The National Food Authority (NFA) Council has vowed to hold food officials liable for making a cash cow out of government-led importations, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr. said on Monday.
“I will propose to the council the creation of a special committee to investigate the culprits of this flagrant corruption to the detriment of the country’s food security,” Evasco, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the NFA Council, said in a statement.
Evasco is referring to the reported connivance between Grains Marketing Operations Department (GMOD) of the NFA Deputy Administrator Ludovico Jarina and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino.
“It has come to the Council’s attention that Jarina and Aquino have been holding closed door meetings even prior to Aquino’s appointment as NFA administrator,” Evasco said.
The Council has long been requesting the NFA for copies of the terms of reference (TORs) of all international and domestic cargo handlers of government rice importations. But the NFA management refused.
“It creates serious doubt on the part of the NFA Council when some of the NFA’s executives have been insisting on G-to-G procurement despite lack of recommendation to import from the National Food Security Committee,” Evasco said.
The committee or NFSC makes recommendations to the Council whenever the need to import rice arises.
Thus, the blatant refusal of the NFA administrator to honor and implement the council’s decision to extend rice importation through the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme to March 31 from February 28 could only mean one thing, Evasco noted.
“We have received a copy of Aquino’s letter to the Vietnam Embassy, informing the latter that the Philippine government will open state-to-state importation this month for its buffer-stock. That letter was sent to Vietnam embassy behind the council’s back,” Evasco said.
“So who is, or should I say are, really earning whenever the NFA undertakes a G-to-G transaction?” he said.
“The NFA, who assumed office last January, has the audacity to go behind our backs and even deliberately defying the council’s decision,” he added.
Evasco noted participating countries are prone to giving in to NFA executives’ request for favors.
“This arrangement seems to be more prone to what I call ‘government sanctioned smuggling’ since NFA, through GMOD identifies the supplier for rice. Its management appears to ‘recommend’ the cargo handler. This does not go through the regular procurement process (RA 9184) since cargo handling is considered as supplier’s choice. Hence, suppliers may be forced to give in to those recommended by NFA to get a quota,” he said.
Alleged “rebates” are taken from cargo handling, which bloats the price of rice when overpriced to the prejudice of our poor citizens. Thus, the NFA can easily get away with overloading if it also controls the cargo handler, Evasco said.
Diwa Guinigundo, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas deputy governor, said the MAV ensures price stability in the country’s staple food.