Press Release
April 2, 2008

Chiz wants itemized spending of funds to avert rice crisis

Sen. Chiz Escudero today called for an "itemized spending" of the billions of pesos Malacañang has ordered release to stave off a rice crisis.

Escudero also scored President Arroyo's decision to retain the tariff on rice and expressed the lack of logic in her order tapping budgetary savings for rice production when these can only be realized at the end of the fiscal year.

With funds for agriculture now "flowing like water in an irrigation canal," Escudero said the government should make public "where, for how much, and for what purpose" will the money be spent.

"This will make for easy monitoring of funds, make their recipients accountable and prevent farm-to-market road funds from becoming farm-to-pocket funds," he said.

"To avoid wastage, pinpoint spending is the key. After all, this government has made 'transparency' its mantra. So like the rice it wants to propagate, government should embrace the sunshine policy when it comes to the use of agricultural funds," Escudero said.

Itemized spending, he said, will remove "the chaff from the grain, the propaganda from what's real."

He said farm funds are by nature hard to track, "as fertilizer is soluble in water, seeds can disappear under the soil, and the proof of canal desilting is underwater, so it's best if the farmers themselves are informed in advance if funds are forthcoming."

Escudero said the Department of Agriculture is capable in itemizing the spending "in the same manner that it can minutely forecast rice harvest using data from the remotest barangays."

He also decried the announcement President Arroyo made upon her arrival from Hong Kong Tuesday night that the import tariff on rice will be retained.

"This is lamentable because if the tariff is passed on to the consumers the price of rice will shoot to the roof at between 46 and 48 a kilo," he said.

But Escudero believed that the policy to retain rice tariff was motivated by the desire to

"spruce up the revenue report card of the government because it wants to continue booking NFA tariff payments as revenues."

"This window-dressing will pad tax collection by about P30 billion, through the ridiculous practice of treating DBM releases for rice duties as Customs collection, which is a self-deluding exercise because it merely transfers money from the government's right pocket to the left," Escudero said.

He said President Arroyo's order allowing agencies to tap budgetary savings "boggles the imagination."

"Savings are incurred at the end of the fiscal. By simple definition, it means what's left from your budget. You must reach the endpoint first before you can declare savings. So how can you compute your savings for the year when we're not even four months into the year?" he said.

"However, if the savings she was talking about refer to last year, then last year's books have long been closed, and all the accounts have been reported out, which was the basis of her statement that the deficit in 2007 was reduced from P63 billion to just under P10 billion," Escudero said.

"She (President Arroyo) cannot do retroactive spending and charge it to the GAA of 2007 because the budget for the year has already taken effect. Unless what she means by savings is mandatory retention," he said.

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