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Evasco out as head of NFA Council

/ 07:24 AM April 18, 2018

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. with President Duterte. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. is out of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, following a row with NFA Administrator Jason Aquino over rice importation.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Tuesday that Evasco would no longer head the NFA Council because President Rodrigo Duterte decided on Monday night to put the NFA under the Department of Agriculture, along with the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority.

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Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is expected to head the new NFA Council.

The council, the policymaking body of the NFA, will also no longer include the Development Bank of the Philippines, which will be replaced by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

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Friction with NFA

In his statement read by Roque, Evasco alluded to the friction that the council had with the NFA and the demolition job he had faced.

“It has been a challenge to be part of these reform agenda in the NFA and in the government at large, especially with the effort of some quarters to discredit my name and that of the council,” Evasco said.

But instituting the reforms were worth the effort, he said.

Evasco said he hoped his successor would continue the programs to ensure that the transactions of the NFA would be aboveboard.

“With the President’s decision to transfer the governance to the next council chair, I believe that NFA can now move forward toward ensuring that corrupt, exclusive and debt-ridden practices during the past administrations will not reign in the next transactions to pass,” he said.

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Evasco thanked President Duterte for giving him the chance to head the council and said he respected his decision.

He also noted that in his more than 20 years in public service, he had never been charged with or investigated for any misdeeds or corrupt practices.

Rough ride

Evasco’s term as head of the NFA Council had not been a smooth ride.

Last year, Mr. Duterte fired Evasco’s deputy, Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez, for supposedly approving the importation of rice during the harvest season.

Valdez said then that the decision was approved by the NFA Council.

She issued a statement saying Evasco’s office was under attack.

Valdez accused Piñol of meddling in the affairs of Evasco’s office, and criticized Aquino for refusing to attend council meetings and defying its decision to extend the deadline for rice imports.

She also said Piñol and Aquino were able to go directly to Mr. Duterte, while the NFA Council’s request for a dialogue with the President, which was coursed through his special assistant, Christoper Go, had been unsuccessful.

The people lose

Opposition Senators Francis Pangilinan and Bam Aquino questioned the removal of Evasco from the NFA Council.

In a statement, Pangilinan said Evasco’s removal made Aquino the “clear winner” and the people “the loser” in the attempt at reforms in the NFA.

Pangilinan questioned why Evasco was removed when he had a good track record and had investigated illegal activities in the NFA.

“Where is [the] government’s sincerity in going after the corrupt if its allies who have clean objectives and are opposed to corruption are not being heeded?” he said.

Pangilinan also said he did not agree with Mr. Duterte’s decision to put the NFA under the agriculture department because this could lead to more mismanagement at the NFA, which could affect the rice supply.

In a separate statement, Aquino said Evasco’s removal was a “loss in our fight against corruption in the importation and management” of the rice supply.

Aquino said Evasco provided checks and balances in the NFA.

“Without the checks and balances that Secretary Evasco endeavored to implement, corrupt deals will continue unpunished,” he said.

Artificial rice shortage

Evasco earlier this month accused the NFA of creating an artificial rice shortage by announcing that its buffer stock had dwindled to an amount good for less than half a day for the entire country.

Evasco said the artificial shortage could force private traders to hoard their stock in anticipation of higher prices.

He said there was enough rice in the country.

He also ordered an audit of the NFA’s rice procurement and release of supply.

The NFA and the NFA Council had also disagreed on conditions for the importation of rice.

But Mr. Duterte has since directed Aquino to go ahead with rice importation and to ignore the NFA Council.

Roque said on Tuesday that Mr. Duterte had given the authority to import 250,000 metric tons of rice in a government-to-government arrangement to beef up the government’s buffer stock.

Subsequent importation will be done through auction. It will be supervised by the Executive Council Committee headed by the Office of the President. —WITH A REPORT FROM CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO

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TAGS: Department of Agriculture, Emmanuel Piñol, Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, Jason Aquino, Leoncio Evasco Jr., NFA Council, Philippine Coconut Authority, rice importation, Rodrigo Duterte
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