CAGAYAN DE ORO. In this file photo, workers pile sacks of rice at the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Baloy, Barangay Tablon, Cagayan de Oro City following the arrival of 92,000 bags from Vietnam.
CAGAYAN DE ORO. In this file photo, workers pile sacks of rice at the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Baloy, Barangay Tablon, Cagayan de Oro City following the arrival of 92,000 bags from Vietnam.Photo by Jigger J. Jerusalem

139 NFA officials suspended over ‘illegal sale’ of rice buffer stocks

MORE than a hundred officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) were preventively suspended, on the orders of the Office of the Ombudsman, over their alleged involvement in the controversial sale of rice buffer stocks.

In a statement on Monday, March 4, 2024, Department of Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. said they will be implementing the order of the Ombudsman, effective March 4, against the 139 officials, including NFA administrator Roderico Bioco, assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano, and several regional managers and warehouse supervisors from across the country.

“Kinokondena at hindi palalampasin ang anumang uri ng korapsyon. Kaisa ako ng Ombudsman sa layunin nating alamin ang katotohanan at parusahan ang dapat maparusahan,” Laurel said.

(Corruption of any kind is condemned and will not be tolerated. I am with the Ombudsman in our goal to find out the truth and punish those who deserve to be punished.)

“I have been in contact with the Office of the Ombudsman ever since this controversy erupted. I also created a special panel of internal investigators to determine culpability and see how we can prevent it from happening again in the future,” he added.

Laurel said he will temporarily take over the helm of the NFA to avoid any delays in the services and projects of the agency.

Bioco earlier filed a leave of absence to pave the way for the investigation on the matter, which is “greatly disadvantageous to the government.”

The investigation covers the sale of milled rice stored in NFA’s warehouse for P25 a kilogram without bidding. The palay grains were bought at P23 per kilogram.

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos filed on Monday, March 4, 2024, Senate Resolution 940 seeking the conduct of an inquiry into the "highly suspicious" P93.75-million sale of 75,000 bags of rice stock to two traders.

She expressed alarm considering the prevailing El Niño phenomenon, which badly affects the country’s rice stock.

On February 12, NFA Assistant Administrator for Operations Lemuel Pagayuman sent a letter of complaint to the Office of the President revealing the illegal sale of "treated and fit for consumption" rice stocks by Bioco to two rice traders.

Bioco in several memorandum claimed that the rice stocks are already deteriorating or aging, hence, allowing its sale.

Hermano on November 13, 2023 issued a memorandum ordering to rebag the rice stocks in containers without NFA markings.

Pagayuman said the buyers were pre-selected as no other bidders or buyers were allowed to take part in the bidding to buy the NFA stocks.

In calling for an investigation, Marcos emphasized that a thorough review of the NFA's mandate was crucial to deal with a global rice shortage.

Marcos noted that her late father, former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., established the NFA in 1972 to buy palay from local farmers, stabilize rice prices for the Filipino consumer, and ensure a sufficient buffer stock for calamities.

“However, the agency has repeatedly fallen short of its required buffer stock and been unable to cope with higher farmgate prices of palay, which rose to as high as 27 pesos per kilo last year. Although palay's farmgate price has dipped to P23, the NFA had earlier pegged its capacity to subsidize local farmers at only 17 to 19 pesos per kilo,” the senator said.

“The NFA has been unable to support all local farmers desperate for aid, especially when rice smuggling forced them to sell their harvests below the cost of production,” she added. (TPM/SunStar Philippines)

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