THE DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) is hoping for an additional P30 billion “at least” for its 2022 budget, officials said at a hearing at the House of Representatives.

“I would be happier if the budget is increased…. If the Congress can allow, we hope to have an increase of (at least) P30 billion,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said before the House Committee on Appropriations Wednesday.

Mr. Dar did not specify what the P30 billion will be used for, but added that he will submit a list of projects which the additional funds will support to the committee before plenary deliberations on the proposed 2022 budget.

At a separate House briefing Tuesday, DA officials told the Committee on Agriculture and Food that the department’s overall budget proposal for 2022 was P91 billion, up 1.05% from 2021. It had originally asked for P231.7 billion before it was cut down by the Department of Budget and Management.

Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Joseph T. Cabatbat, a member of both committees, said that the rejected budget proposal indicates that it does not regard agriculture as a priority next year.

“The national budget was increased by 11.5% (to P5.042 trillion) so we should (at least) expect the same increase in the department,” he said.

Mr. Cabatbat also queried why the DA had left some of its funds unspent after the Commission on Audit reported that DA had P9.8 billion in unused funds in 2020 due to failed bids, incomplete procurement documentation, and the difficulties encountered in moving projects forward due to the pandemic.

Agriculture Undersecretary Fermin D. Adriano said that the DA used 91.86% or P77.75 billion of the P84.65 billion in terms of funds actually received by the agency in 2020, leaving P6.89 billion unused as of Dec. 31.

Legislators questioned the DA Tuesday over the “disconnect” in the agency’s priorities after funding for farm-to-market roads, high-value crops, and corn was reduced in next year’s spending plan. — Russell Louis C. Ku