Corruption in agri sector and poverty

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President Aquino’s campaign battle cry and promise has a simple logic: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

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Going by that logic, if there are still a lot of poor people in the Philippines, or if poverty has not been significantly reduced after his four years in power, then there is still corruption.

Going by the government’s own statistics, fishermen and farmers remain the poorest Filipinos in the country.

According to the latest data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), poverty estimates for basic sectors showed that the poverty incidence of fishermen was at 39.2 percent and farmers, 38.3 percent.

Corruption in the agriculture sector is largely responsible for this too. There is top-level corruption inside the Agriculture department.

Remember that Janet Lim Napoles’s pork barrel scam used bogus NGOs as conduits to plunder public funds in the guise of projects for Filipino farmers.

Marlene Esperat was shot dead in 2005 after exposing the P728 million fertilizer fund scam in the Agriculture department, which implicated former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn Bolante and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

She was murdered in her own home while she was having dinner with her kids.

In 2003, Esperat, who was the Department of Agriculture (DA) Resident Ombudsman for Central Mindanao, filed charges against DA officials in connection with the fertilizer scam.

At that time, Janet Lim Napoles was a big-time supplier of liquid fertilizer to the government.

Just goes to show you, when corruption goes unchecked, it just gets bigger.

The agriculture scams certainly did not stop with the Arroyo administration and they could not have happened without the connivance of the top people in the DA and other government agencies and departments, like the Department of Budget and Management and the Commission on Audit.

At least P500 million of lawmakers’ pork barrel was turned over to dubious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 2010 to 2012 during President Aquino’s watch, according to the Commission on Audit (COA), including the National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor), which is attached to the DA.

That is just according to the COA report. Billions more could have been wasted on other bogus agriculture projects, the very reason why hunger hounds the Filipino people and why we have a backward Philippine agriculture.

Fake NGOs like the “Kabuhayan at Kalusugan Alay sa Masa Foundation, Inc. got P526.679 million, Gabay at Pag-Asa ng Masa Foundation, Inc. got P108.015 million and the Kaupdanan Para sa mga Mangunguma Foundation, Inc. got P83 million from PDAF.

Then there are the rice cartels who are still lording it over the rice importation, distribution and marketing in the country.

Most Filipinos can hardly afford rice as well as other basic food commodities in the country.

Agricultural development is critical because the Philippines is an agricultural country. Agriculture is the main backward linkage to food manufacturing, whose products, in turn, comprises almost 40 percent of the country’s manufacturing output.

The government must investment heavily in agricultural infrastructure and new technologies. It has the money for such investments but where does the money go?

Despite billions of pesos poured into programs aimed at achieving “100 percent self-sufficiency” in certain food items, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that the lack of food in the Philippines was still above 20 percent in 2010 to 2012.

Despite billions of pesos poured by the Aquino administration into the government’s irrigation program, the Philippines still has not been able to fully irrigate farmlands.

Despite efforts of the government to increase funding for the farm sector, poverty incidence among agriculture households remain high.

Why? Because corruption eats up the government money for industrializing agriculture. This is why most farmers and fisherfolk are poor.

The farm sector continues to be the largest employer in rural areas where the poor are concentrated. One-third of the poor are in rural areas and are engaged in agriculture.

Again, as the PNoy said: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

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