Duterte: I have final say on rice imports
DAVAO CITY—President Duterte on Monday denied that there was infighting among the members of his Cabinet in the face of the recent sacking of several government officials.
“There is no infighting, no trouble there. I just don’t like people who are corrupt,” the President said shortly before flying to the Middle East.
Mr. Duterte said the officials were removed for alleged involvement in corruption, citing the case of former Cabinet Undersecretary Maia Chiara Valdez, who had approved the order to extend the importation of rice even without authority to do so.
“Besides, it’s harvest time. The harvest is good. Per hectare it’s three times the original output. Why would we import rice?” Mr. Duterte said.
The President said standard procedure was not followed when Valdez signed and approved the recommendation to import rice. He said his office should have the final say since the National Food Authority (NFA) was now under the Office of the President.
Mr. Duterte said importation during harvest time would kill the local farmers.
He said he had directed NFA administrator Jason Aquino to buy the staple from local farmers for a possible “buffer” and only allow importation in case of a supply shortfall.
The President said the government should put the local farmers’ welfare first.
Valdez’s dismissal came in the heels of the sacking of two other members of the Cabinet, former National Irrigation Administration chief Peter Laviña and former Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan proposed on Monday that Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez serve as mediator between Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. and Aquino so the government could have a clear policy on handling the country’s rice supply.
Pangilinan said he hoped both Evasco, as chair of the NFA council, and Aquino could “set aside policy differences, sit down and thresh matters out amongst themselves.”
“Perhaps Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, also a former Agriculture Secretary, can mediate between the two considering that tens of billions of pesos worth of government funds are at stake should this matter remain unresolved,” Pangilinan said in text messages.
He underscored the need for the government to decide immediately whether it would push for rice importation “because it takes about six to eight weeks to secure our supplies from elsewhere and the lean months are upon us in six to eight weeks.”
“It isn’t too late to lay down a clearer policy direction on the matter but the Department of Finance, Office of the President, CABSEC (Cabinet Secretaries), the Department of Agriculture and the NFA should sit down and firm up a common position,” he said.
Under PD 4, only the NFA through the NFA Council could authorize the importation of rice whether by the government or the private sector, he said.