Senate rice probe welcomed


By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: January 22, 2011



MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang said it welcomed initiatives of the
Senate blue ribbon committee to look into the questionable
transactions worth billions of pesos of the National Food Authority
(NFA) during the Arroyo administration.

“Perhaps that will be a good thing. At least, the information gathered
might help us in our own investigation,” Communications and Strategic
Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang said in a news briefing on Friday.

Sen. Franklin Drilon on Thursday said President Aquino’s exposé on the
alleged anomalous transactions of the NFA provides a “valid basis” for
the blue ribbon committee to look into the matter.

“Certainly it’s worth looking into. You know the NFA is one of the
most difficult burdens financially in the budget,” Drilon said.

‘Recycled issue’
Addressing criticisms that the alleged anomalous transactions
represent a “recycled issue” against the previous administration,
Carandang said it takes time to gather information on such matters.

The overimportation of rice under the Arroyo administration was one of
the first issues tackled by the Aquino government when it took over.

“Well, it takes some time to gather the information and, again, that
is one of the things that we want to resolve because we gave a huge
subsidy to the NFA, around P177 billion pesos, the previous year, if I
am not mistaken,” Carandang said.

Carandang said the government is looking at both the cases of the
questionable transactions of the NFA and the issue of making the
agency more sustainable.

“Number one, overimportation. Who is behind it, how much did we lose?
Number two, we also want to look at how we can sustain the NFA in a
way that doesn’t cost so much?” Carandang said.

On two tracks
“So it’s proceeding on two tracks and I guess one track sometimes goes
faster than the other,” he added.

On criticisms that the administration should identify the perpetrators
of the alleged illegal transactions, Carandang replied, “That’s
exactly our intention.”

He, nonetheless, said that the government was still gathering evidence
to firm up its case.

“We’ve gotten the broad strokes of what happened. We need to get more
facts to substantiate some of the allegations that are being made.
When you get the facts then you’ll know how to proceed from there. If
this was a criminal case, we’re just in the case build-up,” Carandang

Flawed process
Meanwhile, the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) and its
member-groups are pressing for immediate reform in the NFA and for
Congress to come up with policy recommendations to address what they
called the “flawed process” of rice importation.

R1 convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos urged House committee on agriculture
chairperson Mark Llandro L. Mendoza and Senate committee on
agriculture chairperson Sen. Francis Pangilinan to conduct a joint
congressional investigation and ensure the rice agency will benefit
farmers by increasing its palay support price rather than importing

“It is grossly disheartening to learn that the government lost
billions of pesos in a scam when our farmers are barely able to
survive after the series of calamities that wrecked our farms since
last year. We need an honest-to-goodness decision-making body within
the NFA that is transparent and has significant representation of rice
farmers,” said Cantos.

P20-B overprice
Cantos said the P20 billion overpriced amount, according to NFA’s
audit findings, should have been used to fund the small water
impounding projects and extension work under the FIELDS program to
achieve rice self-sufficiency in 2013.

The DA has said farm output contracted in 2010 due to bad weather.

Reports continue to pour in about rice farms in various parts of the
country being ravaged by floods as planting started as early as
December last year.

The group believes rice importation became vulnerable to corruption
because the bulk of importation over the past three years went through
government-to-government negotiations and the price of rice acquired
was not lower than the prevailing world market price.

“Congress should review government-to-government rice supply contracts
that may result in higher procurement prices, using up the
government’s already limited resources. The government’s resolve to
follow the righteous path will be put to test with the resolution of
this nagging issue of corruption in rice importation,” said Cantos.
With a report by Riza T. Olchondra







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