MANILA, Philippines – The National Food Authority (NFA) said there is nothing wrong with its decision to sell government rice meant for Eastern Visayas to private Bulacan rice traders, as claimed by a confidential memorandum for President Rodrigo Duterte.
NFA spokesman Rex Estoperez claimed that the rice sold to the traders was "aged stock" and thus had to be sold right away to willing traders.
"We are not a winery. We are not fermenting the stock. We have standards we follow. When you go past 6 months, the quality should be audited," he told Rappler in a phone interview.
He said that the rice stocks in question were 2015 stocks. NFA management, headed by administrator Jason Aquino, decided to approve the selling of the rice at that time because waiting longer would mean they would sell the rice at a lower price.
"Rather than delay things, that would subject the rice to another price reduction," said Estoperez.
The diversion of the Eastern Visayas rice to Bulacan traders was among the accusations in the confidential memorandum given to Duterte. It claimed the diversion contributed to NFA rice shortage in the region. (READ: Evasco out as NFA Council chairman)
Estoperez responded to other allegations in the document.
He disputed the claim that NFA management favored Bulacan rice traders because Aquino's wife hails from the province.
Aquino, said the spokesman, could not have strong-armed his way since he would have needed the cooperation of other NFA officials, including regional directors.
"Operationally, hindi niya puwede ipilit 'yung gusto niya (he can't force what he wants) because we have marketing plans," said Estoperez, who is also a Central Luzon director.
There is also supposedly nothing wrong with NFA management's orders to pull out NFA personnel from watching over the arrival of imported rice in ports.
The NFA simply did not want to have to be responsible for any loss of rice since the NFA's contract with the supplier does not cover the transit of the rice. (READ: Duterte OKs gov't-to-gov't rice importation)
"Kasi ayaw namin makisawsaw doon. Ayaw namin makialam doon kasi our contract with the supplier is at first warehouse before we do the documentation, but not in transit. Or else 'pag may nawala diyan, problema," said Estoperez.
(We don't want to get involved in that. We don't want to interfere because our contract with the supplier is at the first warehouse before we do the documentation, but not in transit. Or else if something gets lost, it would be our problem.)
The NFA Council had opposed the pullout of NFA personnel because it provided a layer of protection against corruption at the ports.
However, documents attached to the memorandum showed the stocks in question were 2016 stocks, not 2015. An NFA official had also protested the sale of the rice as the stocks were still supposedly in good condition.
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.