Bicol leads in fund release for agrarian reform projects worth over P1B

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pia-logoThe Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Bicol now leads the entire country as the most ‘time efficient’ region in matters of fund disbursements necessary to expedite construction of approved sub projects of the Agrarian Reform Communities Projects II (ARCP II), according to an agency's top official.

DAR ARCP II National Project deputy director Herman Ongkiko said to date, the total fund amounted to P1,082,280,888 for 161 sub projects spread in the three ARCP II-covered provinces in Bicol, Camarines Norte getting the biggest allocation amounting to P446,345,799.06 for its 64 sub projects, Camarines Sur with P 395,918,230.49 for 77 sub projects and Sorsogon getting 240,016,858.45 for 20 sub projects.

ARCP II is funded mainly through loan assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) with the support from the national government through its National Government Assistance for Local Government Units or NGALGU.

Leading this male-dominated job is not a toughie macho but a persuasive lady who is DAR regional director and ARCP II regional project manager Maria Celestina Manlagñit-Tam, fondly called as RD Waying.

“When ARCP II started in 2009, it was neither attractive nor palatable to the local government units (LGUs) due to substantial equity required from them,” Tam said.

Notable among the three provinces was Camarines Norte since they will be having for the first time foreign assisted projects (FAPs) in their agrarian reform communities (ARCs). Without any previous experience on FAPs, the initial five identified LGUs in Camarines Norte, mostly fifth class municipalities, were earlier reluctant to be involved with ARCP II.

This is where the provincial government of Camarines Norte came in headed by Governor Edgardo Tallado, who shouldered all the equities required from the covered municipalities composed of Labo, Paracale, San Lorenzo Ruiz, Basud and Jose Panganiban. After Governor Tallado’s commitment, ARCP II was in full throttle in Camarines Norte.

The equity share for a first and second class municipality is 70 percent, 60 percent for the third and fourth class, and 50 percent for the fifth and sixth class.

On the other hand, Camarines Sur was very receptive to the project. This can be linked to the success of previous projects implemented like the Agrarian Reform Infrastructure Support Project (ARISP) and other FAPs that gained the confidence of local chief executives (LCEs) in the province.

Further, DAR’s development facilitators (DFs) were personally involved in the grassroots and have positive relations with the LGUs that facilitated the strong partnerships between DAR and the municipalities.

“This personal linkaging really proved effective that enhanced our partnerships with local decision-makers,” Tam said.

Worth commending is the strategy of the provincial project manager and Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Rodrigo Realubit who organized constant meetings of all LGU-beneficiaries with every LGU having a chance to host meetings in its locality. Realubit was also instrumental in Governor Tallado’s support to ARCP II by laying the foundation for the partnership during his previous tenure as PARO for Camarines Norte. Templates of designs were also shared among LGUs living up to the local tradition of Bayanihan.

The Bayanihan Spirit is necessary to synergize the efforts of 12 LGU-beneficiaries composed of the municipalities of Sipocot, Del Gallego, Libmanan, Milaor, Ocampo, Garchitorena, Tigaon, Buhi, Baao, Bula, Pili and Sangay. Write shops were conducted for one week under one venue to prepare all technical documents required by the ARCP II, a strategy that proved very effective with the output of complete set of technical documents of the sub-projects.

Meanwhile in Sorsogon, the LGUs were initially hesitant on the project. The DAR provincial office doubled its efforts to catch up with the pace of the two other provinces.

“The province now is in high spirit with the sudden surge of approved sub-projects,” Tam said.

As of this writing, six irrigation projects and one farm-to-market road have been approved for implementation. Sorsogon has seven municipalities under ARCP II composed of the towns of Castilla, Matnog, Irosin, Juban, Casiguran, Gubat and Bulan.

Personal linkaging was also Tam’s strategy in managing the regional sub project approval committee (RSAC) which is responsible in authorizing projects not exceeding P3.5 million in total cost.

“We don’t simply give invitation but we use personal persuasion in encouraging our partners and line agencies to be active in the project to expedite approvals,” Tam said.

Aside from DAR, the RSAC is composed of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the Bureau of Government Finance under the Department of Finance (DOF).

It also pays off that the lady director is an active member of the Regional Directors Association (REDIRAS). To date, RSAC has approved 55 sub projects representing 30% of the 161 subprojects in seven meetings that they convened within the span of a year and a half. “We always have a quorum since the regional directors usually personally attend the meetings,” Tam said. The remaining balances of the grand total of 161 subprojects which amounted more than P3.5 million each were approved by the national sub project approval committee (NSAC).

ARCP II implementation follows the bottom-up approach wherein sub projects are identified by the beneficiary communities themselves. The personnel of ADB and the National Project Coordinating Office (NPCO) immerse themselves in the grassroots to consult, confirm and validate the proposed projects.

“A mere presence of a NPCO staff excites the community and local officials which make them feel important resulting to gaining full cooperation and trust from them for the project implementation,” Tam said. The agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) through their organizations actively participated in barangay workshops and consultations giving us vital information for the projects, she added.

One significant lift in ARCP II implementation is the provision of support fund through NGALGU which covers 25 percent of the LGUs’ equity for every sub project. NGALGU basically resolves the LGUs’ problem on fund scarcity.

“Another 20% support fund from the performance-based grant system (PBGS) can also be availed that can result to a possible 45% total national government share,” Tam said.

Vital requirement to avail said 20% is by achieving the DILG’s Seal of Good Governance which was introduced by the late DILG Secretary Jessie Robredo. Luckily, the LGU-beneficiaries were conferred with such award.

The approved 161 subprojects range from farm-to-market-roads, irrigation systems, multi-purpose buildings and post harvest facilities such as solar dryers, and social infrastructures such as school buildings, health centers, day care centers and level II potable water system. “We also give equal importance to agri-enterprise development component of the project to eventually transform our farmers as entrepreneurs,” Tam said.

Ongkiko lauded DAR Bicol for its noteworthy performance and said he believes Region V has set the pace and momentum that need to be emulated by other regions in order to bring the benefits of the subprojects to the end users as fast as possible.

Tam said that the infrastructure projects aim to stimulate the economic activities in the ARCs especially with those numerous farm-to-market-roads and post harvest facilities.

Alex Robles, an agrarian reform beneficiary from Barangay Aslong in Libmanan, Camarines Sur said, "The road has a great impact to us especially that I own a tricycle. It is now very easy for me to transport products and there is no need for me to look for an alternative route which I did previously to evade the formerly muddy road.”

More than 50% of the 161 sub projects are either on the ground breaking phase or on-going in terms of construction, Tam said.

“We already completed 20% of the total sub projects and some of these are already turned over to the community-beneficiaries,” she added.

Aslong Barangay Captian and ARB Eduardo Borromeo reflects on the significance of the ARCP II in his community; “Almost everybody benefited from the farm-to-market road project of ARCP II here in Aslong. Various mode of transportation now ply in our community giving better mode of transportation especially to the students who previously ride on “hilada” or carabao sleigh.”

“It is now easier to transport our products. The students can now walk conveniently to school not worrying on mud. Because of this better road, almost all residents are striving to own vehicles.”

Indeed, time is gold in Bicol as it expects fields of golden grains to be harvested in due time. (MAL/JJJP-PIA5/Albay)