NFA OFFICIALS WELCOME RICE IMPORT PROBE
The National Food Authority (NFA) management welcomes any investigation into allegations that "food officials are making a cash cow out of government-led importations." This was in reaction to a statement by NFA Council chair, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr., that he will propose the creation of a special committee to investigate the culprits of this “flagrant corruption to the detriment of the country’s food security.”
"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. 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," NFA administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino said.
“NFA rice importation had always been done in a most transparent manner. It goes through a process of inter-agency assessment, recommendation and approval – from the National Food Security Committee (NFSC) to the NFA Council to Malacanang. The bidding process itself is open to public scrutiny with representatives and observers from the private and public sectors, the Commission on Audit, the farmers sector, and the media," NFA deputy administrator for finance and administration Ludovico J. Jarina explained.
The volume of rice importation is recommended by the NFSC, composed of the Director-General of the National Economic development Authority (NEDA) as chair, the Deputy National Statistician of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) as vice-chair, and the Administrator of NFA and representatives from the Policy Research Service and National Rice Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Department of Finance (DOF), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the weather bureau PAGASA as members. Based on an assessment by the NFSC of the local harvest and supply situation, 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 chair, with the NFA administrator as vice chair. Members include the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the heads of the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the chair of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), president of the Land Bank of the Philippines, and a representative of the farmers sector.
The terms of reference (TOR) on government rice importation is published in the NFA website (nfa.gov.ph) that 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 TOR of domestic and international cargo handlers, the NFA management said the agency has nothing to do with it because it is the supplier’s choice.
The NFA’s recommendation to push through with a government-to-government importation refers to the balance of the 500,000 metric tons importation for 2016 which was approved by the NFA Council. This was the subject of the letter of Administrator 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.
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. In fact, he has instructed all the NFA field offices to intensify local palay procurement and increased the local palay buying target by 40 percent from the previous year and allocated about P4 billion for local palay buying.
"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, citing that just as important to him as head of NFA is the welfare of local farmers and consumers.
"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," he said.
The NFA is mandated by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) 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. The current national daily rice consumption requirement is pegged at 654,400 bags or 32,720 metric tons.
"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 on behalf of the NFA management.