President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his intention to "abolish" the National Food Authority (NFA) Council being led by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.
According to sources, he mentioned this plan during his meeting with major rice traders on Thursday night, April 5.
Duterte had also supposedly said he would transfer the NFA and National Irrigation Administration (NIA) from Evasco's supervision to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The President said he wanted the NFA Council out of the picture because he prefers talking to just one person or group about rice matters.
The NFA Council, however, was created by a law, Presidential Decree No 4, which was later amended to Presidential Decree No 1770. Abolishing the council will therefore require repealing the decree. Duterte, however, has the power to reconstitute the membership of the NFA Council.
The Council is the government's policy-making body when it comes to rice and food security. It is composed of representatives from the National Economic Development Authority, Department of Finance, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and Landbank. Among its members is a farmer representative.
The Council was placed under Evasco's wing when Duterte gave him supervisory powers over 12 government agencies, including the NFA and NIA. The two agencies are typically attached to the DA.
The abolition of the council and the reversion of NFA and NIA will be a big blow to Evasco and a win for NFA administrator Jason Aquino.
The rift between the two is well-known. They had been at odds over rice importation. While Aquino wanted to buy rice from Vietnam, Evasco and the rest of the NFA Council wanted to import rice through private traders.
Evasco said doing so is more transparent and less prone to abuse. Aquino insisted government-to-government importation is faster.
The Cabinet Secretary also blamed NFA management, led by Aquino, for the current shortage in NFA rice. He and the NFA Council found NFA management's distribution of NFA rice stocks anomalous and a major factor in the current shortage.
Evasco had previously asked Duterte to fire Aquino for defying the NFA Council. The President did not accede to his Cabinet appointee's request.
In fact, in his recent meeting with the NFA Council, Duterte even asked the group to "give him (Aquino) a chance."
Instead of Aquino getting axed, it was Evasco's right-hand person in the NFA Council, Undersecretary Halmen Valdez, whom Duterte fired.
However, amid panic and rising prices of rice, lawmakers like Senator Grace Poe and Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV have called for Aquino's resignation.
In the tug-of-war between Evasco and Aquino, the latest developments show the latter official has a stronger pull on the President. This is likely aided by his supposed strong ties with Special Assistant to the President Bong Go. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.