NATIONAL Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino on Wednesday vowed to fulfill the agency’s mandate to support palay farmers and stabilize rice prices, as he decried as “patently wrong and malicious” claims he had blocked an order to extend the importation of rice.
In a statement sent to The Manila Times, Aquino said there was a sinister campaign by some interest groups to oust him as administrator for refusing to follow the NFA Council’s resolution extending rice importation under the minimum access volume (MAV), a quota scheme under which rice imports pay reduced tariffs.
Aquino questioned the council’s threats of disciplinary action over alleged insubordination, saying “how can there be insubordination when there is nothing to be implemented yet?”
“The Resolution, unpublished as it is, bears no weight. Administrative issuance not merely internal in nature has to be published to gain force and effect,” he said.
“Due process commands that laws shall take effect after 15 days following the completion of their publication in a newspaper of general circulation and that every agency shall file with the University of the Philippines Law Center three certified copies of every rule adopted by it,” he added.
Aquino revealed that NFA management had requested the council for the approval of the standby authority of NFA to import 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice through government-to-government schemes.
The NFA Council, which oversees the grains agency, is headed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., a top aide of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“[Our request] was ignored by the Council because, someone from the Council directed the NFA Council secretariat to ‘facilitate ASAP’ the unnumbered Memorandum dated February 21 from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary to draft a Resolution extending the MAV arrivals,” Aquino said.
He said that over the weekend, a resolution extending the MAV arrival was routed to council members except for him, the body’s vice chairman.
“Just this Monday, the NFA Council secretariat furnished me a resolution dated February 27 extending the MAV arrival to March 31 and authorizing the NFA Chairperson to sign import permits vis-a-vis the Administrator,” he said.
He reiterated that the NFA management had no intention to defy the council, stressing that it would continue to implement the rules and mandate of the grains agency and other laws.
At President’s pleasure
Aquino said that for the past few days, he was “vilified by some well entrenched, powerful groups in and out of the government.”
“I have been charged, tried and condemned in public without the benefit of being heard,” he said. “I expect the attacks against me to accelerate in the coming days, if not weeks or months,” the NFA chief added.
Aquino said he serves at the pleasure of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“ I have absolute trust and confidence in him and that I know that he will do the right thing. I will not fail our President. I will continue to do my job the best I can though the heavens may fall,” he said.
Aquino also reminded his “detractors” that the mandate of the NFA is to help farmers and consumers alike by “buying the harvested palay at a price higher than the prevailing market rate, and at the same time to stabilize the price of rice in the market to protect the latter.”
“Sadly, the NFA has failed in both,” he lamented. “My recommendation to flesh out our mandate was drowned out by the objections of the members of the NFA Council who recommend and approve the price we should pay our farmers for their produce.”
“This has got to change. It is time for the NFA to heed its mandate of protecting and promoting the interests of our farmers and of our people. The NFA and its leadership can do no less.”
Aquino on Wednesday pushed for the importation of some 800,000 MT of rice under government-to-government deals to ensure enough buffer stocks for the lean season.
The NFA administrator said the planned importation would include the utilization of the 250,000 MT standby authority and another 550,000 MT of rice, which would cover domestic demand for July-September.
“By end of June, the NFA’s buffer stock would be short of three days. That’s why we are pushing for the approval of the 250,000 MT importation,” Aquino said in a news briefing.
The government’s Food Security Committee had approved 500,000 MT of rice imports under a standby authority to set aside stocks to augment the projected deficit in production following the El Niño episode that hit the country mid-2015.
Of the total volume, some 250,000 MT has been awarded to Vietnam and Thailand, but the remaining half was not utilized due to oversupply of grains in both government and private warehouses because of the less-than-expected impact of the prolonged drought.
“We need to utilize by June this year the remaining standby volume to cover the gap in our 15-day buffer stock requirement,” he said.
The NFA is mandated by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council to maintain a food security reserve good for at least 15 days at any given time.
By July 1 of each year, which marks the onset of the lean season for rice, the NFA must have at least a 30-day buffer stock to meet the requirements of victims of calamities and emergencies as this season is also characterized by natural calamities and emergencies. It is also the time when the government imports rice to help stabilize prices in retail markets.