Press Release
November 3, 2008

Loren warns against repeat of fertilizer fund scam

Senator Loren Legarda today called for full transparency in the disbursement of P4 billion in support fund to rice farmers, citing the need to avert a repeat of the 2004 fertilizer fund scandal.

Legarda stressed that the administration must ensure that the fund will go to the rightful farmer-beneficiaries to boost the country's rice self-sufficiency, which stands at present at 90 percent.

"Any additional government support to the agricultural sector is most welcome," said Legarda, chair of the Senate committees on economic affairs and social justice.

"A robust agricultural sector is a pillar of a strong economy, without which any industrialization effort will go for naught," she added.

Malacañang had announced that the P4 billion will be sourced from government income from the Malampaya gas project.

On the so-called fertilizer fund scam, Legarda said former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante must account for every centavo of the fund said to have been used in the 2004 elections.

"There can never be closure on the questionable conduct and results of the 2004 polls if issues like the diversion of agri funds are not laid to rest," she said.

The senate had called on Bolante to testify on the issue, which included the release of fertilizer funds to non-agricultural provinces and cities.

Legarda said there's no reason for the Philippines to achieve 100 percent rice self-sufficiency, considering that it has always been an agricultural country, which has been hosting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for decades now.

She said it must be determined if Filipino farmers are fully benefiting from technology transfer from IRRI based in Los Baños, Laguna.

"The country needs to produce 10 to 15 percent more rice so there would be no more need for us to import the staple. We are so near yet so far, considering that our importations of rice had been going on through the years."

Legarda said that rice yields must be increased through proven farming methods and the use of high-yield varieties.

At present, several technologies like fertilizer-enhancing products are now available to farmers to lessen their dependence on inorganic fertilizers while increasing their output.

The senator said any reduction in the use of inorganic fertilizers, which are chemical based, is good as such chemicals pose environmental concerns.

She said that if increasing yield would still fall short in meeting the country's rice needs, then the Philippines must allocate more lands for rice-planting activities.

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