Rice importation is likely becoming a trigger conflict issue within and among the officials of the National Food Authority (NFA), NFA Council including the Department of Agriculture (DA). Former NFA Undersecretary Halmen Valdez was kicked out for pushing rice importation thru the annual Minimum Access Volume (MAV) importation scheme that will be handled by the private sector despite the objection of NFA Administrator Jason Aquino who prefers rice importation thru government to government basis. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol however intervened saying there is no need for rice importation since there is enough bumper rice crop. The twist however lies on the fact that Valdez was only trying to implement a directive coming from NFA Council Chair Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. His memo is specifically to extend MAV until June. He already sent several memos to Aquino regarding the MAV extension, however Aquino defied him.
It’s clear the bone of contention lies on the importation scheme, whether thru private sector or government. Under the provisions of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of the World Trade Organization, MAV is allowed with lower tariff. Valdez had claimed the government to government basis in less transparent compared to MAV. Aquino earlier had ordered the importation of 250,000 MT as standby authority and another 550,000 MT for the lean months which starts in July and ends in September. He said the buffer stock of the NFA is short by about three days by the end of June. Meanwhile, Evasco’s memo dated April 3 allowed the importation of 805,200 MT, or 16,104,000 50-kilo bags from March 31 to June 30. There seems to be a power struggle in this side with the underlings caught at the crossfire. What is holding Aquino and Evasco from sitting down and talk on what would be the better option instead of claiming superiority over the other. Evasco is known to be the second most powerful in the Duterte administration. He was the brains behind Duterte’s election campaign.
Why can’t both ranking officials discuss the matter squarely so they could arrive at a best option to the benefit of the general public? As in the past rice importation issue emerged as milking cow of erring government officials. The situation at the NFA and NFAC now is quite embarrassing since it is the underlings that suffer the brunt of the top officials’ incongruity. It’s rather fearful to note that the ongoing probe on Aquino will produce anew some embarrassing facts that would create another blunder to the administration. Duterte had underscored he doesn’t want importation to continue to give the farmer what is due them. If there is truth in Piñol’s claim there is sufficient buffer stock, then the issue on rice importation should be dumped. NFA, NFAC and DA should all be transparent as to the real status of rice supply with the onset of the dry months, besides, this administration is trying its best to be corrupt officials-free.