• Time to ‘overhaul’ DA – Pimentel

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    Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd over the weekend said that it is time     for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to undergo an overhaul because of several anomalies involving its transactions which are now the subject of separate probes conducted by Congress and the Department of Justice.

    According to Pimentel, the various anomalies hounding the department indicate that there is something wrong with it.

    During a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the pork barrel scam, the senator announced that he would file a resolution calling the Senate panel to also investigate a memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed in November 2012 between the DA and the province of Surigao del Sur in which his name was mentioned.

    Pimentel said that besides the MOA he would also direct the panel to also look into other irregularities in the disbursement of public funds by the DA.

    Should the Senate pursue the investigation into what Pimentel calls the “non-PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund] scam,” the DA under Secretary Proceso Alcala will further solidify its reputation as the “most-investigated” government agency under President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration.

    “Maybe it’s time really to overhaul the DA,” Pimentel said during the blue ribbon hearing last week.

    Pimentel learned that his name was mentioned in the MOA signed by Agriculture Undersecretary Antonio Fleta and Gov. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur, which involved the disbursement of funds from the DA’s Organic Agriculture Program.

    The senator cited irregularities in the MOA because his name appeared in it even if the agreement was between the DA, which was represented by Fleta, and Gov. Pimentel who is not related to the senator.

    Fleta, reportedly a member of Alcala’s “Quezon core group,” was the immediate supervisor of Ophelia Agawin, which was named recently by a whistleblower as the “DA conduit” to Janet Napoles’ network of fake non-government organizations (NGO’s).

    Agawin was first implicated in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004 alongside Napoles, but was cleared and even promoted to assistant secretary by Alcala upon his entry into the DA in 2010. He was also put in charge of NGO accreditation.

    “It [MOA] mentions my name as a chosen beneficiary of certain amount and then mentions the fact that I have chosen the ultimate beneficiary, the province of Surigao del Sur,” Pimentel added.

    The DA is currently being investigated jointly by the House committees on agriculture and food security in relation to the alleged P457 million-rice importation scam in April. The Senate Committee on Agriculture is also conducting a separate inquiry on the same matter.

    Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, meanwhile, disclosed during the blue ribbon committee hearing that they are also investigating the DA for alleged misuse of agriculture funds.

    Another DA assistant secretary under Fleta is Salvador Salacup, one of the respondents in the plunder and malversation complaint file by the National Bureau of Investigation before the office of the Ombudsman in relation to the so-called P10-billion pork barrel scam.

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