NFA chief faces early exit for insubordination

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Newly appointed National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino is facing serious disciplinary sanctions that could lead to his early exit from office over his repeated defiance of lawful orders of the NFA Council.

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Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., also the ex-officio chairman of the NFA Council, said willful disregard by Aquino of the council’s decision to extend rice importations under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme has put the country’s food security at risk.

“The NFA administrator has actively refused to implement the lawful orders of [council]and directives of the [Cabinet Secretary] to publish and has even released a press statement countering the [council’s] decision that the MAV [scheme]has been extended to March 31,” Evasco said in a statement.

“Instead, what were posted were extensions only for India and Pakistan, when the council explicitly granted extension to all sources of origin,” he added.

Evasco reminded Aquino that it is not for him as NFA administrator to decide whether an extension of MAV is proper, let alone which sources should be granted the extension.

“It is a decision, which the NFA Council has to make as a collegial body. We [council]have made a decision, and we made it very clear, it is extended up to March 31,” he said.

The NFA is one of the 12 agencies that has been placed under the direct supervision of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary pursuant to Executive Order 1.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said Aquino “is compromising the country’s food security, and showing his penchant for creating more debts at the expense of the NFA.”

Aside from the Cabinet Secretary as chairman and the NFA administrator as vice chairman, the other members of the NFA Council are the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines, the president of the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Finance secretary, the Trade secretary, the NEDA and a farmer sector representative.

Of the 10 members of the council, nine were present during the February 27 meeting and voted for the extension of MAV importation scheme to March 31 from the original deadline of February 28.

Aquino and the NFA management did not attend the meeting.

“Aquino by using my name has cancelled the first two NFA Council meetings, thus the council was compelled to convene the third time meeting last February 27, during which he deliberately absented himself,” Evasco said.

He noted that the council has thumbed down Aquino’s proposal to import buffer stock via government-to-government transaction in lieu of the purely private sector-led importation through the MAV scheme that is intended to boost industry stocks.

“The difference between the two is, when you import via [government-to-government], the NFA would again incur debt, while MAV importation is paid for by the private sector. Besides, [according to]NEDA, in two months the country’s harvest season will begin,” Evasco said.

Aquino, in a letter to Evasco, said extending the MAV importation by a month might open the floodgates to rice smuggling.

Reacting to Aquino’s letter addressed to Evasco, Edwin Paraluman, farmer sector representative to the NFA Council said, “His fear of smuggling is extremely unfounded. A new law, Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, is already in place and is harsh enough to emasculate illegitimate traders. And it is the Bureau of Customs’ job, not the NFA’s.”

“It seems to us that he [Aquino] does not have even the slightest understanding of his office and is even undermining the [council’s] authority… causing serious prejudice to the country’s food security. We are afraid he is not fit for the job. He must be dealt with accordingly,” Evasco said.

JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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