Ex-DA chief: Tighten rules to deter NFA collusion with traders

Ex-DA chief: Tighten rules to deter NFA collusion with traders

PHOTO: This November 4, 2020, photo shows sacks of rice stockpiled at the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Quezon City. STORY: Ex-DA chief: Tighten rules to deter NFA collusion with traders

This November 4, 2020, photo shows sacks of rice stockpiled at the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Quezon City. (File photo by GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — A farmers’ group urged the National Food Authority (NFA) to adopt stricter rules on the disposal of aging rice stocks and on their pricing to deter any collusion between its officials and bulk buyers.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), through its chair, Leonardo Montemayor, made the call following Monday’s order from the Office of the Ombudsman suspending NFA Administrator Roderico Bioco and 138 other officials and employees for six months.


They were suspended to make way for an investigation into the allegedly irregular sale of 75,000 bags of “deteriorating or aging” stocks to rice traders to the tune of P93.75 million.


The NFA is mandated to keep an optimal level of inventory sourced solely from local farmers for distribution during emergency or calamity situations under the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL). But it is also allowed to dispose of aging stocks even in the absence of such conditions.

“Stricter rules must be put in place on when and how these aging stocks are disposed of, and at what price, in order to avoid discretion and potential collusion between NFA officials and private buyers,” said Montemayor, a former secretary of the Department of Agriculture

In a statement, Montemayor said the investigation into NFA operations should be accompanied by a review of RTL to enable the agency to perform its mandate effectively.

“Under the law, the NFA can replenish its buffer stocks only by buying palay from local farmers. What if farmers do not want to sell to it because its buying price is too low, as is the case today?” he said. “The RTL prohibits the NFA from importing, so where will the agency get its rice stocks?”

Montemayor urged Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. to also look into reported anomalies in previous years, “wherein NFA buffer stocks were being sold soon after milling but were made to appear as deteriorating stocks to justify their disposal.”

“In some cases, the records of the release of newly milled stocks were postdated by several months, again to justify their disposal as aging stocks,” he said. “In other instances, good quality palay stocks sent to private millers for processing were switched with low-quality rice, with the NFA ending up with poor quality cereal.”


No disruption

Aside from Bioco, the other NFA officials suspended without pay included Assistant Administrator for Operations John Robert Hermano, 12 regional managers, 26 branch managers and 99 warehouse supervisors stationed in Metro Manila; Central Luzon; Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon); Bicol; Western, Central and Eastern Visayas; Zamboanga Peninsula; Northern Mindanao; Caraga; Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City); and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

NFA Assistant Administrator for Operations Lemuel Pagayunan, who filed the complaint in the Office of the President on Feb. 24, was excluded from the suspension order.

The Ombudsman said it found “sufficient grounds” to suspend them based on “strong evidence showing their guilt.” The charges included grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Agriculture Undersecretary Arnel de Mesa assured the public that the NFA’s operations would not be disrupted despite the preventive suspensions, adding that Tiu Laurel will take over temporarily as NFA administrator.

READ: DA probes sale of NFA rice stocks at low prices

In the field offices, those next in rank would serve as regional managers and branch managers, and temporary warehouse supervisors would also be designated, he said on the government TV program “Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon.”

He said Tiu Laurel met with NFA employees after serving the suspension orders.

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“On Wednesday, the NFA will also have its emergency council meeting to ensure that there will be no disruption in the services for our farmers, especially now that the harvest season has started and the NFA has also started buying palay,” he added.

TAGS: anomalous NFA rice sale, National Food Authority

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