PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte defended the purchase of urea fertilizers by the Department of Agriculture (DA), saying there was nothing irregular about the transaction.

In his 14th report to Congress, Duterte said the DA reported that bidding for the procurement of the fertilizers was "above board" and "transparent."

"As to the alleged overpricing in the procurement of urea fertilizer, the DA has reported that the centralized fertilizer bidding is above board, transparent, and has in fact brought urea prices down," Duterte said in his report, which was made public on Tuesday.

The Senate is set to investigate claims of overpricing from the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), which alleged that the DA bought overpriced fertilizers, upon comparing the results of its canvass to the price ceiling set by the agency.

The group claimed that the DA purchased 1,811,090 bags of urea fertilizers for P1.8 billion in a series of biddings, which translates to at least P1,000 per bag.

It also said that the average retail price of urea fertilizer was only at P850 per bag—translating to a whopping P271.66 million in overpriced amounts in the DA’s procurement.

The DA has since denied the allegations, saying that the procurement process of fertilizers was corrupt free and actually cheaper compared to national averages.

Based on data from the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, Duterte said the national average price of urea fertilizer from February to April 2020 was P1,051 per bag, a lower amount compared to the P1,200 to P1,400 per bag in previous years.

He also said the awarded bidding price for P1.8 million worth of bags of urea fertilizers ranged from P900 to P995 per bag.

"The DA has taken the necessary measures to enhance the system of fertilizer distribution, including geo-tagging, posting of all recipients or beneficiaries, system digitization, and institution of an 'integrity group'," Duterte said.

The said "integrity group" is composed of NGOs (non-governmental organization), civil society organizations, regional agricultural fishery councils, and other private sector representatives, to "observe and monitor" fertilizer distribution, he added.