Agri chief: I did not steal from public funds
MANILA, Philippines – Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said on Thursday, June 26, that while he has thought about it, he will not resign in the face of another plunder complaint filed against him for allegedly pocketing public funds.
In an interview with ANC’s Headstart, Alcala said there is no reason for him to heed calls of his critics to leave office, since he has been performing well and has never stolen public funds as alleged by some groups, including alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Asked if he ever thought of quitting because of the attacks against him, Alcala said, “Tao lang naman tayo, nag-iisip din tayo, pero I think i-be-betray ko ang mga tao na alam kong natutulungan ko sa kagawaran kung gagawin ko ito plus nahihiya ako kay Pangulo sapagkat alam ko po na natutulungan ko [siya] sa paglilingkod nang matuwid.“
(I am only human, and I’ve also thought about that. But I think I will betray the people that I know I've been helping in the department if I did that. Plus, I feel embarrassed doing so, with respect to the President, because I know that I'm helping him provide honest public service.)
Alcala is facing plunder charges for his alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam, the latest filed by youth and student groups before the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday, June 25.
Aside from being named in a state audit report as a possible beneficiary of pork barrel kickbacks, Alcala is facing two other plunder complaints. He is accused of malversation of funds and violation of election laws before the Ombudsman for alleged use of DA funds to bankroll the Quezon gubernatorial bid of his son, Irvin Alcala, in 2013.
The agriculture chief had earlier claimed that he is the target of those affected by his reforms in the sector.
Alcala also admitted he was hurt by what he called the “unfair” remark of former senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan that he, as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, will “clean up” agencies formerly attached to the Department of Agriculture.
Alcala was asked if he felt demoralized and hurt by Pangilinan's statement that President Benigno Aquino III had tasked him to help “clean up” the National Food Authority (NFA), the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA). These agencies are now all under Pangilinan’s supervision.
"Tao lang po ako at nakikita ko po. Sa tingin ko po, unfair po hindi lang sa akin kung hindi sa buong kagawaran na kanyang pinaglilingkuran. (I am only human. I think it is unfair, not only for me but the entire department that he [Pangilinan] is now serving),” said Alcala.
He said the “clean-up” of the DA began long before Pangilinan’s appointment.
“When we came into this administration, we began cleaning up). We would not get P147 billion ($US3.35 billion) savings out of the [rice] importation if we didn’t clean up. We have such evidence,” Alcala said.
He said that there is “no perfect system, no perfect organization” and that there “will always be loopholes” and all one can do is to try to address these problems.
"It can always be remedied...Hindi naman po ako nagnakaw dito. Hindi po ako nagnakaw. And in fairness to the administration of NFA, 'yung mga tao diyan, kasama natin sa pag-aayos ng reporma," he said.
(It [any problem] can always be remedied….I did not steal here. I did not steal. And in fairness to the administration of the NFA, the people there are with us in pursuing reforms.)
He said, however, that he and Pangilinan “are talking” and that he gives the former senator advice if he asks for it.
Rice sufficiency, high prices
Alcala cited as among his achievements the improved rice sufficiency in the country – from 82% when the Aquino administration began in 2010, to 96% in 2013.
He cited a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report released last week which stated that the Philippines has posted the highest growth in milled rice production among rice producing countries in the world, growing at an average of 5.05% from 2009 to 2014.
Responding to questions on higher rice prices, Alcala said this is due to higher farmgate prices, the crackdown against rice smugglers, and the policy against "unnecessary" rice importation.
He said commercial well-milled rice is selling at an average of P42 (US$0.96) per kilo, compared to P36 (US$0.82) before prices started to climb, but this is because rice traders are buying from rice farmers at higher prices.
“During the dry season crop, rice prices are at a premium. Plus we really try to maintain that we will not import [rice], we will not flood the market unnecessarily,” he said in Filipino.
Alcala explained that in the past, rice millers bought from rice farmers at just P14 (US$0.31) or P15 (US$0.34) per kilo, which was why the government began subsidizing the farmers through a guaranteed price.
“Now, traders are buying at a higher price. Some bought at P22 (US$0.52) to P23 (US$0.53)….So they didn’t raise prices just because they wanted to. It’s because they bought at a higher price from the farmers,” he said. – Rappler.com