WE thought at first the “whiff of corruption” came from the opposite direction. But stench from the National Food Authority (NFA) that caused the rice importation mess at Philippine ports could no longer be ignored.
The estimated P289 million worth of imported rice at the Cebu International Port (CIP) are not the only shipments caught in the crossfire between NFA administrator Jason Laureano Aquino and the NFA Council headed by Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco.
In layman’s terms, the controversy involved importation through a wider circle of rice traders advocated by the NFA Council or government-to-government or G2G transactions pushed by NFA’s Aquino.
At first, it looked like Aquino did the right thing when he refused to extend the 2016 Minimum Access Volume (MAV) program beyond Feb. 28, 2017. He seemed to be on the right side of the rice controversy because Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol and Pres. Rody Duterte wanted the NFA to prioritize Filipino farmers during this harvest season.
Fresh from the “whiff of corruption” that led to the ouster of DILG secretary Mike Sueno, the president fired Evasco’s trusted lieutenant Usec Maia Halmen Valdez, though she only pushed an extension decided by the NFA Council.
Unfortunately for NFA’s Aquino, the move only caught the interest of media to look closer. And the past days saw the surfacing of information that Aquino apparently wants hidden from President Duterte: Aquino’s issuance of import permits for shipments from Pakistan and India beyond Feb. 28, 2017 while asking customs to seize the other shipments.
At first glance, port watchers noted that these imports arrived without import permits and thus looked like smuggled rice. But something seemed off. Pilmico Food Corp., for instance, has no record of smuggling.
Digging deeper, one realizes that all these were ordered based on MAV allocations approved by Aquino himself. In fact, in the March 31, 2016 report on the MAV program, the NFA boasted of 99.86 percent payment of advanced customs duties through the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). I noted that only 7.62 percent out of some 692,340 metric tons had arrived beyond Feb. 28. Nakabayad na sa buhis pero ipasakmit gihapon.
The Manila Times bannered that the NFA chief sought expensive rice imports from Vietnam and Thailand through G2G. In fact, documents “showed that Aquino may have conducted backdoor negotiations for rice purchases agreements from Vietnam and Thailand” without the knowledge of the NFA Council and even the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Customs sources said G2G importations would not only add billions more to the P211 billion debt of the NFA, corrupt officials and rice smugglers covet the expected multi-million rebates.
A report by Rappler exposed that during his short stint under former Customs deputy commissioner Jesse Dellosa, a certain Major Jason L. Aquino was eased out for involvement in the so-called “tara” system. @anol_cebu in Twitter
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on April 22, 2017.
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