Evasco out of NFA pol­i­cy­mak­ing body

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - —STORY BY LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Leon­cio Evasco Jr. is out of the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity Coun­cil fol­low­ing a row with NFA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ja­son Aquino over rice im­por­ta­tion. Evasco would no longer head the NFA Coun­cil af­ter Pres­i­dent Duterte de­cided on Mon­day to put the NFA un­der the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Em­manuel Piñol is ex­pected to head the new NFA Coun­cil.

Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Leon­cio Evasco Jr. is out of the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity (NFA) Coun­cil, fol­low­ing a row with NFA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ja­son Aquino over rice im­por­ta­tion.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Harry Roque said on Tues­day that Evasco would no longer head the NFA Coun­cil be­cause Pres­i­dent Duterte de­cided on Mon­day night to put the NFA un­der the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, along with the Philip­pine Co­conut Au­thor­ity and the Fer­til­izer and Pes­ti­cides Au­thor­ity.

Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Em­manuel Piñol is ex­pected to head the new NFA Coun­cil.

The coun­cil, the pol­i­cy­mak­ing body of the NFA, will also no longer in­clude the De­vel­op­ment Bank of the Philip­pines, which will be re­placed by the Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment.

Fric­tion with NFA

In his state­ment read by Roque, Evasco al­luded to the fric­tion that the coun­cil had with the NFA and the de­mo­li­tion job he had faced.

“It has been a chal­lenge to be part of these re­form agenda in the NFA and in the gov­ern­ment at large, es­pe­cially with the ef­fort of some quar­ters to dis­credit my name and that of the coun­cil,” Evasco said.

But in­sti­tut­ing the re­forms were worth the ef­fort, he said.

Evasco said he hoped his suc­ces­sor would con­tinue the pro­grams to en­sure that the transactions of the NFA would be above­board.

“With the Pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to trans­fer the gov­er­nance to the next coun­cil chair, I be­lieve that NFA can now move for­ward to­ward en­sur­ing that cor­rupt, ex­clu­sive and deb­trid­den prac­tices dur­ing the past ad­min­is­tra­tions will not reign in the next transactions to pass,” he said.

Evasco thanked Pres­i­dent Duterte for giv­ing him the chance to head the coun­cil and said he re­spected his de­ci­sion.

He also noted that in his more than 20 years in pub­lic ser­vice, he had never been charged with or in­ves­ti­gated for any mis­deeds or cor­rupt prac­tices.

Rough ride

Evasco’s term as head of the NFA Coun­cil had not been a smooth ride.

Last year, Mr. Duterte fired Evasco’s deputy, Un­der­sec­re­tary Maia Chiara Hal­men Valdez, for sup­pos­edly ap­prov­ing the im­por­ta­tion of rice dur­ing the har­vest sea­son.

Valdez said then that the de­ci­sion was ap­proved by the NFA Coun­cil.

She is­sued a state­ment say­ing Evasco’s of­fice was un­der at­tack.

Valdez ac­cused Piñol of med­dling in the af­fairs of Evasco’s of­fice, and crit­i­cized Aquino for re­fus­ing to at­tend coun­cil meet­ings and de­fy­ing its de­ci­sion to ex­tend the dead­line for rice im­ports.

She also said Piñol and Aquino were able to go di­rectly to Mr. Duterte, while the NFA Coun­cil’s re­quest for a di­a­logue with the Pres­i­dent, which was coursed through his spe­cial as­sis­tant, Christoper Go, had been un­suc­cess­ful.

The peo­ple lose

Op­po­si­tion Se­na­tors Fran­cis Pangili­nan and Bam Aquino ques­tioned the re­moval of Evasco from the NFA Coun­cil.

In a state­ment, Pangili­nan said Evasco’s re­moval made Aquino the “clear win­ner” and the peo­ple “the loser” in the at­tempt at re­forms in the NFA.

Pangili­nan ques­tioned why Evasco was re­moved when he had a good track record and had in­ves­ti­gated il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties in the NFA.

“Where is [the] gov­ern­ment’s sin­cer­ity in go­ing af­ter the cor­rupt if its al­lies who have clean ob­jec­tives and are op­posed to cor­rup­tion are not be­ing heeded?” he said.

Pangili­nan also said he did not agree with Mr. Duterte’s de­ci­sion to put the NFA un­der the agri­cul­ture depart­ment be­cause this could lead to more mis­man­age­ment at the NFA, which could af­fect the rice sup­ply.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment, Aquino said Evasco’s re­moval was a “loss in our fight against cor­rup­tion in the im­por­ta­tion and man­age­ment” of the rice sup­ply.

Aquino said Evasco pro­vided checks and bal­ances in the NFA.

“With­out the checks and bal­ances that Sec­re­tary Evasco en­deav­ored to im­ple­ment, cor­rupt deals will con­tinue un­pun­ished,” he said.

Ar­ti­fi­cial rice short­age

Evasco ear­lier this month ac­cused the NFA of cre­at­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial rice short­age by an­nounc­ing that its buf­fer stock had dwin­dled to an amount good for less than half a day for the en­tire coun­try.

Evasco said the ar­ti­fi­cial short­age could force pri­vate traders to hoard their stock in an­tic­i­pa­tion of higher prices.

He said there was enough rice in the coun­try.

He also or­dered an au­dit of the NFA’s rice pro­cure­ment and re­lease of sup­ply.

The NFA and the NFA Coun­cil had also dis­agreed on con­di­tions for the im­por­ta­tion of rice.

But Mr. Duterte has since di­rected Aquino to go ahead with rice im­por­ta­tion and to ig­nore the NFA Coun­cil.

Roque said on Tues­day that Mr. Duterte had given the au­thor­ity to im­port 250,000 met­ric tons of rice in a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment ar­range­ment to beef up the gov­ern­ment’s buf­fer stock.

Sub­se­quent im­por­ta­tion will be done through auc­tion. It will be su­per­vised by the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil Com­mit­tee headed by the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent.

Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Leon­cio Evasco Jr. with Pres­i­dent Duterte

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