Dispatch from Crame No. 289: Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s Statement on NFA rice shortage and related controversies


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The controversy surrounding the NFA and the incomprehensible rice shortage happening under Duterte’s watch would seemingly lead to one of two explanations: either Duterte is a deluded, incompetent patsy, whose own underlings and trusted friends are running circles around him, taking advantage of the trust that the old-but-inexperienced man has given to them; or he’s a wily and corrupt manipulator, who allows smuggling syndicates and their influence peddlers to run rampant in his government with impunity, while he takes the Filipino people for a ride, including members of his own Cabinet, who have misplaced their faith in his promise of “change”.

It seems that it has to be one or the other. Why? Because based on corroborated and even documented in-fighting among members of his inner circle, Duterte has had more than one occasion to either prevent the anomalies in the NFA from happening, or halt them before they caused grave damage to the Filipino people.

He could have prevented it because, as far back as March 2016, the Bureau of Customs, where Jason Aquino previously worked, publicized notices warning the public about his insalubrious character and bad track record – yet he was nonetheless appointed by Duterte as NFA Administrator 9 months later. Perhaps because Jason Aquino is reportedly close to Bong Go and to Duterte’s son, Paolo. Whatever the reason, Duterte ignored BOC’s advice, believing himself a far wiser judge of character than Jason Aquino’s own colleagues and superiors.

In March 2017, Duterte had good cause to keep a close eye on his appointee, when no less than his good friend and Cabinet Secretary, Leoncio Evasco, Jr. himself, cried foul about Jason Aquino’s defiance of his orders on extending rice importation through the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme. It would be interesting to note who Jason Aquino’s backers are that he feels free to defy the orders of an alter ego of the President.

Again, Duterte had an opportunity to halt the shenanigans in the NFA when, in Sept. 2017, Senator Lacson filed a complaint against Aquino as NFA Administrator for graft and economic sabotage, after he issued post-facto import permits that allowed the release of $680,000 (P34.04 million) worth of rice in the Cagayan de Oro port in May despite lack of permits and payment of duties. Yet, Aquino remained in his post, mostly unscathed by the revelation of such blatantly suspicious actions.
Teflon Jason, indeed. The President even defended and expressed trust in him.

Yet, following this and perhaps precisely because of this manifest vote of confidence, CabSec Evasco recently submitted a Memo to the President revealing even more anomalies, including Teflon Jason’s diversion of rice intended for hurricane-prone areas in Eastern Visayas, only to be sold to Bulacan rice traders.

It would be interesting to see what Duterte does – or does not do – in light of this.

Time and again, he has chosen to close his eyes to the problems in the NFA.
What is known is that his wilful inaction has brought us to this situation, where we are experiencing a rice shortage that may or may not have been especially induced in order to justify a Government-to-Government (G2G) importation of rice – an opportunity that influence peddlers and so-called “deal brokers” might exploit in order to squeeze out commissions, kickbacks and transaction fees.

Magandang itanong kung sino ba ang makikinabang sa mga nangyayaring ito sa NFA at sa gobyerno ni Duterte.

For sure, it isn’t the Filipino farmers because Duterte is favouring G2G as opposed to G2P, as recommended by CabSec Evasco, which would have meant that the government would be buying from farmers cooperatives – hopefully, legitimate ones.

For sure, hindi rin ang taumbayan dahil hindi na nga umuunlad ang lokal na produksyon ng palay at napag-iiwanan na tayo ng ibang bansa, napapamahal pa ang bilihin dahil sa “rice shortage” na dulot ng kapabayaan ni Duterte, at ang kita na napupunta sana sa gobyerno bilang taripa o import duties ay napupunta lamang sa mga smugglers.

Follow the money, ika nga. Sino-sino ba ang nasa likod at ang mga sinasandalan ng mga smuggler na ito?

These are all interesting questions, but there is a bigger and more long-term question that also needs to be asked. What is the Duterte Administration doing to really help the farmers? To upgrade their productivity? To make sure that they are being groomed and given enough support to someday help the Philippines become self-sufficient and to, once again, become truly and completely competitive with other rice producing countries? Baka parang pangakong “End to Endo” lang yan, o pangakong ipaglalaban ang ating karapatan sa West Philippine Sea – na pawang mga pangakong napapako lamang?

Ginoong Duterte, how far will you go to protect those who abuse and exploit the positions you have given them? Kelan mo naman proprotektahan ang taong-bayan? ###

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