Philippine basketball

‘Rice tara-ffication?’ Hontiveros bares Jason Aquino’s corruption in NFA

Camille Elemia
Senator Risa Hontiveros says former NFA chief Jason Aquino is at the 'center' of the supposed 'massive' corruption

CORRUPTION. Senator Risa Hontiveros says billions of pesos are lost to bribes at the NFA. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday, September 24, bared alleged corruption in the National Food Authority (NFA) under former administrator Jason Aquino.

In a privilege speech, Hontiveros said the rice crisis resulted from a conspiracy between unscrupulous private traders and insiders within the NFA. Hontiveros said Aquino is at the “center” of the “massive corruption.”

From the “tara” system or use of grease money or bribes alone, Hontiveros estimated that yearly some P2 billion in profit went to certain people.

She explained that the country imports one million tons of rice per year, with each ton containing 20 bags of rice.

“Mr. President, paano kumikita ang administrator dito? Simple. Ang kalakarang tara per bag ay between P100 to P150 – P100 kung kaibigan ka, P150 kung ‘di kayo masyadong close. Gawin na nating P100,” Hontiveros said.

(Mr President, how does the administrator earn here? It’s simple. The tara per bag is between P100 to P150 – P100 if you are a friend, P150 if you’re not too close. Let’s say it’s P100.)

“This means we import 20,000,000 bags of rice. Let us multiply 20,000,000 bags by P100. Twenty million bags multiplied by P100 is a windfall of P2 billion,” she added.

This amount, she said, is just for the “entrance fee” to expedite import permits. This does not include payments for other schemes inside the agency.

“Ito pa lang ang “entrance fee” ng mga importer para mabigyan ng certificate of eligibility at import permit. Hindi pa kasama ang iba-ibang bayad pa para sa iba-ibang modus operandi. Hindi pa kasama ang service fee na bigla-bigla na lang pinataw sa administrasyon ni Jason Aquino,” Hontiveros said.

(This is just the entrance fee paid by importers to get a certificate of eligibility and import permit. This does not include the other payments for various other modus operandi. This excludes the service fee that the administration of Jason Aquino arbitrarily imposed.)

“In short, we are looking at a multi-billion-peso enterprise. A multi-billion enterprise that has lined the pockets of a privileged few, and caused hunger to untold numbers of Filipinos,” she added.

Economic sabotage

Hontiveros said Aquino is liable for “economic sabotage.”

“How much was paid to Aquino by private importers for allowing this modus operandi? We can only surmise. What criminal offense can be charged against him? Here, there is no surmising. Economic sabotage under Republic Act No. 10845,” she said.

After Hontiveros’ speech, Senator Grace Poe echoed the call to imprison those behind the rice crisis and smuggling.

Siguro dapat talaga maipakulong na kasi kung hindi talaga napapakulong at hanggang ngayon ni isa wala pang napapakulong dyan eh, hindi matatakot ‘yang mga ‘yan,” Poe said. (We really need to put them in jail because if they aren’t detained, not even one of them, they would not be afraid.)

The privilege speech was later referred to the blue ribbon committee, chaired by administration Senator Richard Gordon.

It was not the first time Aquino caught the ire of senators. Opposition senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Francis Pangilinan, former presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization, blamed the former NFA chief‘s gross mismanagement for the rice crisis.

Back in February, the Senate conducted a probe into the NFA’s role in the rice price hike, after NFA chief Aquino announced there is a shortage of NFA rice in the country. At the time, several senators already called for Aquino’s resignation, but President Rodrigo Duterte stood by him. (READ: Senators, NFA Council blame Jason Aquino for NFA rice price hike)

Duterte did not fire him, but he announced in September that he is replacing Aquino because he asked to be relieved. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com