnam, the P200-billion hog industry could be wiped out. Alerts had been raised as far back as Sept., yet DA did not include anti-ASF in its budget for 2019. DA lacks veterinary quarantine inspectors. Perhaps preparations would speed up when the epidemic does strike. That’s like the water crisis that hit eastern Greater Manila, a senator remarked.

Fortunately invited to the hearing, the Coast Guard was surprised to learn that DA needs dogs to sniff out pork. The Coast Guard can lend its canine unit, but needs four months for pork-detection training. Alarmed, the Philippine Ports Authority said not only its regular ports but also the autonomous Subic, Clark and other free ports be informed. 

Serrano, retiring end-Mar., represented Piñol who was in Russia supposedly to procure fertilizers. That huge pork-producing country is in the list of 15 countries from which pork imports are banned.

Piñol in his FB reply blamed on politics too the idled construction of an airport in Cotabato. Documents show that it’s mostly his fault. That would need a separate column.

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