N. Vizcaya farmers, officials hit diversion of rice funds
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Officials and residents here have assailed the provincial government for sacrificing funds for a rice program in favor of road construction and a bulldozer.
Documents showed that a P2 million allotment for the province’s rice modernization program has been used to fund farm-to-market roads worth P500,000 and the purchase of a bulldozer for Kasibu town worth P1.5 million.
“This questionable move is highlighted now that the entire country is on the verge of a food crisis. At a time when we were supposed to improve rice production, roads and bulldozers are given priority,” said Board Member Patricio Dumlao Jr.
Farmers here have expressed alarm over the looming decrease of their rice production due to the abandonment by the provincial government of the “grains modernization” program, which has been left with no budget allocation under the 2008 annual investment plan (AIP).
“This is even more worrisome because infrastructure projects and purchase of equipment have long been recorded as a good source of graft and corruption, especially in local governments where monitoring is often weak or even non-existent,” said rice farmer Alejo Rubio, 62.
This writer tried to contact Governor Luisa Cuaresma for comment on Wednesday but a member of her staff, Erdina Dimal, said she was out of her office.
Provincial officials earlier defended the move, saying farm-to-market roads supported the province’s agriculture program.
Dumlao scored provincial officials for sacrificing the program for hybrid rice production, which tops the province’s list of priority projects, to accommodate infrastructure projects that are “unranked” in the AIP.
“This program is a priority of the Department of Agriculture, that it has committed to provide subsidy which is twice the amount presented by the province as counterpart. If we allot P2 million, we could have received a P2-million subsidy as well,” he said.
This subsidy, Dumlao said, is in the form of farm tools and other inputs such as fertilizers and chemicals expected to boost the farmers’ rice production of hybrid rice.
“We need this program because of our aim to increase production to a level near what China has been able to achieve, which is around 250 cavans per hectare, a far cry from our peak of production in the province which is a measly 150 cavans [per hectare],” he said.
“What do we need the roads for when our farmers no longer have produce to bring to the market?” asked Board Member Filma Dulay-Perez.
Dumlao cited circulars from national agencies that development funds of local governments, which are mostly derived from their internal revenue allotment shares, should cater to programs of the national government on food security.
He questioned the proposed purchased of a bulldozer, which, he said, did not have any justification to be needed by the farmers.
Sources in the provincial government, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, revealed that officials have been pursuing the purchase of the bulldozer to be used in a road project that had been contracted by a private firm owned by a high-ranking provincial official, through the use of an alleged dummy.
“They like Kasibu very much because it is remote, and away from the eyes of the public and the media,” the source said.