Villar claims NFA campaigned against her in May 2019 elections

 

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Cynthia Villar on Wednesday, August 28, claimed that the National Food Authority (NFA) campaign against her in the May polls, where she topped the senatorial race.

She said the previous NFA leadership had blamed her for the rice problems in the country.

"Ako, nung ako ay kumandidatong senador, ako ay sinisiraan ng NFA. 'Wag daw akong iboto dahil ako daw ang may kasalanan ng lahat ng ito," a visibly irked Villar said at the Senate hearing on the Rice Tariffication Law.

(When I ran for senator, the NFA campaigned against me. They urged people not to vote for me because they said I was the one to blame for this.)

"Tingnan mo, ang dami kong boto, walang nakinig sa inyo, kasi galit sa inyo ang mga tao," she said.

(Look, I got a lot of votes. Nobody listened to you because the people were mad at you.)

The previous NFA leadership headed by Jason Aquino, who was not at the hearing, was responsible for the rice crisis in 2018 that led to the "wiping out" of the agency's rice reserve, therefore increasing its market prices. (READ: NFA rice shortage: Whose fault is it?)

Senators, including Villar, wanted Aquino fired. In April this year, the Ombudsman had ordered his dismissal over rice smuggling.

'Neglected'

At the hearing, Villar said that they were now urging the local government units (LGU) to invest in farmers to boost the industry. The NFA had neglected them, not buying their produce, she said.

"Kaya kinumbinsi na namin ang mga LGU, bigyan na lang sila ng puhunan. Sila na mamili kasi 'yung mga LGUs siguro, gusto din naman nilang makatulong para iboto sila pagdating ng eleksiyon. 'Yung NFA kasi hindi nagpapaboto 'to eh, kaya wala kayong pakialam kung magalit lahat ng tao dito, di ba?" she said.

(That's why we are convincing the LGUs to give them capital. It's up to them who to choose, but the [local officials], maybe they want to help so that people will vote for them in the coming elections. These NFA officials are not elected, so that's why they don't care if the people get mad at them.)

The senator recalled an exchange with a farmer, who said the NFA allegedly did not buy palay (unhusked rice) from them because of its high moisture content.

"Baguhin 'nyo 'yang ugali na 'yan…. Kung gusto 'nyo talaga tulungan ang mga tao, 'wag kayo magrarason ng ganyan. Kaya lang naman kayo nandiyan para tulungan ang farmers eh," Villar said.

(Change your attitude. If you genuinely want to help people, don't reasons like that. The reason you're here is to help the farmers.)

NFA Administrator Judy Dansal denied this accusation during the hearing, and said the agency bought palay even if it had high moisture content.

"Binibili naman namin kahit mas mataas ang moisture content. 'Pag nakabili ay may program sa pagmi-mill. Sinusunod natin ang procurement procedure by law dahil bini-bid at tinetest pa ang millers," Dansal said, referring to bureaucratic processes.

(We buy palay even if it has high moisture content. When we buy it, we have a program for milling it. We are just following the procurement procedure by law because we have to bid out and test the millers' services.)

She said the agency is putting off buying rice from local farmers because the NFA has about 4.5 million bags of unsold imported rice, which is equivalent to about 225 million kilos.

Dansal tried to defend her leadership in the tension-filled room.

"Meron naman na tayong new leadership. Hindi naman tayo masama. What we are really trying to do is the sale of our imported rice para maging pera," Dansal explained. (We already have new leadership. We are not bad people. What we are trying to do is to sell our imported rice so that it turns into revenues.)

Dansal said that they were able to buy 290,642 metric tons of rice from local producers from January to August 2019 – an improvement from Jason Aquino's time where the agency bought only 4,046 metric tons in the same period the year before. 

The implementing rules and regulations of the rice trade liberalization law allows NFA to maintain a “rolling” buffer stock. This means the agency can stockpile an “optimal level” of 15 to 30 days’ worth of consumption. Any rice they purchase beyond the optimal can be sold to retailers or local governments.

The first-in-first out policy is being followed, and the P27-per-kilo price is retained until further notice. The NFA Council has yet to convene and discuss the new pricing scheme, with Secretary William Dar as the new Department of Agriculture chief. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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