MANILA – Officials of the National Food Authority must be held to account for the effective theft of government rice that resulted in spikes in rice prices, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Monday.
“Are we just going to forget it? We would like to know. If these are allegations, you have to look into it,” Pangilinan told government officials during the NFA budget hearing.
In previous Senate hearings, when commercial rice prices reached P70 in some parts of the country, traders and other stakeholders exposed the diversion of NFA rice, a clear violation of the law.
“The entire country was brought to its knees when rice prices went sky high due to massive corruption and incompetence in the NFA and no one gets punished. Billions of pesos of NFA rice where either diverted and billions of pesos worth of import quotas manipulated to favor select traders that led to the shortage of rice and no one is charged,” Pangilinan said.
“This reminds me of the billions of pesos worth of shabu smuggled through the BoC and no one is held to account,” he added.
Pangilinan explained that repackaging NFA rice as commercial rice and selling them at higher prices deprives consumers of available and affordable rice, a mandate of the NFA.
The presidential adviser on food security and agricultural modernization in the previous administration, Pangilinan pointed out that this is not simply mismanagement or negligence. He said diversion can only be done when traders are in cahoots with NFA officials.
“Is there an investigation on this matter? The report that favored traders were given accommodations in Bulacan, ano ang ginawa ng NFA rito? Ano’ng gagawin sa nangyaring hindi maganda?” he asked.
Pangilinan said manipulated rice price spikes cannot simply end with the resignation of former NFA Administrator Jason Aquino in September.
“May problema sa diversion and rebagging, sa MAV, binago pa raw ang country of origin para ma-accommodate ang iilan. Maraming concerns. Wala na si Mr. Aquino, pero ganoon na lang ba?” he said. (Diversion means NFA rice is diverted to commercial traders, while MAV refers to the minimum access volume of rice that the NFA is allowed to import.)
During his time as Chairman of the NFA Council, Pangilinan said the NFA’s Legal Department worked tirelessly to file cases against abusive and illegal rice traders.
“We sent a signal that rebagging is not allowed. We sent a signal that we buy low. This was an effort to do away with the abuses that a regulator like NFA can do — when they abuse their power to regulate,” Pangilinan said.
In order to have a clearer picture of what happened, Pangilinan also requested for the NFA’s Security Services and Investigation Department (SSID) to submit to his office by Friday a report detailing the alleged malpractices.
“Let us inform Secretary [Manny] Piñol that we will raise this in plenary. We can speed up the [budget] deliberations only when these matters are addressed,” he said.
This is the second hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance on the NFA budget. Before the Senate session adjourned in October, senators expressed their concern over malpractices in the NFA.
Pangilinan was chairman of the NFA Council from May 2014 to September 2015.