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Opinion

NFA: ‘palabigasan’ of crooks in any admin

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

“The ship drowned,” National Food Authority administrator Emil Ong infamously alibied in 1990. Congress was then investigating the mysterious disappearance of a barge-load of rice which the NFA claimed had sunk.

Cory Aquino was president then. The probe stemmed from senator Teofisto Guingona Jr.’s exposé of a Binondo cartel that controlled 90 percent of rice trade. NFA abetted the seven-member syndicate. By law, the president appoints the NFA administrator.

Thirty-four years hence, NFA remains notorious. Last week NFA chief Roderico Bioco was accused of selling fresh emergency buffer stocks to two favored traders. The 75,000 bagsful were misdeclared as old and deteriorating. The NFA governing council, composed of state bank heads, was not informed; there was no public bidding.

Government’s loss is evident. The 75,000 bags contained 3,750,000 kilos of rice. At P70 a kilo retail rate, total worth was P262,500,000. Bioco allegedly sold to the two traders at only P25 a kilo or P93,750,000 total. Underprice: P168,750,000.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires preventively suspended Bioco for six months. As well, 138 others: assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano,12 regional managers, 27 branch managers and 98 provincial and city warehouse supervisors.

President Bongbong Marcos Jr. was concurrent agriculture secretary in July 2022-November 2023. He put Bioco in office.

Mislabeling NFA rice buffer stocks as rotting and thus for sale to favored traders is an old racket. Martires became Ombudsman in Aug. 2018. He missed by a few months a similar scam during president Rody Duterte’s tenure. I wrote about it thrice. Excerpts:

• (Feb. 9, 2018) “Cheap government rice has vanished from public marts. With no grains to sell, most NFA stalls have been closed for a week now. Retailers in the few open ones say their stocks will last only till this weekend.

“Not only the eight million poorest of the poor subsist on NFA’s P26-a-kilo rice. Although preferring fancy varieties, middle-class buyers now contend with suddenly higher prices, P37 to P40 a kilo. The NFA shortage has spawned profiteering.

“Fake news swirls that calamities depleted NFA’s 24-day buffer. [In truth, officials] emptied NFA’s warehouses of last year’s Thai rice imports. Of commercial quality because long-grained, well-milled and only 15 percent broken, those falsely were reclassified as low-class, then sold at bargain rates to favored traders in Bulacan.”

• (March 23, 2018) “NFA management sold 700,000 bags, or 35 million kilos, of ‘old stocks’ in June-August 2017. Those purportedly were in regional warehouses as far back as 2014-2015. The policy is to auction old stocks at a discount. Traders re-mill such stocks for resale.

“Immediate past NFA managers are appalled. Records show that 2014 stocks already were sold in 2015, and 2015 stocks were sold in 2016.

“The racket entails P50-P100 kickback from each auctioned bag. If true, that kickback from 700,000 bags ranged from P35 million-P70 million.”

• (April 18, 2018) “NFA chairman Leoncio Evasco was removed hours after he handed Duterte a memo against administrator Jason Aquino.

“Evasco reported that Aquino had sold 10.4 million kilos of NFA rice in Eastern Visayas warehouses to favored grains traders in Bulacan.

“Sale price was only P235 million – disadvantageous to the government, Evasco said, since the agency had procured it for P261 million. Duterte’s former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano exposed the same details to the press Monday, calling on fellow Leftists in Congress to investigate.

“Aquino previously had claimed that the stocks he sold from Central Luzon, Bicol and Muslim Mindanao were ‘aging.’ Having been procured as far back as 2014-2015, the agency had to sell at a low price to recoup costs.

“Immediate past administrators disputed Aquino, saying they dutifully had sold out their stocks to poor consumers before stepping down in June 2016. Council member Atty. Teodoro Jumamil, representing the Development Bank of the Philippines, revealed this to senators in February.

“Jumamil reportedly opted out of the Council Monday, when the DBP seat was given to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“DBP chairman Alberto Romulo recently told Aquino complaints about the latter’s construction of a new NFA central building. Allegedly overpriced, the project was by a constructor blacklisted by the government.

“It’s unclear what happened to another Aquino critic in the Council, assistant secretary Mercedita Sombilla of the National Economic and Development Authority.”

During Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala was also NFA chairman. An ex-congressman, Alcala picked his former aide Orlan Calayag as administrator.

Years earlier Calayag had emigrated to America and acquired US citizenship. The appointment violated the NFA charter which requires the administrator to be a Filipino citizen. Senators subsequently investigated Alcala and Calayag due to unabated rice smuggling.

Malacañang under president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo decided all NFA rice import volumes and prices. Multibillion-peso kickbacks were reported.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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