With Che-Che Lazaro of Probe, and PCIJ, providing the basis for the investigation, and Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. as the chairman presiding over the hearing, digging into the stink surrounding fertilizer funds has more gravitas than previous basis. That and of course, political titillation: the first-ever appearance of former Budget and Management Sec. Boncodin before a public body.
(10:45 AM or so) Jun Magsaysay pointedly began, after giving his colleagues the chance to make generally rambling and empty opening statements, by reading a list of resource people and government officials, noting some seemed “unavailable” or “confined in hospital,” and pointedly concluding that the Executive Department would not be represented, but that in fairness to them, most of them sent letters pleading the President’s E.O.
Che-Che Lazaro would be the first witness. She stated that the first show of the revived Probe would be about fertilizer funds; then shows the show… 2 billions pesos, “Guinintuang Masaganang Ani” or “GMA” Program, for rice, corn and livestock, but actually used as “incentives” for congressmen, governors, and mayors for their support for the President during the elections. Feb 3-11were the release dates for the funds, incidentally just before the campaign began. Most curious, funds released for these purposes to urban congressmen for “urban farming.” (Rep. Teddy Locsin was particularly furious at not only being mentioned as having received pointless funds, but over not having received them and not having been afforded an opportunity to clear himself until he delivered a furious privilege speech in the House). The President, according to the report, directed Agriculture Sec. Cito Lorenzo to delegate Usec. Volante to handle the “realignment” of funds. 105 congressmen, 53 governors, and 23 mayors were originally to divvy-up the original 728 or so million of the funds; shortly before the elections, there came a new list, 104 congressmen, 48 governors, and 26 mayors became the targeted beneficiaries: all of them supporters of the President (Rep. Cua, 3M, Rep. Zubiri, 5M, etc.). Also, Probe dissected the manner in which each allocation would be divided between “runners,” contractors, and the congressmen. (3/4 of the way, the CD started malfunctioning, alas). Transcripts will have to be provided; Lazaro had to conclude by saying that the Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) claims it never received funds. Enrile makes a motion to swear the witnesses in, specifically aiming his motion at Ms. Lazaro to certify as to the authenticity of her video (what for?). Mar Roxas intervenes to point out that the standard of evidence required by the senate may differ from the editorial standards of Probe, and that Che-Che Lazaro should consult counsel. The Senate President leaps in to point out that Che-Che was meant to present a report; she can only swear to the fact she prepared the report but not to the specifics contained in it. More banter, but finally: will Enrile withdraw his motion? Enrile points out that swearing to the authenticity of the report, but not the specific contents, would help the process… His major point: why did the disc break down? Enrile’s point, I think, is that media might cry that the presentation was sabotaged. More bickering among the senators and profuse apologies for the “technical glitch” from poor Che-Che. Eventually Enrile asks what’s the ultimate purpose of the presentation: RM Jr. replies that the Probe and PCIJ reports provide the basis for the hearing; Enrile then insists on a clear, clean copy. The Senate President agrees with Enrile (who withdraws his motion, finally)
They move on to Danilo Ramos, representing KMP. Roxas asks for a clarification: what monies are involed? RM Jr. clarifies its 728 million, specifically a check written on Feb. 3, 2004 by the Department of Budget and Management for the Department of Agriculture. Asst. Comm. Torres of the Commission on Audit has a colleague, Dir. Lozada, make a presentation.
Initial allocation, 728 million: Department of Agriculture received 723 million in March 2004 (where did 5 million go?), transferred to local units soon after; thence to foundations, NGO’s, etc. as identified by congressmen, governors, and mayors.
Enrile: Were the disbursements covered by the election ban? COA auditor waffles. Enrile: You’re supposed to know. COA auditor: waffles, we’ll ask our lawyers. Roxas asks for a list of proponents (i.e. the congressmen, etc.) and the list of beneficiaries. COA brought a list of proponents, but is still checking the list of beneficiaries.Rep. Biazon takes up the cudgels for his son (Rep. Biazon didn’t ask for, or receive, the funds, COA says). Serge Osmena asks for clarification on recipients; COA says it is still making the list; Osmena is told only Regions V and VII have fully liquidated lists; COA says they will finish within the next few days, oops, err, uh… weeks. Osmena apparently irritated over how long it takes COA to liquidate things. COA explains the auditors, according to a new order, no longer do the auditing, but instead, their legal and education officers do it. Osmena is properly puzzled by this development. COA explains when local government units receive funds, it is up to the LGU’s auditor to audit, then submit it to COA. Osmena (and I) remain puzzled; COA says it will be able to break things down in a matter of weeks. Enrile jumps in and wonders why the COA seems broken up into fiefdoms and that information is not consolidated: COA seems to focus on departments but doesn’t keep track on the big picture or on the micro picture, e.g. what local government units are up to. Silence from COA. Sen. Pres. Drilon jumps in and follows the process: Agriculture Department, to local governments, then to NGO’s, or NGO’s through LGU’s. Is there a list of the NGO’s? COA: uh, no. So there’s a list of NGO’s? COA: yes, but not a complete list. Drilon: so how do you know that the process was from LGU’s to NGO’s? COA: well, uh, we kind of came to that conclusion from what the LGU’s told us. Drilon: how did the congressmen (the proponents) propose? COA: The Department of Agriculture itself described them as proponents… Drilon: Because the congressmen proposed the NGO’s? COA: uh, yes…
Another member of COA (lady assigned to Department of Agriculture) explains the paperwork used to identify the three kinds of transfer; she has samples; Drilon asks for samples and requests a consolidated list of everyone involved by the next hearing. Osmena: there are two sources of funds for fertilizer, totally 2.8 billion pesos, broken down as follows -728 million from DA; 432 million DA through NFA, for hybrid rice; 544 million from DAR (May, 2004); 1.1 billion (mentioned by PCIJ). Does COA have information on these? COA (lady): the 728 is a SARO and the subject of this hearing; only 200 million was transferred to DA from NFA; 394 million went to Philrice , 100 million to RFU’s (regional field units) ; 1.1 billion was regular allotment. Osmena wonders at 100 million, since not every province has a hybrid seed production unit. Osmena ticked off it’s taking them over a year to do this; COA lady giggles, says there’s preliminary report. (I’m lost. Aren’t you?) Biazon asks questions
11:56 AM Osmena tartly concludes the COA came unequipped with the necessary information, and so when can the proper information be submitted? COA: within the month. Osmena complains that it’s budget hearing time, and Congress is unequipped with information it needs. The 2004 audit should have been submitted in June of 2005. COA says it did; but Osmena says it’s obvious that was partial; COA says: yes, well, subject to clarification. Drilon asks for the data on the finished regions “since it might take you two years to finish” the whole thing. They have Region V. Region VII to follow…
12:01 Enrile: asks COA in every province, would every congressman, and governor, be a proponent? COA says more or less, yes. Lim asks KMP, did you receive anything? KMP: we have 64 provincial chapters, and not one of them received a single peso. Lim asks KMP, if you didn’t receive any funds, it means you had to advance funds for yourselves? KMP: We’re glad you brought this up. For every bag of urea fertilizer, the repayment is 3 cavans of rice; so they’re quite bitter that they didn’t receive assistance for fertilizer. (This is the scandal here, particularly, if I understand previous PCIJ and other reports: the funds really could have helped the rice farmers).
12:09 (more discussions on how the farmers are being screwed in general, by a lack of government assistance).
12:13 The main point is still that the KMP didn’t get any money. They claim their allied organizations claim they didn’t get funds, either. (Lesson here: KMP is not in the good graces of the administration or its own allies). Lim and Drilon then grill COA on municipal and other local paper trails for which they have documentation. COA will, uh, you know, follow up and check…
12:19 Lim zeroes on some foundations that seem to be the beneficiaries of funds on a multi-province level. He asks why these foundations seem to be so fortunate. Proposes that COA looks into it. COA dutifully nods.
12:21 Eventually, COA explains that liquidation is taking a long time, because the NGO’s are private entities beyond the reach of the COA, and so COA cannot compel their cooperation. Lim asks how KMP feels about not getting any money. KMP says its hurt and angry. They need help because the high-yield varieties of rice they grow requires fertilizer, and they’re suffering from having to borrow fertilizer and pay it back with their yields. 1/2 to 1 1/2 hectares is the average rice paddy: 1 hectare requires 6-8 cavans of fertilizer (e.g. urea), roughly P7,200 pesos to pay for the fertilizer for 6 cavans: that is, if you pay cash, but the farmers often have to borrow money to buy the fertilzer (they pay then 9,000 pesos in rice, for example, if they borrow the fertilizer), which is why they’re really ticked off they didn’t get access to the fertilizer fund, which would have essentially given them a 7,200 peso bonus per farming family. KMP claims 75% of the population consists of agricultural workers (message: the President played favorites, and politics, to the detriment of 3 out of 4 Filipinos).
12:30 RM Jr. indicates other farmer’s organizations: Enrico Cabanit of Unorka speaks first, and is more concerned with the Marcos wealth for land reform… They have members in 41 provinces, and ask why their members haven’t been given a chance to have access to the high-yield GMA rice or to fertilizer. Etc, etc. Makes a good point that no training is being given as to how to properly cultivate new hybrid varieties.
12:40 Alyansa ng Mambubukid reports they went around Central Luzon to look into whether farmers ever received the funds. Says in Pampanga and other places, no farmers received the funds. Endorses the complaint that the farmers lack adequate support when it comes to being informed as to how to properly cultivate high-yielding hybrid varieties of rice. Disputes how the government programs can really be classified as subsidies; points out that the focus should have been on the high-yield varieties instead of supporting older varieties. But does note that the funds, if they’d reached the farmers, would have been helpful, indeed. Grumbles the farmers were hoping that since it was election time anyway, they were doubly disappointed that no funds reached them. (This brings me back to an observation: since Marcos and martial law, the campaign period has been held during the planting season, instead of September-October-November as it was from 1935 to 1972, which I submit was done precisely to permit the release of campaign funds under the guise of agricultural programs).
12:46 They’re winding down. RM Jr. thanks COA. No Boncodin, apparently. Roxas wants the secretariat to undertake fact-finding, so that in the next hearing, things can be more “policy oriented.” Otherwise the senators, Roxas says, would just be spending their time digging up who got what, instead of why. Says the ones who designed the program are the ones who really need to be heard and interrogated. RM Jr. asks COA to account for fertilizer funds beginning in 2001 onwards. The Probe episode is finally being concluded.
12:56 One of the revelations, in the Probe episode, that affects the Senate: then-governor Lito Lapid says he gave away the funds in the form of liquid fertilizer; farmer’s groups replied they don’t use liquid fertilizer. Then there’s a 2 minute update focusing on the PCIJ report on COA’s findings: some releases were spent on fertilizer and machinery; other releases were just transfers; worst was that some NGO beneficiaries don’t seem to have anything to do with rice farming. Hearing ends at 1:00 p.m.