NFA chief faces graft complaint for misusing rice funds

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino is facing a graft complaint for diverting P5.1 billion meant for buying rice to pay off the agency's debts.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) filed a graft complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday, August 29, against Aquino and NFA Accounting Manager Gerry Ambrosio. (READ: Duterte defends NFA chief Jason Aquino: 'I trust him')

Sinag president Rosendo So said the NFA "disregarded the law and their mandate" and "blatantly mismanaged" the funds, which resulted in high prices of rice and corn.

So also said that the sole purpose of the P5.1 billion was to stabilize prices as well as the supply of rice and corn.

The group's complaint stemmed mainly from the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA), which stated that the NFA should have used the money to incentivize farmers to encourage them to sell their produce to the government. (READ: NFA's diversion of funds to loans caused rice shortage – COA)

"The procurement shortfall affected other programs of NFA, such as rice distribution and buffer stocking, resulting in higher price of rice, unavailability of NFA rice in the market, and lower inventory of rice in various NFA warehouses," said COA in its 2017 report on the NFA.

The NFA spent P3.01 billion to offset its debt to the Bureau of the Treasury, while the remaining P2.09 billion was deposited to the NFA's rice collection savings account. 

COA also flagged the NFA for failing to procure 124,969 metric tons of palay in 2017.

But in a statement on Thursday, the NFA maintained there was no diversion of the agency's funds.

The NFA said it operates under a "one-fund concept."

"All funds and revenues, including subsidy, accrue to one General Fund where all expenditures for operations, programs, and projects for food security, as well as for debt servicing, are sourced," the NFA said.

"We assure the NFA people and the public that the agency's funds are in good hands. Our records are open for scrutiny. In whatever we do, our guideline is that there should be no injury to government," the agency added.

Several lawmakers also want Aquino to resign over the rice crisis in Zamboanga City and Basilan.  Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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