DA Implements Preventive Suspension on NFA Personnel

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. Photo from Department of Agriculture FB page
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The Department of Agriculture (DA) announced on Monday that it has enforced a preventive suspension order for 139 officials and employees of the National Food Administration (NFA). This action comes as a result of an ongoing investigation into the alleged controversial sale of rice buffer stocks.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. stated, “Today, we are implementing the preventive suspension order of the Ombudsman against 139 officials and employees of the NFA, who are being investigated for alleged involvement in the controversial sale of rice buffer stocks.” Secretary Laurel has been in contact with the Office of the Ombudsman since the controversy emerged and has created a special panel of investigators to determine culpability and prevent similar incidents in the future.

To ensure the continuity of projects and services in the industry, Secretary Laurel will temporarily take over the leadership of the NFA. This decision aims to avoid any delays that may arise during this period of investigation. Among the suspended personnel are NFA Administrator Roderico Bioco and Assistant Administrator for Operations John Robert Hermano.

The investigating panel plans to gather evidence dating back to 2019. The DA has implemented the preventive suspension to secure all relevant documents and evidence related to the sale of rice buffer stocks, among other matters.

In addition to the DA’s actions, Senator Maria Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos has expressed her intention to investigate the NFA’s alleged “highly suspicious” P93.75-million sale of 75,000 bags of rice stock to two traders. This sale occurred while consumers were demanding cheaper rice. Senator Marcos believes that the NFA has “completely lost its way” amidst a global rice supply shortage.

According to Senator Marcos, a thorough review of the NFA’s mandate is essential to address the global rice shortage. She highlights the challenges posed by El Niño weather disturbances and rice-exporting countries prioritizing their domestic needs. Senator Marcos also questions why the NFA resorted to buying rice from India when its charter strictly prohibits importation.

The NFA was established in 1972 with the goal of purchasing palay from local farmers, stabilizing rice prices for Filipino consumers, and ensuring an adequate buffer stock for calamities. However, Senator Marcos contends that the NFA has repeatedly failed to meet its required buffer stock and struggled to cope with the higher farm gate prices of palay, which reached as high as P27 per kilo last year. Although the farm gate price of palay has since dipped to P23, the NFA has stated that it can only afford to subsidize local farmers’ palay at P17 to P19 per kilo.

The preventive suspension of NFA officials and the proposed investigation by Senator Marcos reflect the seriousness with which the government is addressing the alleged irregularities in the sale of rice buffer stocks. The DA’s actions demonstrate its commitment to transparency and accountability in the agricultural sector. As the investigation unfolds, it is crucial to ensure that the NFA fulfills its mandate to support local farmers and provide affordable rice to the Filipino people.

Source: The Manila Times

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