MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo and the Liberal Party (LP) called for the firing or resignation of National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino, other NFA officials, and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for the ongoing rice crisis in the country.
Robredo, senators Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, Marikina 2nd District Representative Miro Quimbo, and Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte called for a press conference on Monday, September 3, to suggest ways to address the rice shortage and soaring inflation.
“Una, ayusin ang NFA. Resolbahan sana kaagad ang issue ng kakulangan ng bigas. Magtalaga po ng pinuno na mahusay at magpakakatiwalaan. At siguruhin na ang bawat desisyon, lalo na tungkol sa pag-angkat ng bigas, ay tunay na pinag-isipan at pinagplanuhan at pinagkasunduan ng NFA Council at ng liderato ng NFA,” said Robredo.
(First, fix the NFA. Resolve the issue of rice shortage. Appoint leaders who are competent and trustworthy. Ensure that all decisions, especially those concerning rice importation, are carefully planned and agreed upon by the NFA Council and other NFA leaders.)
“Samakatuwid, gawing patas, malinis, at tapat ang proseso ng NFA upang tunay itong tumulong sa pag-stabilize ng presyo ng bigas, at hindi magamit lamang para lamanan ang bulsa ng iilan,” she added.
(In short, make the NFA’s processes fair, clean, and honest so that it can help stabilize the price of rice and it wouldn’t be used as a means to put money in the pockets of a few.)
Sought for clarification if their call for change in leadership in the agriculture sector also includes Piñol, Quimbo replied in the affirmative.
“Kailangan ng malawakang pagbabago doon sa sektor ng agrikultura na maaring makatutok doon sa usapin ng bigas,” he said.
(There’s a need for widespread change in the agricultural sector so that the people who will replace them can focus on the rice issue.)
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, already said he won’t be firing Piñol, Jason Aquino, and other NFA officials. He said there should be strict implementation of laws to address the rice problem instead.
Why does LP want to replace the officials? Bam Aquino said Piñol, Jason Aquino, and other NFA officials have so far failed to address the rice shortage.
“‘Yung problem sa bigas, dalawang taon na no’ng bumaba ang ating buffer stock…. ‘Di ho sila nagpo-procure sa mga Pilipinong magsasaka. Walang leadership na pinapakita,” said Bam Aquino.
(Our buffer stock has been decreasing over the past two years…. Yet they still don’t procure rice from Filipino farmers. They don’t show any leadership.)
The Commission on Audit said the rice crisis was caused by the NFA’s decision to use P3.01 billion to pay off its debt to the Bureau of the Treasury. P2.09 billion was also deposited to the NFA’s rice collection savings account.
Jason Aquino and NFA accounting manager Gerry Ambrosio are now facing a graft complaint because of this issue. The NFA, however, denied there was diversion of funds.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are also set to conduct separate probes into the rice crisis.
What alternatives does LP offer to address the rice crisis? Robredo and the LP lawmakers suggested 3 ways to address inflation and the low supply of rice.
Pangilinan suggested that the NFA Council create a rice emergency task force that would be headed by the country’s economic managers: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.
“Sila na ang magbalangkas ng mga next steps sa rice procurement, palay procurement from our farmers. Sila na ang [magbabago ng] direksyon na palkpak ng administration under NFA Administrator Jason Aquino,” said Pangilinan.
(They should be the ones who will craft the next steps in rice procurement from our farmers. They should change the direction from the failed administration under NFA Administrator Jason Aquino.)
The LP also called for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1798 or the Bawas Presyo bill filed by Bam Aquino. A House version is set to be filed by Quimbo and Belmonte on Monday afternoon.
The measure seeks to suspend the excise tax on fuel under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law when the average inflation rate surpasses the annual inflation target over a 3-month period.
“Nakita po natin ‘yung pagtaas ng diesel at gasolina, isa ho itong nagpapataas ng presyo ng bilihin. So maraming sina-suggest na mga measures, mga moves, at ito po ay nasa harap na po ng ilong ng ating mga economic managers, ang siyang puwedeng solusyon sa kataasan ng presyo ng mga bilihin,” said Bam Aquino.
(We saw the rising prices of diesel and gasoline, and these contribute to higher prices of goods. A lot of measures have been suggested already, but this is a solution that’s already right in front of the noses of our economic managers.)
Lastly, Robredo wants to strengthen social protection initiatives in the country, including expanding the coverage of conditional cash transfers under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
She also wants to “fix” institutions like the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the Philippine Crop Insurance Incorporated. – Rappler.com