PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has clipped Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s powers, with 75 percent of the department’s P68.59 billion budget now lodged with the Office of the President under former senator Francis Pangilinan, Palace sources said Sunday.
With Alcala reduced to a mere titular head, lawmakers, farmers and critics have renewed calls for his resignation amid threats of reduced production as a result of the El Niño phenomenon.
Since his appointment by President Aquino in 2010, Alcala has been hounded by numerous issues, including rampant smuggling of agricultural products including rice, pork and poultry, his failure to deliver on the promise of rice self sufficiency, and allegations of his involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Alcala’s remaining 25 percent of his powers includes control over agencies such as the National Agribusiness Corp. or Nabcor, which was abolished in March by the President after it was linked to the pork barrel scandal.
Alcala also retains supervision over National Dairy Corp., a recipient of the bulk of the funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the legality of which has been challenged in court.
“Out of delicadeza... Alcala should start packing up and resign his post. If he refuses to resign, then the President should sack him,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Isagani Carlos Zarate.
Zarate added that Alcala was now being slapped in the face for his incompetence.
Four strategic agencies of the Department of Agriculture were transferred to the Office of the President. The rest of the 36 smaller agencies remain under Alcala’s control.
“There are 40 agencies under the DA. But the four biggest and most strategic agencies that comprise 75 percent of the DA budget and powers were taken away from Alcala. Without these agencies, the DA secretary is reduced to a mere titular head. He has been stripped of his powers,” the Palace source, who requested anonymity, told the Manila Standard.
Aquino placed the National Food Authority, National Irrigation Authority, Philippine Coconut Authority, and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority under the supervision of Pangilinan, newly appointed presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization.
The transfer of the biggest agencies left the bulk of Alcala’s P68.59 billion budget under Pangilinan’s control.
This includes the NFA budget of P4.25 billion, NIA’s P1.06 billion, PCA’s P2.37 billion and FPA’s P54.81 million.
Pangilinan also now controls the department’s P10.79 billion budget for the construction of new irrigation systems.
PCA was taken from Alcala even though his home province of Quezon was the top producer of coconuts.
Pangilinan said he was tasked by the President to curb all forms of corruption in the four agencies to ensure food security for all Filipinos.
“The... orders are clear: to clean it up. So we will do what we can, as best we can to help in that respect. Food security can only be done when you secure your farmers and your fisherfolk. So the overall program is to address that, including corruption because the funds for our farmers are there but these are wasted and misused,” Pangilinan said shortly after taking his oath.
Alcala remained unperturbed by the calls of the leftist wing of Congress for him to resign and by the three plunder complaints filed against him by militant farmers.
In an interview over radio dzMM, Alcala said he was not even concerned about the pork scandal rocking his department now.
Alcala said his priority is the mitigation of the impact of the nine-month El Niño that would begin next month.
Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, a member of the independent minority bloc in the House, said lawmakers have not failed in reminding the President that Alcala had failed miserably at his job.
“We have been reminding the President that the Department of Agriculture’s national food security policies would not be able to stand the threats of climate change. We have been asking for reports on farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems installed, probe on rice importation overpricing and these fell on deaf ears,” Dela Cruz said.
He said keeping Alcala and adding another layer of bureaucracy through Pangilinan, also a member of the President’s Liberal Party, would result in “more of the same.”
“Why bother calling for [Alcala’s] resignation or ouster when the President himself keeps his confidence in his own incompetent official?” Dela Cruz said.
Zarate said the President was doing a disservice to the nation by desperately keeping an ally at the expense of the public.
“The Filipino people, especially the farmers and fisherfolk, have suffered more than enough due to Alcala’s incompetence. The President should take heed the public’s clamor that he should let go of his officials with dismal records. If Alcala is giving the President another set of statistics about his performance, all the President had to do is talk to the farmers and fishermen who bear the brunt directly of Alcala’s and his men’s inefficiency,” Zarate said.
Pangilinan had said he was not appointed because Alcala failed to do the task when the four agencies were still under the DA.
“I wouldn’t say he failed to clean up. The agricultural sector is so wide. He needs support and that’s why we are here,” he said.
However, when asked if Alcala will also be probed as part of Pangilinan’s housecleaning efforts, the former senator said: “The President did not mention who to include and who to exclude. So whoever should be included, will be included, whoever that may be.”
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said Pangilinan’s appointment was not in response to the issues raised against Alcala.
“Secretary Pangilinan’s appointment is an affirmative decision, and not in reaction to issues that have been raised by some quarters concerning Secretary Alcala, who continues to enjoy the President’s trust and confidence,” Coloma said.
He said the President’s decision to transfer the agencies was to provide impetus to the National Convergence Initiative under the Philippine Development Plan.
“The President wants the four agencies to devote intensified and focused efforts in attaining PDP goals. Secretary Alcala is expected to continue pursuing the full attainment of DA objectives with undiminished vigor,” Coloma added.
The NCI aims to rationalize land use policies and strengthen the system of land property rights; promote sustainable agriculture and preserve the land resource base; and enhance the investment and opportunity climate for agribusiness.
Pangilinan said the orders given him by the President include addressing the problem of spiraling prices of palay as well as fine-tuning the policy on rice importation; finding solutions to the P170 billion debt of the National Food Authority; ensuring that the coco levy funds redound to benefit of farmers; and ensuring that NIA’s P58 billion budget does not go to waste.
Aquino, in his last State of the Nation Address, publicly criticized the NIA.
“The make-do culture at the NIA has also tested our patience. Instead of laying out plans for new irrigation systems, they are merely content with the continued rehabilitation of existing irrigation. For them, shoddy repairs are enough to say they have already done a good job,” the President said.
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