Sabotage? ‘Faulty’ list leads to suspension of over 100 NFA employees

Jairo Bolledo

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Sabotage? ‘Faulty’ list leads to suspension of over 100 NFA employees


The Ombudsman asks: Is there someone trying to sabotage Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel?

MANILA, Philippines – Over a hundred National Food Authority (NFA) officials and employees contested their suspension stemming from a probe by the Department of Agriculture (DA), suggesting that the complaint was hastily assembled and had factual errors.

In an order dated March 1, the Office of the Ombudsman placed 139 NFA officials and employees under preventive suspension after it found “strong evidence of guilt” for allegedly selling milled rice without the benefit of public auction or bidding and at a price grossly disadvantageous to the government.

The said order said the officials were suspended without pay until the administrative process of the case is done. The suspension will not exceed six months, the Ombudsman added.

Among the suspended officials are NFA administrator Roderico Bioco, assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano, along with 12 regional managers, 27 branch managers, and 98 warehouse supervisors of the NFA.

The joint investigation by the Ombudsman and the Department of Agriculture (DA) stemmed from an allegation of an NFA official.

Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. urged the officials tagged in the accusations to file a leave of absence to give way to the probe.

Suspended officials’ appeal

In a motion for reconsideration filed on Thursday, March 14, 108 of the 139 NFA staff asked the Ombudsman to reverse and set aside its March 1 order and drop them from case.

The petitioners argued in their motion that the Ombudsman committed grave errors of facts in crafting the list of suspended NFA officials and staff. The list included a person who was already dead, staff on study leave, and even personnel who already retired from NFA.

Not only that, some employees were also listed in the Ombudsman order with wrong names or designations of work.

“It cannot be argued that these defects may simply be fixed by correcting the positions, or removing the names of those not involved. These kinds of errors should not be taken lightly. If anything, there are indications that the list was done in a rushed manner without proper due diligence being conducted,” the motion for reconsideration read.

Dino de Leon, one of the petitioners’ counsels, said the Ombudsman was “unfair for civil servants who have given most of their professional lives in service to public.”

Suspension lifted

But on Friday, March 15, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said in interview with GMA’s DZBB that his office already lifted the preventive suspension of 23 house supervisors from Metro Manila, Cabanatuan, Iloilo, and Antique. Aside from the 23, Martires said they previously lifted the suspension of one NFA employee.

The Office of the Ombudsman has been largely closed off to media. But Martires, on Friday, personally talked to reporters to explain their side:

The matrix, it was given to us. It came from the office of the Department of Agriculture secretary, which was provided to him also by the National Food Authority. Kung sinoman ang gustong sumabotahe kay Secretary Tiu Laurel, dapat imbestigahan niya ‘to, okay? Dahil siyempre nagre-rely lang ang said secretary sa data na ibibigay sa kanya,” the ombudsman said.

Kung mayroon mang patay doon, hindi alam ni secretary ‘yon, lalo namang hindi namin alam,” he added.

(Secretary Tiu laurel should investigate whoever is trying to sabotage him. Because the said secretary only relies on the data given to him. If ever a dead person’s name was included in the list, the secretary would not be aware of it, even us.)

DA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Arnel De Mesa said on Friday that they welcome the Ombudsman’s latest decision, but noted that the DA has yet to receive the order lifting the suspension of some NFA personnel.

Why this issue matters

The NFA is mandated to maintain sufficient rice buffer stocks to be sourced solely from local farmers. The office specifically buys palay from local farmers, and then maintain the buffer stock, which will be distributed during emergencies and calamities.

The Rice Tariffication Law also made it clear that the NFA can dispose of stocks before rice quality deteriorates or becomes unsafe for consumption.

In their motion, the petitioners said the suspension of over NFA officials and personnel “poses a significant risk of operational paralysis.” They argued that the disruption of managers and supervisors’ activities could affect the communication and coordination within the office.

The issue also highlighted the power and importance of the Ombudsman. De Leon said in his statement that their pushback is not only for the affected NFA employees, “but [for] all government employees who may fall victim to the failure of due process and the capricious exercise of the Office of the Ombudsman of its powers.”

As a constitutional body, the Ombudsman is among the agents that ensure checks and balances within the government and ensures that government officials and personnel who will commit offenses shall be punished accordingly.

“The Office of the Ombudsman must also carefully wield its powers and not exercise the same in a seemingly blitzkrieg and/or shotgun manner, not caring who will be hit by their brazen moves,” De Leon added. –

1 comment

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  1. ET

    This is a fascinating case. Ombudsman Samuel Martires announced the lifting of the suspension of 24 NFA personnel, but the DA has yet to receive a copy of such an order. Why is this so? In addition, there are errors in the data given to the DA Secretary and the defense presented by Atty. Dino De Leon seems plausible. This case is worth following until its end because it bears the mark of the triumvirate Corruption, Repression, and Disinformation in our political system.

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.