A national alliance of rural-based organizations has warned Agriculture Secretary William Dar that some of his underlings may have been deliberately feeding him wrong information on the retail price of urea fertilizer that led to the awarding last month of allegedly overpriced supply contracts worth P1.8 billion.
This developed even as the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives has sought a congressional inquiry into the alleged overpriced fertilizer procured by the Department of Agriculture worth P1.8 billion.
Oftociano Manalo, national president of Pambansang Mannalon, Mag-uuma, Magbabaul, Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (P4MP) which is affiliated with the DA’s Agricultural Training Institute, challenged the department to show where one could buy a bag of urea fertilizer for almost P1,000, saying no such retail price exists as the market average is lower than P850.
“I personally bought two bags of urea fertilizer last Friday. One cost P830 while the other fetched for only P810. And these bags were delivered to my house, which is at least 6 kilometers away from the outlet in Rosales, Pangasinan. That means the retail price already includes the delivery charge,” said Manalo, also a former president of the Irrigator’s Association of Pangasinan.
“So the P990 to P995 price tag per bag under the supply contracts awarded by the DA, that is very wrong. They are making fools out of us,” he added.
The Department of Agriculture, under its stimulus program Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Kontra COVID-19 (ALPAS sa COVID-19), has allocated P5.69 billion for the procurement of urea fertilizer.
Notices of award were issued last month to two suppliers amounting to P1.8 billion —to La Filipina Uy Gongco Corporation for P1.69 billion at P990 to P995 per bag for supply contracts for Regions 4-A, 6 and 3; and to Atlas Fertilizer for P96.74 million at P900 per bag for Region 7.
Manalo said he also asked P4MP stakeholders in other regions to check the retail price of urea fertilizer, and none reported prices anywhere near P900 per bag.
“The DA has field people—how come they did not check the prevailing retail prices? I think some shady people at the DA have pulled a fast one Secretary Dar,” he said.
“I still believe in the integrity of the Agriculture Secretary, but he was probably fed wrong information by his own people. These contracts are disadvantageous not only to the government but to farmers as well. The price difference is already enough to buy close to half a million more bags of fertilizer. Niloloko siya (Dar) ng mga tao nya,” Manalo added.
Dar earlier said the close to P1,000 per bag contract price was cheaper than the national average retail price ranging from P1,043 to P1,062 per bag from March to May.
But Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairman Rosendo So said the DA should have been able to negotiate a lower contract price since it was buying in bulk at 1.8 million bags and was procuring the supply directly from importers.
“DA is claiming the higher contract price would cover distribution costs but it is the same for retail outlets. In fact, for retail stores, you go through the importer, the distributor, and the dealer until it reaches the retailer. And at every step there is additional cost, yet the retail price average is only P850,” So said.
“The DA went straight to the importer, but the price is P995 per bag. What kind of deal is that?” he added.
For his part, Joseph Canlas, chairman of the Alyansa ng Mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, has asked the Ombudsman to investigate the questionable supply contracts motu propio.
“It is only right for the Ombudsman to start its probe, motu propio, to get to the bottom of this mess,” Canlas said.
“We have very limited funds as it is now because of the pandemic yet these unscrupulous people still dipped their hands into these funds,” he added.
Makabayan bloc members Reps. Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party, France Castro of ACT Teachers and Sarah Jane Elago of Kabataan filed House Resolution 992 directing the House committees on agriculture and food and good government and public accountability to look into the matter.
The resolution noted June 12 news reports came out questioning the supply contract entered by the Department of Agriculture for the procurement of fertilizer for its Rice Resiliency Program that aims to increase the country’s rice production from 87 percent to 93 percent by the end of 2020.
“The issue on the alleged overpriced fertilizer further raised suspicion because news reports stated that the winning bidder La Filipina, does not also have available stocks of urea fertilizers nor has it shown any bill of lading to prove that it had an incoming supply of urea fertilizers and yet it still bagged the contract,” the resolution stated.
They said the DA must have the sense to put on hold and/or suspend the succeeding bidding for the procurement of an additional P3.8 billion worth of fertilizer until the questionable bidding and procurement of the P1.8 billion fertilizer is given clarity.
The lawmakers noted that on April 28, the DA posted an invitation to bid for the supply and delivery of 5.69 million bags of urea fertilizer with an approved budget of P5.69 billion. DA also conducted bidding for the 1,811,090 bags of urea fertilizers for P1.8 billion or a price tag of P1,000 per bag.
The resolution noted that the winning bidders for the alleged P1.8 B overpriced fertilizer supply contract were La Filipina Uy Gongco Corporation for the delivery of 97,615 bags at P990/bag to Region 4A; 694,904 bags at P995/bag to Region 6, and 911,073 bags at P995/bag to Region 3, on May 8, 2020, and May 14, 2020, respectively; and Atlas Fertilizer for the delivery of 107,498 bags at P900/bag to Region 7 on May 14, 2020. DA will procure another P3.8-billion worth of fertilizer.
They said the total contract for the P1.8 billion fertilizer could be overpriced by at least P271.66 million as farmers from Tarlac and Nueva Ecija attest that the prevailing average price of urea is pegged only at P850 per bag,” the group said.
“DA and Secretary William Dar initially denied the so-called overpriced fertilizer scam, saying that the agency will disclose all information regarding the bidding and procurement of the fertilizer supply,” the Makabayan Bloc said in the resolution.
“DA said it based the bidding price on the price monitoring of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority for the period of April 27 to May 1 and that transport and other cost were incororated in the final cost amounting to P1000 per bag of urea fertilizer,” the group added.
The resolution also noted that farmers said recent purchases of urea fertilizer showed a bag could fetch for P380 in Tarlac, P810 in Pangasinan, and P840 in Nueva Ecija. Based on the recent monitoring of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Plipinas, average prevailing prices per bag of urea fertilizer since last month have not changed where in Tarlac, P850; Nueva Ecija, P830 to P870; Isabela, P880 to P1,100; Iloilo, P880; Camarines Sur, P1,000; Iloilo, P880, South Cotabato, P850; Agusan del Sur, P950; Davao City P800 and Davao de Oro, P1,000.