Ombudsman dismisses NFA’s Jason Aquino over rice smuggling

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of Jason Aquino, the controversial administrator of the National Food Authority (NFA) who President Rodrigo Dutertte said he would remove but is unable to replace yet.

Aquino was found guilty of administrative charges of grave misconduct over the smuggling of $680,000 or around P34.68 million worth of Vietnamese rice through the Cagayan de Oro Port.

The decision was approved April 4, 2019, by Ombudsman Samuel Martires and Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval.

Also dismissed were Tomas Alcid, former district collector of the Port of Cagayan de Oro, and Geniefelle Lagmay, Customs liaison officer to NFA of the Office of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner.

This is the administrative side of a criminal complaint for graft and economic sabotage filed in September 2017 by Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson. Lacson also filed the complaint against former Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who is now the chief of the Bureau of Corrections.

The criminal complaints of graft against Aquino, Faeldon, Alcid, and Lagmay will move on to the preliminary investigation after a fact-finding panel found basis to recommend charges. The preliminary investigation is the criminal probe to be conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman as well.

Rice smuggling

According to Lacson’s complaint, two rice shipments consigned to Cebu Lite Trading, Incorporated (CLTI) entered the port of Cagayan de Oro (CDO) on March 10, 2017; the first consisted of 21,800 bags of Vietnamese long grain white rice worth $370,000 and the second 18,200 bags of the same Vietnamese rice worth $309,000.

Lacson said that the shipments were processed without permits, import entries, taxes, and customs duties. 

“Under these circumstances, respondents Aquino, Alcid and Lagmay are blameworthy for having dealt with CLTI whose business was favored directly with the functions of their office,” the Ombudsman decision said.

The decision added: “Their separate acts evince the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law of flagrant disregard of established rule. Hence, they should be held administratively liable for grave misconduct.”

The dismissed officials were also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

Duterte said in September 2018 that he will replace Aquino amid public frustration over rising prices of rice and lack of cheap NFA rice in some parts of the country.

No replacement has been named yet, but Tomas Escarez is acting as officer-in-charge of the NFA. –