OFFICIALS of the National Food Authority (NFA) linked by a Cabinet member to corruption welcomed any investigation and maintained that the decision not to extend the deadline for rice imports under the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme aimed to protect local farmers.
“This is a very serious accusation and it is very sad that this is happening at a crucial time when we should be focusing our sights on helping our farmers, who are currently harvesting their summer crop, earn a reasonable income from their produce,” NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino said on Tuesday.
His statement was prompted by allegations of NFA Council chairman and Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. of “flagrant corruption to the detriment of the country’s food security” and proposed to create a special committee to investigate the culprits.
“Instead of pointing accusing fingers and casting doubts on those who are faithfully implementing the mandates of the agency, we should be focusing our watch over a possible abuse of the import permits given to private rice importers in view of allegations that these permits are being recycled for smuggling purposes,” Aquino said.
The NFA head noted that government rice importation has always been done in a transparent manner through a process of inter-agency assessment, recommendation and approval from the National Food Security Committee (NFSC) to the NFA Council to Malacañang.
Ludovico Jarina, NFA deputy administrator for finance and administration, said the bidding process is open to public scrutiny.
The volume of rice importation is recommended by the NFSC, composed of the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as chairman, the deputy national statistician of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) as vice chairman and the administrator of NFA, with representatives of the Policy Research Service and National Rice Program of the Department of Agriculture, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Department of Finance, National Irrigation Administration, Department of Trade and Industry and weather bureau PAGASA as members.
Based on an assessment of the local harvest and supply situation by the NFSC, the government imports only the shortfall in local harvest for buffer stocking purposes.
The NFSC recommendation is further deliberated by the NFA Council, composed of the Cabinet Secretary as chairman with the NFA administrator as vice chairman. Members include the governor of the BSP and the heads of the Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry and NEDA, as well as Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), Land Bank of the Philippines and a representative of the farmers.
The terms of reference on government rice importation is published on the NFA website (nfa.gov.ph) and can be accessed by the public or any interested party.
On the allegation that the NFA has failed to provide the council copies of the terms of domestic and international cargo handlers, the agency said it has nothing to do with it because it is the supplier’s decision.
The NFA’s recommendation to push through with a government-to-government importation refers to the balance of 500,000 metric tons (MT) from 2016 as approved by the NFA Council, it noted.
This was the subject of the letter of Aquino to the Vietnam Embassy. Only 250,000 MT was contracted in 2016, thus the NFA is recommending importing the balance of 250,000 MT for this year’s buffer stock in preparation for the lean months, it said.
On the suggestion of NEDA Director General Ernesto Pernia “that in anticipation of the farmers’ good harvest this summer season, the NFA should procure directly from local farmers to boost its buffer-stock,” Aquino explained that it is exactly what the NFA is doing.
Aquino said he instructed all NFA field offices to intensify palay procurement and raised the buying target by 40 percent from the previous year and allocated about P4 billion.
“All of us are concerned about our national food security. It is indeed akin to national security. There’s no quarrel with that,” Aquino said.
“That’s why we are not only focusing on local procurement but also effectively watching and efficiently building our rice buffer stock through importation of the local shortfall. This is being done to continuously assure our people that their basic staple, rice, will always be available, accessible and affordable anywhere in the country at all times.”
The NFA is mandated by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to maintain a food security reserve of at least 15 days at any given time. By July 1 of each year, which marks the onset of the lean season, the NFA must have a 30-day buffer stock at least to meet the requirements of victims of calamities and other emergencies as the season is also characterized by natural calamities and emergencies. The current national daily rice consumption is pegged at 654,400 bags or 32,720 MT.
“Still and all, a transparent and objective investigation into these allegations against the NFA officials is a welcome opportunity for us to clear our names,” Aquino said.