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Villar vows probe on DA's P1.8-B alleged overpriced fertilizer contracts

The Department of Agriculture's (DA) P1.8-billion allegedly overpriced fertilizer supply contracts under a stimulus program to address COVID-19 will be investigated by the Senate, according to Senator Cynthia Villar on Monday.

“I will look into the issue but I have to file a Senate Resolution first in order to schedule an inquiry or investigation. Congress is in recess right now and will resume in the third week of July. So I would have to wait till then," Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture, said in a statement.

"Once the Senate opens, we will, of course, look at all the sides to this issue. We have to ensure that the funds made available by the government to help our countrymen cope with the ongoing pandemic are being used for their intended purpose and beneficiaries, particularly the farmers," she added.

Villar further said that concerned groups and farmers can lodge their concern, in the meantime, to the State Prosecutor at the Department of Justice.

Earlier, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairman Rosendo So asked for a Senate probe on the matter. 

He said the DA has allocated P5.69 billion for the procurement of urea fertilizer under its Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra COVID-19 program, and pointed out that the 1.7 million fertilizer bags that were already bid by the department are supposedly worth P995 each—higher than the prevailing price of P850.

"Fertilizer bought by farmers themselves fetch for only Php830 to Php850 per bag. This shows that the purchase of these urea fertilizer by the DA Central Office was utterly disadvantageous to the government and to our farmers; especially now when we need all the funds available to survive this pandemic," So said.

"We call on the Senate to take the cudgels for our farmers who have been betrayed by the very officials who are supposed to help them recover from the adverse effects of COVID-19. We ask our senators to immediately investigate this and take to task those who are behind this anomalous deal," he added.

The SINAG already sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary William Dar, asking him to revoke the said contracts, according to So.

He noted that prior to the implementation of the ALPAS program, Dar already ordered the centralization of the bidding process after receiving complaints on previous bids.

“It is still within your authority (Secretary Dar) to correct this growing perception that the centralization of the bidding process was to centralize corruption at the Central Office,” So said.

“We will not hesitate to file cases if this situation is not addressed. The Bids and Awards Committee will be hard pressed to explain this fiasco,” he added.

So also mentioned that Villar "was among those who alerted SINAG on the bidding for urea fertilizer."

Villar has not confirmed nor denied the said claim but vowed that she will investigate the issue.

The DA, on the other hand, said it procured the first batch of fertilizers "strictly following" the procurement modality of negotiated procurement.

"I can personally vouch for the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the procurement process that the DA-BAC has exercised for these fertilizers. Guided by our Legal Office and in constant consultation with the GPPB, we made sure we followed to the number the prescribed procurement procedure as required by the law," Dar said.

Agriculture spokesperson Noel Reyes said the DA leadership welcomes the possible Senate probe on the matter.

"Secretary Dar welcomes the Senate probe to tell that the DA conducted the bidding above board," Reyes said in a text message to GMA News Online. —LDF, GMA News