NATIONAL Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino snubbed the NFA Council’s resolution, defied rice import guidelines and breached administrative protocol in issuing import permits to three selected importers, a source familiar with the issue and who requested anonymity told The Manila Times over the weekend.
“The administrator should issue the import permits only after he has received favorable endorsements from his deputies,” the source said. “That he issued the import permits to three importers absent the recommendations from the responsible officials is a clear violation of the NFA guidelines. He could face administrative charges as a consequence.”
Item 3 under Section X of the Guidelines, “Issuance and Use of Import Permit (IP) states, “The NFA Administrator shall issue the Import Permit upon recommendation of GMOD-FOD (Grains Marketing Operations Department-Foreign Operations Division), ODAMO (Office of the Deputy Administrator for Marketing Operations, and OAAMO (Office of the Assistant Administrator for Marketing Operations) that all documents/requirements have been fully complied with in accordance to the Guidelines. The import permit shall be signed by the NFA Administrator and shall be in the form as embodied in ANNEX II of these Guidelines.”
On March 13, 2017, Aquino signed the import permits for Kakampi MPC, Palayan MPC and JVV Ex/Import, saying that “after deliberations,” the requests of the importers were given due course. He instructed the director of GMOD to prepare the corresponding import permits.
The relevant paragraph of Aquino’s memo to the director of GMOD (Grains Marketing Operations Department) reads in part: “This is in view of the explanation made by (importer) (copy attached) that transpired [during]the voyage, to effect the shipment of their rice imports. Their rice cargo was already on board the carrying vessel as reflected in the Bill of Lading as early as Feb. 14, 2017.”
A check with the same source showed that there were no records with the GMOD-FOD, ODAMO (Office of the Deputy Administrator) and OAAMO that all requirements have been met. Despite the absence of the recommendations from his deputies, the administrator signed the import permits for the three importers, giving rise to suspicion that Aquino was playing favorites to the prejudice of other similarly situated rice importers.
Arrivals, not dates of bills of lading
Documents obtained by The Manila Times showed that the cargoes of the three importers whose import permits were signed by Aquino on March 13 were scheduled to arrive in Manila and Davao on March 5 or five days after the February 28 deadline. The February 28 deadline was meant to protect farmers by prohibiting arrivals of rice imports during harvest season.
In a phone interview, Rachel Miguel, head executive assistant to the NFA administrator, said Aquino had signed the March 13 import permits for the three importers because their “bills of lading” were dated before February 15. “That’s why the administrator signed their import permits,” she said. Also, the three were issued import permits way past the February 28 deadline because in their appeal, they cited “port congestion in Hong Kong,” Miguel added.
However, Item 1, Section VII of the “Delivery Schedule and Discharge Ports of All Qualified Importers” clearly refers to “arrivals” of rice imports to the country and not to the dates of the bills of lading. Item 1 reads, “Rice imports allocation of qualified importers must arrive Not Later Than FEBRUARY 28, 2017” (italics supplied).
NFA’s hubris, insensitivity, incompetence
Several importers who wrote letters of request to Aquino, citing reasons beyond their control and whose conditions were very similar to those of the three who were issued import permits way beyond the February 28 deadline, were rejected. “If others can make it (referring to the deadline), why can’t they” (referring to the importers whose requests were denied),” Aquino said during a dinner some weeks ago with The Manila Times.
Aquino was not exactly being forthright. Documents obtained by The Manila Times last week indicated that the NFA was primarily the reason why many importers failed to meet the February 28 deadline.
Copies of the letters from importers sent to Aquino and to the NFA Council asking for extension, showed that NFA officials were either sleeping on their jobs or insensitive to the plight of the importers, or both.
The following are the relevant portions of a letter of one of the importers whose request was denied by Aquino:
“The NFA publication for the importation came out on the papers on Sept. 8, 2016”;
“The period of submission of application was between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2016;
“Application was received by NFA last Sept. 27, 2016;
“Per NFA announcement, the release of the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) should have started last Nov. 12, 2016. But the actual release of COEs started only last Dec. 14, 2016;
“COE was issued only last Dec. 22, 2016. NFA offices were closed or were having their Christmas parties. As a consequence, advance tariff was paid only on Jan. 6, 2017 when the government and private offices opened;
“Vietnam was closed for the holidays celebrating Chinese New Year from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, 2017.”
Other importers whose requests for extension were denied by Aquino also cited the delay in the issuances of their COE by the NFA.
NFA rejects Vietnam’s request for extension, exempts Pakistan and India
Like Pakistan, Vietnam had also written Aquino to extend the NFA’s February 28 deadline, but was denied for no apparent reason, documents obtained by The Manila Times last week revealed.
“However, we were informed that Vietnamese rice exporters are having difficulties in supplying to Philippine importers due to constraints of time for delivery as the deadline implemented by the NFA is only limited to the end of February 2017,” the relevant portion of the embassy’s letter read.
Vietnam’s request for extension was the result of NFA’s incompetence. Records showed that the NFA released the COE to some importers in mid-December, or during the holiday season when everybody was celebrating Christmas. As a consequence, the relevant documents were received by the Vietnamese authorities close to the Chinese New Year when public and private offices were closed from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, 2017.
Despite this, the NFA rejected Vietnam’s and other importers’ pleas for fairness and understanding. The NFA gave Pakistan an extension on the strength of a letter from its ambassador to the Philippines. Vietnam, too sent a letter request to the NFA for extension but was ignored. What is strange is that India was also accorded an extension when it did not even bother to write a letter for extension to the NFA. Why?
By the way, a ranking member of the Vietnamese delegation who recently attended the Asean conference reportedly informed a Philippine government official that a Filipino shipper wrote a letter to their Vina Foods 1, and said, “We are very close and influential with the NFA.” (Vina Foods 1 is a wholly owned government corporation authorized by its government to execute government-to-government contracts between the Philippines and Vietnam.)