Senate panel OKs P60-B agriculture budget

MANILA, Philippines – A Senate finance subcommittee on Wednesday, September 20, approved the Department of Agriculture's (DA) proposed 2018 budget of P60.6 billion ($1.19 billion)*.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol told reporters after Wednesday's budget hearing that he hoped the budget would be increased even "by just a little."

"Pero nandiyan na 'yan e (But that's already there). We'll have to make do with whatever was given to us, and we had to actually realign some funds," Piñol explained.

For instance, P1 billion ($19.62 million) from the Philippine Rural Development Program will be realigned to the 10-Year Livestock and Dairy Development Program.

Piñol said the program will implement the Multiplier Farm Concept where breeding and dairy farms with 100 heads each will be established in every locality, to be managed by groups of farmers.

"Ang criteria niyan would be, alin ba 'yung mga probinsya na medyo mahirap? Kasi doon natin ilalagay. At saka [kung saan] mataas 'yung malnutrition," he explained.

(The criteria there would be, which provinces are poor? Because we'll put the farms there. And which provinces report high prevalence of malnutrition?)

Although the DA's budget was already approved at the subcommittee level, Senator Cynthia Villar said she will still meet with department officials in a private session to clarify things about their budget. 

"In all the programs, I want that the technology is very important, so that the seeds woud be better. That's why I'm calling PhilRice (Philippine Rice Research Institute), I want them to mechanize," Villar, chair of the subcommittee, explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

Piñol said they will make sure to explain the budget further to the senator.

"The perception that PhilRice is not doing anything? In fact, it is. Some of the most successful public hybrids right now and what farmers prefer actually are PhilRice hybrids. Maybe there's lack of information," he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

On Wednesday, Piñol also appealed to the subcommittee to restore the budget of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) which was decreased from P1.4 billion ($27.47 million) to P1 billion.

Senator Joel Villanueva said bulk of the decrease is due to the removal of the Farm-to-Mill Road Program.

He then asked Piñol how to reconcile this with Section 11 of Republic Act 10659, which mandates the Department of Budget and Management to include annually an initial aggregate of P2 billion ($39.24 million) for various programs promoting and supporting the competitiveness of the country's sugarcane industry. 

"This year, we gave that P1 billion because they were not able to spend. That's what I keep saying, to never, never underspend," Villar answered.

Piñol admitted to the problem of underspending, but he still asked for the proposed budget to be restored.

"I'm committing as secretary of agriculture na isu-supervise ko na…. Tutulungan ko po 'yung SRA na mapabilis 'yung kanilang spending (I'm committing as secretary of agriculture that I will supervise this already.... I will help the SRA to fasttrack their spending)," he added. – Rappler.com

*US$1 = P50.99

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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