The Department of Agriculture (DA) has welcomed any congressional investigation involving the allegedly overpriced fertilizers procured by the agency as part of its COVID-19 aid to affected farmers.
The DA made the announcement as a national alliance of rural-based organizations challenged the department to show where one could buy a bag of urea fertilizer for almost P1,000, saying no such retail price exists as the market average is lower than P850.
Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan was asked to comment on a plan in the Senate to probe the P1.8 billion fertilizer procured by the DA, as well as the House Makabayan Bloc’s resolution seeking the same.
“Kung tayo ay iimbestigahan ay maluwag pong sinasabi ng kalihim na ine-entertain po niya,” Cayanan said, referring to Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
“Kasi po kaya naman niyang (Dar) sagutin [ang mga issue]… at kung ano man po ang ating sasabihin will only add credence and integrity to what we are doing,” the DA official said.
Farmers from Tarlac and Nueva Ecija have earlier alleged that the fertilizers distributed the DA under its stimulus program Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra COVID-19 were overpriced.
The farmers claim that the DA purchased 1,811,090 bags of urea fertilizers for P1.8 billion in a series of biddings, which translates to at least P1,000 per bag.
The farmers claim that the average retail price of urea fertilizer was only at P850 per bag—translating to a whopping P271.66 million in overpriced amounts in the DA’s procurement.
Oftociano Manalo, national president of Pambansang Mannalon, Mag-uuma, Magbabaul, Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (P4MP) which is affiliated with the DA’s Agricultural Training Institute, said the P900 to P950 price tags under which the DA claimed to have bought the fertilizers were higher than the retail price in the market.
“I personally bought two bags of urea fertilizer last Friday. One cost P830 while the other fetched for only P810. And these bags were delivered to my house, which is at least 6 kilometers away from the outlet in Rosales, Pangasinan. That means the retail price already includes the delivery charge,” said Manalo, also a former president of the Irrigators Association of Pangasinan.
“So the P990 to P995 price tag per bag under the supply contracts awarded by the DA, that is very wrong. They are making fools out of us,” he added.
Manalo said he also asked P4MP stakeholders in other regions to check the retail price of urea fertilizer, and none reported prices anywhere near P900 per bag.
“The DA has field people — how come they did not check the prevailing retail prices? I think some shady people at the DA have pulled a fast one Secretary Dar,” he said.
Manalo expressed fear that Dar’s subordinates may have been feeding him wrong information on the retail price of urea fertilizer that led to the awarding last month of the allegedly overpriced supply contracts.
“I still believe in the integrity of the Agriculture Secretary, but he was probably fed wrong information by his own people. These contracts are disadvantageous not only to the government but to farmers as well. The price difference is already enough to buy close to half a million more bags of fertilizer,” Manalo added.
The DA has denied allegations, saying that the procurement process of fertilizers were corruption free and were actually cheaper compared to national averages.
This was echoed by Cayanan as he said that the Agriculture chief is consistent in saying that the procurement process was above board and underwent a rigorous process.
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) expressed full support for the looming congressional probes on the fertilizer issue.
“The demand for a probe is just and urgent. We have to get to the bottom of this. We hope the DA cooperates. A Senate probe is much welcome. All public funds and resources intended for farmers must be spent carefully,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.
The KMP said farmers’ recent retail purchases of urea fertilizer revealed that a bag could be fetched for P830 in Tarlac, P810 in Pangasinan, and P840 in Nueva Ecija.
Based on the monitoring of KMP regional chapters, average prevailing prices of a bag of urea fertilizer since last month have not changed and are as follows: Tarlac – P850; Nueva Ecija – P830 to P870; Isabela – P880 to P1,100; Quirino – P1080; Camarines Sur – P1,000; Iloilo – P880; South Cotabato – 850; Cagayan de Oro – P850; Agusan del Sur – P950; Davao City – 800; Davao de Oro – 1,000.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, an umbrella farmers group, last week called for a Senate investigation into such claims./Stacy Ang