Manila Bulletin

PRRD backs NFA chief: ‘I trust him’

- By GENALYN D. KABILING

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) has ordered National Food Authority (NFA) Administra­tor Jason Aquino to “ignore” the NFA Council and go ahead with the additional rice importatio­n to increase the country's supply.

He asserted that he placed Aquino at the NFA “because I trust him,” effectivel­y rejecting calls to remove him over the agency’s dwindling rice inventory.

“Sinabi ko na sa kanya [I told him], ‘Ignore the Rice Council

which is mandated by law, go ahead and make the importatio­ns’,” Duterte said during the birthday celebratio­n thrown for him by congressio­nal allies and other government officials last Thursday night.

“Ang ayaw ko kasi ’yung matakot ’yung tao [I don't want people to fear] of a possibilit­y not really on the actual – it's happening – but you put people on a very unsettling environmen­t nadito magkukulan­g daw ang bigas na ganun. Sabi ko ‘sobrahan ninyo’ [that there will be a rice shortage so I said, ‘make it excessive’,” he said about the planned rice importatio­n.

Duterte also said Aquino told him about the “indication­s of a shortage” of the rice stocks even though there was actually no shortage.

“It is not really an actual shortage but when you start to see something which is also true, it cannot be rumor mongering because what is at stake is the stomach of the people,” said Duterte.

The President had earlier authorized the country's state-run grains agency to proceed with the importatio­n of 250,000 metric tons of rice to augment the supply of subsidized rice.

Aquino has preferred the importatio­n of rice under a government-to-government scheme. The rice imports will reportedly come from Vietnam and Thailand.

But the NFA Council, led by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., told the NFA management to import rice through open tender scheme or the government transactin­g with the private sector. The additional rice imports are expected to be delivered to the country before June.

Earlier, some senators called on Aquino to resign for supposed failure to ensure sufficient supply of cheap rice in the market. He has been criticized for creating panic and confusion when the agency announced a supposed shortage of rice in the country.

The President, meantime, assured the nation that the country would have a “better environmen­t” involving the rice supply soon. Duterte said he has appealed to the rice traders “to use their inventory” to boost the supply in the markets.

“There are enough left to help us out. Sabi ko sa kanila [So I told them] whether it is really man-made or there’s a crisis, ang sabi ko just help me make it through the night,” he said.

“More or less we can expect a better environmen­t tomorrow. I think we will have the rice for our people,” he added.

LTO execs in hot water

Meanwhile, the President has ordered the dismissal of certain transport officials involved in extortion in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya.

Duterte said he called up Transporta­tion Secretary Arthur Tugade to take action after rice traders have complained about Land Transporta­tion Office (LTO) personnel assigned in the truck weighing station who extort millions of pesos a month from the truck owners.

“Sabi ko (I said), you talk and I will protect you,” he said, recalling his conversati­on with the rice traders.

“Kaya tinawagan ko kaagad si – itong si [I immediatel­y called up] Art, ‘You remove.’Ngayon pagka isang balitalang [Even if it’s just a single report] which I've been saying even a whiff, and I was not referring to the Cabinet members alone even a whiff, maka-amoy lang ako, tatanggali­n kita (and I sensed something, I will fire you),” he added.

He said he could hire many brilliant Filipinos to replace corrupt or abusive public servants.

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