MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday night, April 6, that he trusts National Food Authority chief Jason Aquino amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement at the NFA under the official’s watch.
Duterte made the statement at the “Salo-Salo Kasama ang Pangulo” dinner concert at the Sofitel Harbor Garden Tent in Pasay City, where he also told guests that he had also ordered Aquino to “ignore” the NFA Council, which oversees NFA management.
The President said he gave the order during his meeting with rice traders in Malacañang on Thursday, amid the tug-of-war between the NFA Council chair, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr, and Aquino, who are at odds on modes of rice importation. (READ: Who is NFA chief Jason Aquino and why is he controversial?)
“Sa [meeting sa rice] traders, nakausap ko si Jason Aquino. Actually there was already indications of a shortage. Si Aquino inilagay ko diyan because I trust him (In [the meeting with the rice] traders, I spoke with Jason Aquino. Actually there were already indications of a shortage. I placed Aquino there because I trust him),” the President said.
“When you start to see something which is also true, it cannot be rumor mongering because what is at stake is the stomach of the people. Sinabi ko na sa kanya (I told him), ‘Ignore the Rice Council which is mandated by law, go ahead and make the importations,’” Duterte added.
Senators had earlier slammed Aquino for making a public pronouncement on a shortage of NFA rice, triggering panic among consumers and an increase in the prices of rice, a critical commodity for Filipino households. This prompted Duterte to announce in a Cabinet meeting in early March that only the NFA Council can make announcements on rice supply in the country.
'Sobrahan mo na'
He also said he ordered Aquino on Thursday, "Sobrahan mo na" or import rice “in excess” of what was needed.
Duterte said he gave the directives to keep people from panicking, especially as the prospect of a rice shortage creates a “very unsettling environment.”
The President also said that during his Thursday meeting with rice traders that, he “appealed to them to use their inventory.”
“Sabi ko sa kanila (I told them) whether it is really man-made or there's a crisis, just help me make it through the night,” he said, adding that he received a positive response.
Duterte said he was frustrated how the problem of a “recurring rice shortage” can happen when he has already given instructions to Cabinet officials and department directors to fasttrack the processing of papers.
“Ginagawa na namin ang lahat (We have done everything). Of course both President Arroyo, I'm sure had the same problem. It is sometimes incompetence or outright stupidity on – 'yung sa opisina ko sa Pasig (my office in Pasig)," he said, referring to Malacañang.
“And yet they have this problem of a recurring rice shortage when there is actually none because there are the privately-owned business…in the rice trading,” Duterte added.
Former president now Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was among the guests at the event, which was attended by Cabinet officials and lawmakers.
During the meeting with rice traders, Duterte reportedly expressed his intent to abolish the NFA Council, and to transfer the NFA and National Irrigation Administration back to the Department of Agriculture. Some lawmakers slammed the supposed plan, and said it should be Aquino who should be sacked.