TIMELINE: Clashes between Evasco and NFA’s Aquino

Pia Ranada
TIMELINE: Clashes between Evasco and NFA’s Aquino
Rappler traces important events marking conflict between the NFA Council, led by Cabinet Secretary Evasco, and NFA chief Jason Aquino, and how President Duterte has mediated between the two

MANILA, Philippines – Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr, among President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted, and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino continue to clash on the issue of rice importation.

Evasco, on Thursday, March 22, even said the NFA management, under Aquino “really intend to take advantage of the purchase of rice for some people to make money” by “pushing for G2G (government-to-government importation).”

Evasco and the rest of the NFA Council, which he chairs, think G2G should be a last resort because of the need for government to take out a loan to pursue it and because of its propensity to be abused.

Aquino, on the other hand, thinks government-to-private (G2P) importation, preferred by the Council, is slow and also prone to be abused by private importers. (READ: Tug-of-war between Evasco, NFA’s Aquino continues)

Who is Duterte siding with on the issue? It’s a tough call. So far, he seems to be calibrating, giving each one concessions. 

Here’s a timeline of events:

December 29, 2016 – Jason Aquino appointed NFA Administrator

January to February 2017 

  • Aquino writes directly to President Rodrigo Duterte about NFA rice importation (February 8)
  • Aquino repeatedly cancels NFA Council meetings (January 17 and February 21). In the agenda of these meetings is the extension of deadline for arrival of rice imported by private traders through the 2016 Minimum Access Volume.
  • Aquino defies NFA Council deadline extension to March 31, 2017 of MAV rice imports arrivals.
  • Aquino allows deadline extension to March 31, but only for imports coming from Pakistan and India.

March 3, 2017 – Aquino writes to Vietnamese Ambassador expressing confidence that government-to-government importation will push through that month. 

March 22, 2017 – Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr writes a letter to Duterte asking him to approve the Council decision to remove Aquino as NFA Administrator and Council Vice-chairman.

April 5, 2017 – Duterte fires Evasco’s proxy in NFA Council, Undersecretary Halmen Valdez.

June 9, 2017 – During an NFA Council meeting, Council turns Aquino into rubber stamp for approving import permits and decides on government-to-private importation. 

October to December 2017 – Field reports to NFA Council, Department of Agriculture, and Senate show that palay was being sold at P14 to P17 in provinces like Mindoro and Palawan. NFA decides not to purchase these, claiming these were wet stocks and would not last in storage.

November 2017 – Aquino calls for G2G importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice, citing dwindling NFA buffer stock. The NFA is required by law to maintain a 15-day supply, or 30-day supply for lean months. 

January 2018 – Consumers find it difficult to buy cheap NFA rice in public markets. 

February 7, 2018 – Duterte gives Evasco “verbal” instructions to import 250,000 metric tons subject to the NFA Council’s “assessment on timing and mode of procurement.”

February 12, 2018 – Evasco announces that the NFA Council has activated  procurement of 250,000 MT of rice, targeting arrivals in June.

February 19, 2018 – In a press release, NFA explains it had to “judiciously allocate” its remaining rice supply to warehouses all over the country, prioritizing allocations for relief agencies. 

February 27, 2018 – In a Senate hearing, senators blame Aquino for causing prices of rice to increase with his claims of a national rice shortage. Senators also ask why NFA did not buy cheap rice from local farmers from October to December to avoid the current NFA rice shortage.

March 1, 2018 – Aquino meets with Duterte and Special Assistant to the President Bong Go in Davao City.

March 5, 2018 – During a Cabinet meeting, Duterte orders that only the NFA Council, and not Aquino, make public announcements about rice supply. 

March 19, 2018 – In a meeting with the NFA Council and Aquino, Duterte orders that the procurement of 250,000 metric tons of rice be expedited so that they arrive in mid-May, not June. The Council affirms that the method will still be G2P and rejects Aquino’s amendments to the terms of reference supposedly meant to safeguard the process from abuse.

– Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.