By Mario Casayuran
The Senate leadership asked Monday two of its committees to investigate allegations that big-time corruption at the state-owned National Food Authority (NFA), under former administrator Jason Aquino, triggered the current rice crisis.
Senator Risa Hontiveros delivered a stinging privilege speech that the rice crisis resulted from a conspiracy between unscrupulous private traders and insiders within the NFA.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III assigned the probe into Hontiveros’ claim to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Richard J. Gordon and the Senate Agriculture Committee chaired by Senator Cynthia A. Villar.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto supported Hontiveros’ call for a Senate probe of the NFA after it amassed a staggering debt of P150 billion.
Recto said it is the Filipino people who will again pay for the debt incurred by the NFA that was tasked to maintain buffer stocks to be released and sold during crisis situations.
He said other foreign countries do not have an equivalent of the NFA.
2 ‘corrupted’ pathways
Citing her sources, Hontiveros said corruption is rampant in the entry of imported rice through the country’s two main pathways: Through the Minimum Access Volume Program, which is a program of the NFA aligned with our commitments to the WTO, and is the private sector’s program for importing rice; and through the G2G (Government to Government)/ G2P (Government to Private) program which is the government’s program for its importation of rice for the NFA buffer stock.
“In both these pathways, corruption is endemic,” claimed Hontiveros.
She said this is done by “gaming the price of rice through the manipulation of the buffer stock.”
Another is by consolidating the hold of rice cartels over stocks of imported rice through the use of front cooperatives and farmers association, among other strategies, she explained.
Hontiveros maintained that Aquino is at the center of the alleged massive corruption.
“We are looking at a multi-billion peso enterprise. A multi-billion enterprise that has lined the pockets of a privileged few, and caused hunger to untold numbers of Filipinos,” she explained.
The lady lawmaker alleged that the corrupt in the NFA pocket as bribe P100 per bag of rice from friends or P150 from those not close to NFA officials.
Since the country imports 20 million bags of rice and NFA officials demand P100 per bag from their friends, “we are looking at some P2 billion,’’ she pointed out.
This figure does not include other fees imposed by NFA insiders, she said.
The opposition Senator then enumerated the NFA’s alleged “favored individuals.”
She identified them as Marlon Barillo, Marigold De Castro, Richie Carpio, Mercedes Yacapin, Rocky Valdez and Judy Carol Dansal.
Hontiveros said that Aquino might be liable for “economic sabotage.”
“How much was paid to Aquino by private importers for allowing this modus operandi? We can only surmise. What criminal offense can be charged against him?
Here, there is no surmising. Economic sabotage under Republic Act No. 10845,” Hontiveros asserted.
Hontiveros asserted that the government must file charges against Aquino and all the private traders and importers involved in the large-scale corruption.
“We can talk about rice tarrification and other important policy measures. But without addressing rice tara-ffication, our policies remain inutile,” she said.