FARMERS have been reeling from the steep rise in fertilizer prices that have swelled production costs, yet a P1.1-billion program to set up composting facilities, to boost local organic fertilizer supply, has barely moved.
The snail-paced implementation angered Senate Agriculture committee chief Sen. Cynthia Villar, who ordered those in charge to carry out the program by year-end at least, “or resign.”
Senators grilled the head of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) at Thursday’s organizational meeting of the panel led by Villar, who stressed that the program would at least help farmers cope with rising production costs.
Members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform expressed disappointment over the dismal implementation of the BSWM’s composting facility program, given their funding of about P1.137 billion this year to set up what are called composting facilities for biodegradable (CFBW) to farmer-beneficiaries.
However, Villar received reports that BSWM’s CFBW program has been delayed and marred by various concerns and difficulties, forcing the senator to file a resolution that led to Thursday’s inquiry regarding the program’s status.
“I want the DA through BSWM to invest in composting and vermicomposting facilities to allow farmers to produce their own organic fertilizers which is good for our soil, which is now 38 percent degraded based on studies,” she said.
“If [a significant percentage] of our waste kitchen garden waste can be recycled into organic fertilizer, which is important now since chemical fertilizer has tripled in cost,” that would improve the lot of farmers, the senator pointed out. “We are helping in waste management and producing free fertilizer for our farmers,” she added.
Not a single centavo
During the hearing, it was revealed that BSWM has been unable to obligate nor distribute a single centavo of the CFBW program, leaving the P1.137 billion untouched to date.
BSWM OIC-Director Junel B. Soriano, who noted that he took over only last August 1, told lawmakers that the procurement for the CFBW program is currently ongoing with the bureau “completing” the “necessary” documents for the procurement.
The “turtle-paced” implementation of the CFBW program easily earned the ire of Villar and Sen. Imee R. Marcos, the vice chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform.
“Ni isang kusing wala pang nabibili for composting facility [You have not bought even a single unit of composting facility.],” Marcos said.
Villar said the CFBW program can boost production of domestic organic fertilizers that local farmers can use amid skyrocketing prices of inorganic fertilizers like urea. The P1.1-billion BSWM can procure some 1,100 units of CFBW.
Soriano disclosed that the bureau only sought the authority to procure the CFBW units from the Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Secretary last February. The agriculture secretary that time was William D. Dar.
Soriano’s explanation did not sit well with Villar, who demanded to know why Soriano needed to secure an authority from Dar before proceeding with the procurement process for the CFBW units.
Villar threatened to file a case against Soriano for alleged “incompetency” as bureau chief.
“The previous BSWM chiefs, even without the budget, were able to perform. You, you were just appointed by Dar and you are unable to perform,” she said.
“Why? What was the instruction of Dar to you? Do not buy the composting facilities so that we will buy more overpriced fertilizer? Do your job properly, or else I myself will be the one to file a case against you,” she added.
Soriano committedto complete BSWM’s procurement process for the CFBW units by November.
Villar dared Soriano to submit a courtesy resignation should he fail to do this. “Will you submit a courtesy resignation if you fail?” Villar asked.
“We will do our best [to implement the program],” Soriano responded.
“You will file a courtesy resignation if you fail. Can you commit to me that you will resign if you will be unable to do it? If you are really determined to implement it, then commit your resignation,” Villar said.
Marcos asked BSWM to submit all pertinent documents regarding the procurement and implementation of the CFBW program to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform.
Villar said the committee would schedule another hearing regarding the matter in November.