rice supply in the Philippines

139 NFA officials, staff suspended over ‘improper’ sale of rice buffer stocks

Iya Gozum

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139 NFA officials, staff suspended over ‘improper’ sale of rice buffer stocks


(3rd UPDATE) 'We intend to dig deep as far as 2019 at least and welcome those who would come forward to assist us in cleansing the NFA,' says Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr.

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman suspended 139 officials and employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) on Monday, March 4, over “the controversial sale of rice buffer stocks.”

Suspended officials include administrator Roderico Bioco, assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano, 12 regional managers, 27 branch managers, and 98 warehouse supervisors. 

“We intend to dig deep as far as 2019 at least and welcome those who would come forward to assist us in cleansing the NFA,” said Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. in a statement on Monday.

Tiu Laurel will temporarily lead the NFA after the suspension of Bioco and Piolito Santos, NFA assistant administrator for finance and administration.

The NFA Council previously appointed Santos as administrator on March 6. 

An official accusing several executives “improperly disposing buffer stocks without bidding and at a price allegedly disadvantageous to government” spurred the investigation. Tiu Laurel has since urged concerned officials to take a leave of absence to give way to the probe.

“Rice is the main food staple of tens of millions of Filipinos, particularly the poor,” Tiu Laurel said.

“We cannot allow those who have been entrusted this noble task to bilk the NFA, enriching themselves at the expense of millions who struggle every day for a chance [to] feed their families.”

The investigation, conducted jointly by the Office of the Ombudsman and the agriculture department, is still ongoing. The DA said more information will be released to the public once results are out.

Bioco had already filed a leave of absence before the suspension, “to allow investigators a freehand to undertake the probe, which we expect will go beyond this controversy.”

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, the NFA is mandated to keep the country’s rice buffer stock at optimal level of 15-30 days of national rice consumption, factoring in emergency and disaster situations. The NFA can dispose of stocks before rice quality deteriorates or becomes unsafe for consumption.

Meanwhile, former senator Francis Pangilinan lauded Tiu Laurel’s efforts in suspending the NFA officials.

Pangilinan, former chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said in a statement on Wednesday, March 6, that the agriculture secretary should go further and blacklist billionaire traders and disqualify them from future dealings with the DA.

“Billionaire traders, whose unmatched greed knows no limit in partnership with corrupt DA officials, [are] the biggest stumbling block to modernizing our agriculture and fisheries sector, increasing our farmers’ income, improving their productivity, and bringing down food prices,” he said.

He said the issue only shows that good governance is necessary if farmers’ and fisherfolks’ lives are to be improved.

“There is no rice or sugar or onion ‘cartel’ for government to point a finger at because the government agriculture bureaucracy and the cartel are one,” Pangilinan said. “The enemy isn’t at the gate, the enemy is in the fortress.” – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.