Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pushed for a legislative inquiry into the procurement program of the National Food Authority (NFA) to ensure that it strictly implements mechanisms and policies that are safeguarded against corruption.
In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 720, De Lima underscored NFA’s mandate of enforcing policies that uphold a competitive and transparent procurement process while promoting efficient distribution of rice to all and complying with prescribed buffer stock.
“Rice importation must be done through a cost-efficient, legitimate scheme that puts public welfare at its forefront and ensures accountability from implementers, and any policies and mechanisms that are potentially inimical to public interest must be looked into,” she said.
News reports earlier revealed that NFA record shows that its rice distribution stock was already wiped out, while a nationwide inspection exposed that there were no more NFA rice available in the market.
“The Philippines primarily being an agricultural country and whose staple food is rice, it is an affront to those working in the agricultural sector, especially the farmers, to condone smuggling of agricultural produce and practices detrimental to their economy,” De Lima noted.
In a confidential memorandum to President Duterte, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. reportedly accused NFA Chief Jason Aquino of selling 10.4 million kilograms of NFA rice meant for typhoon-prone Eastern Visayas for P235 million without approval of the NFA Council in 2017.
“It is contrary to the mandate of the NFA to divert buffer stock of Eastern Visayas Region for sale to rice traders of Region III, which is the rice granary of the country, in the middle of the lean season, leaving Eastern Visayas in grave danger with a day’s worth of rice buffer stock,” the Senator pointed out.
De Lima also noted that although Section 1 of Executive Order No. 1, s. 2016 gave the Cabinet Secretary the mandate of supervision over the NFA, the government agency was disturbingly transferred back to the Department of Agriculture, thus removing Evasco as the Council chair and creating a new Palace committee to supervise the rice importation program.
“This transfer of supervisory functions came after Sec. Evasco has transmitted the confidential memorandum… outlining the alleged anomalies in the NFA which includes, among others, the dubious order of Aquino to pull out NFA representatives in the ports of entry of NFA,” she stated.
“In executing the mandate of the NFA, transparency and accountability must be at the cornerstone of all its actions, from procurement to allocation and distribution,” she added.
Last Feb. 14, De Lima filed Senate Resolution No. 629 calling for a Senate investigation into the reported shortage of NFA’s rice buffer stock leading to a concomitant increase in the prices of rice in the country.