PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has removed Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. as chairman of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, after returning the NFA to the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.
“Because the NFA is under the Department of Agriculture anew, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio V. Evasco will no longer be part of the NFA council,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. announced in a press briefing in Boracay on Tuesday.
Roque said no one had been named to replace Evasco, whose exit from the NFA Council came after allegedly false reports of a “rice shortage” jacked up the price of the staple and caused a panic among consumers.
In a separate statement, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he would replace Evasco in the Council, saying: “It follows since NFA is now under the DA.”
Piñol was present during a meeting between Duterte and the NFA Council in Malacañang on Monday night.
The NFA, together with other agencies, then under the DA, were transferred to the Office of the President during the Aquino administration through Executive Order 165.
Reacting to Duterte’s decision, Evasco, in a statement read by Roque during Tuesday’s briefing, said: “I have full respect with the decision of the President given the encompassing nature and impact of the National Food Authority on the Filipino people and the farmers.”
Evasco reiterated that he was not removed from his post because of lack of trust from Duterte.
“I can never break the trust given to me by our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, especially when he appointed me to the position I am in now, a position I did not ask for but wholeheartedly accepted in order to help [the]President govern our country to make government responsive to the needs of our people,” Evasco said.
“I can never break the good relationship I have with the President, a relationship we have built through the years with the people we work and serve with I can never put my family in a position of compromise after all the support, sacrifice and love they have given to me as I continue to serve this government and the people,” Evasco added.
Evasco also called on the next council chairman to continue the systems transformation the council started under his watch.
“With the President’s decision to transfer the governance to the next council Chair, I believe that NFA can now move forward towards ensuring that corrupt, exclusive and debt-ridden practices during the past administrations will not reign in the next transactions to pass,” Evasco said.
“At this critical juncture, today is the best time for NFA to move towards being a true partner of the farmer in delivering better quality services, a true partner of the Filipino poor consumers in providing affordable and quality rice to the public and a true partner of the nation in ensuring food security for rice especially during the periods of calamities and disasters,” Evasco said.
Roque said the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority were also returned to the Agriculture department. He dispelled reports that the NFA council would be abolished.
The Development Bank of the Philippines, a member of the council, requested to be relieved from the board to focus on its other projects. The Department of Social Welfare and Development will take the place of state-owned bank.
According to Roque, the NFA was given the authority to import 250,000 metric tons of rice through the government-to-government (G2G) mode to bolster the rice stock of the country.
Imported rice will arrive soon under the mode preferred by NFA administrator Jason Aquino.
Any subsequent importation will then be done by government-to-private importation, the preferred way of Evasco, Roque said.
It will be implemented and supervised by an Executive Council Committee headed by the Office of the President.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday questioned the Malacañang’s decision to remove Evasco from the inter-agency council.
He said NFA Administrator Jason Aquino was “the clear winner while the Filipino rice consumer is the loser” in the removal of Evasco.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino also on Tuesday said Evasco’s removal from the NFA Council was“a loss in our fight against corruption in the importation and management of rice.”
“During his time in the NFA Council, Evasco proved his dedication to providing checks and balances to the NFA. Without the checks and balances that Secretary Evasco endeavored to implement, corrupt deals will continue unpunished,” he added.
Also on Monday, Piñol said Duterte directed the NFA to increase its rice buffer stock inventory from the current 15 days to 60 days and to buy more rice from Filipino farmers.
A 60-day buffer stock would be equivalent to a reserve of as much as 1.92 million tons. The President, said Piñol, wants the NFA warehouses “filled to the roof.”
“I would rather see overstocks rather than go through another shortage of buffer stocks,” he quoted Duterte as saying.
The President also instructed the NFA to increase its buying price of local palay.
The NFA buys rice “clean and dry” with 14 percent moisture content from farmers at ₱17 per kilo, Piñol said. Lately, however, the NFA has complained it could not match the buying price set by local traders who buy locally produced palay with 18 percent moisture at P18 to P25 per kilo.
Piñol said his department will offer incentives to farmers by providing drying facilities for free in NFA Buying Stations, loans for cooperatives and associations who will sell their produce to NFA and free tractors, harvesters and other farm equipment to associations who could deliver a certain volume of rice to the NFA.
WITH EIREENE JAIREE GOMEZ AND BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO