MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is now looking for a new National Food Authority (NFA) administrator after his appointee Jason Aquino asked to be "relieved."
Duterte announced this during an interview with Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Tuesday, September 11.
"Jason Aquino has requested that he be relieved already.... I will scout [for] a new one," said Duterte.
Aquino supposedly told the President he has grown "tired" amid accusations that he is to blame for the rising prices of rice, a food staple for Filipinos.
"He says he is tired and he cannot cope up with the laro diyan sa (play there) inside which is always an ordinary happening," said Duterte.
Even lawmakers allied with the administration have accused Aquino of causing the increase of rice prices by declaring a shortage of NFA rice and not purchasing enough palay from local farmers to stave off the need to import.
Aquino and Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr, who back then supervised the NFA under Duterte's orders, were in conflict over modes of rice importation. The infighting led to Evasco being stripped of his powers over the NFA.
He then said that the "only way" to solve the inflation of rice prices is to import more rice.
"The only way is to import more, magbuffer ako (I need to have a buffer stock)," said Duterte.
Earlier in the interview, Duterte said he suspects the increase in rice prices is being fueled by an "artificial" rice shortage and "man-made manipulation" by certain players. He said his approval of rice importations and the arrival of these imports should have stabilized rice prices but traders could be hoarding them in their warehouses, limiting supply and causing higher prices in the market.
He also assured the public that his economic managers are "working on it" and that he himself would be asking them his own questions about inflation during the Cabinet meeting to be held after the interview.
Minority senators had earlier urged Duterte to sack the NFA chief over the high rise prices and shortage of cheap rice in the markets. They said the rice crisis would not be solved if Aquino remained in his post, and slammed the NFA for importing rice with weevils. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Filipinos don't deserve fumigated nor weevil-infested rice) – Rappler.com
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Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.