Given the additional P31-billion budget proposed by Agriculture Secretary William Dar for the COVID-19 crisis, the ugly specter of corruption might once again visit the Department of Agriculture (DA).

To the credit of the last two secretaries, this culture was tempered after the notorious pork, fertilizer and Janet Lim Napoles-alleged scandalous scams. Small farmers and fisherfolk are fed up with being used as the reasons for more funding, only for these funds to be diverted to corruption.

I know this from personal experience. At the DA, when I refused to participate in this corruption, I was “promoted upstairs” to the Office of the President. I refused and resigned. After that, DA corruption grew significantly. This resulted in Senate investigations and some guilty verdicts. But the harm had been done. In addition, much of this corruption has remained unpunished.

With his reputation for integrity, Dar will do all he can to fight corruption. But he cannot do this alone. President Duterte’s May 5 announcement of a P30,000 reward for anyone reporting corruption by calling the hotline 8888 is most welcome. But four other actions must be taken.

Firstly, there must be a website solely dedicated to both the 2020 and the new additional COVID-19 agriculture budget. This must be done in accessible detail with projects, places, updated perio­dic results, specific budget breakdowns and main project implementers. With this transparency, monitoring can be done by any interested organization.

Secondly, there should be a systematic institutional way of budget monitoring. Authored by the late Sen. Edgardo Angara, the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (Republic Act No. 8435) created public-private agriculture and fisheries councils (AFCs). They are organized down to the provincial and municipal levels. At the local le­vels, the chair is from the private sector, while the cochair is from government. This lessens govern­ment pressure.

Under the AFC Manual of Operations, the AFCs “monitor and evaluate agricultural and fishery sector-related policies, programs, and projects at the local levels.” Each AFC serves as the “evaluator of programs, policies and projects, and gives feedback on how these are implemented, and how they affect the lives of community members.” When I joined Alyansa Agrikultura, I went on a four-day, full-time NAFC budget monitoring assignment in Bicol. Wherever the AFCs were deprived of DA project information, corruption was rampant. But where they got this information, monitoring was done, with corruption minimized. The AFCs, required to meet monthly, must now be reenergized. This is not only to prevent corruption, but also to help ensure that DA funds are used effectively to serve ac­tual local community needs, instead of possible mistaken head office requirements.

Thirdly, management systems like the ISO 9000 should be immediately installed, as direc­ted by Dar. This will expose corruption almost in a self-regula­ted way because of the system’s effectiveness and thoroughness. So that this system is not itself corrupted, a private sector organization should review the system’s implementation yearly.

Failure means the loss of the ISO 9000 accreditation.

Fourthly, names of the people found guilty of corruption, especially those who are identified by citizens using the 8888 hotline, should be made public. This adds shame to the penalty. For Filipinos who value their reputation and name, this is an effective deterrent.

What is at stake here is not only the P31-billion initially proposed agriculture budget. As of May 4, the Philippine Economic Recovery Act is targeting a P700-billion stimulus package. Surely, agriculture will get more than the currently proposed 4 percent of this. With such huge amounts, it is now imperative that we support Dar’s integrity advocacy by implementing the above four measures. In this way, the agriculture culture of corruption will not recur, at the expense once more of our nation, far­mers and fisherfolk. INQThe author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of Agriculture and Trade and Industry. Contact him via [email protected]

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