Shuffling NFA Council won’t solve rice loss
Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco was removed Monday as National Food Authority chairman. He had just reported to President Rodrigo Duterte corruption at the NFA. Supervision of the food-security agency also was reverted from Malacañang to the Dept. of Agriculture. Both moves came after the sudden depletion of the NFA’s cheap rice for the poor. Neither move, however, pinpoints the cause of the shortage nor averts future repeats, supply experts say.
Those events unfolded as rice prices continued to rise this week. Commercial varieties retailed at P44 per kilo in urban centers, up from last month’s P40. That rate is for the “can-afford.” Poor consumers no longer have similar quality NFA rice to buy at the subsidized rate of P27 a kilo. The P39-per-kilo cut-price commercial variety, which wholesalers promised to Duterte, was available only in warehouses like in Divisoria, Manila.
Evasco’s removal came hours after handing to Duterte a memo against NFA administrator Jason Aquino. He stated that Aquino had sold 10.4 million kilos of NFA rice in Eastern Visayas warehouses to favored grains traders in Bulacan province. The sale was for only P235 million – disadvantageous to the government, Evasco said, since the agency had procured it for P261 million. The NFA governing Council, consisting of reps from various economic departments and financial institutions, had intended that rice for poor consumers, Evasco added. Yet Aquino dispatched it during the season of lean supply and typhoons that annually ravage the region, like Yolanda in 2013. Soon afterwards, Aquino declared the depletion of NFA stocks in all regions. Duterte’s former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano exposed the same details to the press Monday, calling on fellowLeftists in Congress to investigate.
Aquino previously had claimed that the stocks he sold from Central Luzon, Bicol, and Muslim Mindanao were “aging.” Having been procured as far back as 2014-2015, the agency had to sell at a low price to recoup costs. Immediate past administrators disputed him, saying they dutifully had sold out their stocks to poor consumers before stepping down in June 2016. Council member Atty. Teodoro Jumamil, representing the Development Bank of the Philippines, had told this to inquiring senators in February.
Jumamil reportedly opted out of the Council Monday, when the DBP seat was given to the Dept. of Social Welfare and Development. DBP chairman Alberto Romulo recently pointed up to Aquino complaints about the latter’s construction of a new NFA central building. Allegedly overpriced, the project was by a constructor blacklisted by the government. It is unclear what happened to another Aquino critic in the Council, assistant secretary Mercedita Sombilla of the National Economic and Development Authority.
Aquino had blamed the NFA rice shortage on the Council. Supposedly the latter kept delaying approval of his plan to import 250,000 tons of rice on government-to-government arrangement. The Council retorted that G-to-G, usually by closed-door negotiation, was prone to corruption (like during the time of former agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala and NFA administrator Orlan Calayag). It preferred government-toprivate, by open bidding. Besides, the NFA’s 2017 import of 250,000 tons had just arrived last October-December. Had the NFA used its P7-billion budget to buy palay from farmers, it would have had sufficient buffer stocks till the first quarter of 2018. The Council also disagreed with Aquino’s 2018 import timetable, since it would coincide with the dry season harvest in March-May. That would drive down palay prices to the detriment of Filipino farmers.
But due to the run-out of NFA stocks in February-March, Duterte overruled the Council and favored Aquino’s G-toG import, to arrive this May. To follow is the Council’s G-to-P of another 250,000 tons, thus doubling the usual import this 2018. The imports may flood the market with subsidized NFA rice, but depress farm-gate prices. It would also bloat the NFA’s year-on-year losses, so far at P265 billion. The NFA imports at nearly P34 a kilo, including shipping, bagging, and cargo handling, but retails at only P27.
Duterte initially had wanted to abolish the Council. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea advised that it was unfeasible since the Council was established by legislation of the NFA charter. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque then said that Duterte stood by the Cabinet, meaning secretaries who sit in the Council. But Duterte has downgraded it via the formation of an Executive Committee, consisting of the Department of Agriculture, the NFA administrator and a Malacañang factotum. Venerable journalist Nestor Mata, 92, didn’t want to die yet, his son shared at the wake last weekend. He was still writing his memoirs.
Certainly highlighting Nestor’s recollections was how he refused to die too 61 years ago, at age 31. He was then a reporter covering President Ramon Magsaysay’s hectic provincial inspections, seated rearmost in the airplane over Cebu island, when disaster struck. The plane slammed onto Mount Manunggal, instantly killing all but one of the 26 passengers and crew. Nestor, severely burned and fractured, crawled out of the wreckage then halfconscious, called out to his companions. Rescuers took 18 excruciating hours to carry him down the slope. The next six months were spent in hospital. Nestor returned to family (the first four of six children) and work, and thence celebrated two birthdays a year. The natural one was Jan. 16, 1926; that second gift of life was Mar. 17, 1957.
As Nestor promoted culture and the arts while continuing to write, he outlived not only most of his peers but even his many apprentices. Those he left behind paid tribute Monday night to their beloved boss, colleague, friend. Though hospitalized for weeks last month for pneumonia, Nestor was still writing for Malaya Business Insight when complications overtook him April 12. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).
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