Lawmaker questions grant of tractors tillers didn’t want

MANILA: A Negros lawmaker has accused the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) of forcing farmers to accept tractors that were not fit for use on their small farms and which cost at least P100 million more than should have been spent.

Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves told the Inquirer that DAR officials, specifically Undersecretary Felix Perry Villanueva of the Finance, Planning and Administration Office and Assistant Regional Director for Region VII Antonio del Socorro, practically rammed the tractors down the throats of the farmers.

Teves said Villanueva told the farmers to “take it or leave it” because the DAR would not be giving away any more tractors. “The farmers were left with no choice but to sign a waiver and accept the tractors. They were coerced,” said Teves.

Teves said the tractors, supplied by Massey, had too much engine power at six cylinders and 120 horsepower (HP) when the farmers had said they only needed four cylinders and 90-HP tractors.

The bigger tractors will cost the farmers more in fuel and will be of little use on their small farms,” said Teves in a phone interview.” Even big farms use only the smaller 90-HP engines,” he added.

More expensive

Aside from exceeding the farmers’ specifications, Teves said the tractors were also more expensive.

A 90-HP tractor costs between P2.7 million and P2.8 million including the farming implements, but the DAR bought the Massey tractors for P3.74 million per unit, or roughly P1 million more for each of the 99 units delivered so far to Regions VI, VII and VIII.

“The DAR should explain why it is insisting on buying tractors that use a lot of fuel when the farmers themselves would settle for a lower spec tractor which would cost no more than P2.3 million each,” said Teves.

Suspicions

Teves said this raised suspicions among DAR employees, farmers and truck suppliers that the DAR had stacked the bidding in favor a single supplier.

Teves noted that a key provision in the bidding was that the tractors should already be “in stock.”

“I believe one of the bidders got advance information to stock up on this specific tractor model so no other bidders would win,” said Teves.

In January last year, Teves questioned the DAR’s purchase of P720 million worth of tractors and trucks for agrarian reform beneficiaries under the Agrarian Reform Community Connectivity and Economic Support Service which was supervised by Villanueva.

DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes ordered a freeze on the supply contract to look into the allegations of a rigged bidding by Teves and members of the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers and Distributors Association Inc.

“I am surprised the DAR pushed through with the contract when they had not yet addressed the questions we raised on overpricing and overspecification,” Teves said.