Dismissal of panel head won't affect probe on sale of NFA rice stocks

By Stephanie Sevillano

April 19, 2024, 6:14 pm

<p>National Food Authority, Visayas Avenue, Quezon City <em>(PNA file photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)</em></p>

National Food Authority, Visayas Avenue, Quezon City (PNA file photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)

MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA)'s probe into the alleged improper sale of rice stocks of the National Food Authority (NFA) remains intact despite the dismissal of the official leading the investigation.

This came after the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) director and probe panel head Demosthenes Escoto for grave misconduct in relation to the procurement of BFAR's communications equipment in 2018.

"Siya ang head dito at may dalawang kasama, si Atty. (Willie Ann) Angsiy at si Assistant Secretary James Layug. Buo pa naman, nandun pa naman iyong majority ng team (He was the head and was accompanied by two others including Atty. Angsiy and Asec. James Layug. They're still whole, majority of the team is still there)," Agriculture Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa said at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing Friday.

"For the meantime, ay iyong dalawa na natitira doon sa panel ay tuloy pa rin ang isinasagawang pagsisiyasat dito sa issues na ito (the two remaining officials in the panel will continue the ongoing investigation on these issues)," he added.

De Mesa said no remarkable delay is expected considering the actions of its panel are supported while awaiting the new head.

"Tuluy-tuloy iyong pag-uusap at any time magre-report at mag-a-announce si Secretary [Francisco] Tiu Laurel ng maghe-head (The talks are ongoing and anytime Secretary Tiu Laurel shall report and announce its [new] head)," he said.

Laurel, earlier, ordered the NFA to expedite the submission of necessary documents to the panel, alongside its compliance with the Ombudsman's parallel investigation.

The DA intended to look back to procurement and rice quality assessment records of NFA as early as 2019.

The alleged improper sale includes around 75,000 bags of NFA rice worth more than PHP93.7 million, which was sold to select millers and traders, without bidding, at a price "disadvantageous" to the government.

Slight rice price hike

De Mesa, meanwhile, confirmed a slight increase in retail prices of rice amid the tail-end of the harvest season.

"Iyong prevailing natin ay nasa (our prevailing price is around) PHP51, PHP52. So tumaas ng piso kada kilo iyong prevailing price ng bigas (So the prevailing price increased by PHP1 per kg)," he said.

Last week, the prevailing price was set at PHP50 to PHP51/kg., with some monitored prices pegged at PHP46/kg. to PHP49/kg.

"Dapat sa panahong ito, harvest season, nakikita natin na bumababa ang presyo ng bigas, kaya lamang dahil nagkaroon tayo ng pagtaas din ng presyo ng farm gate ng NFA (Supposedly during this time, harvest season, [we should be] seeing rice price dropping, but we also had a price hike in the farmgate price of NFA)," he said.

The NFA earlier increased its buying price equivalent to PHP23 to PHP30/kg. for dry and clean palay; and PHP17 to PHP23/kg. price range for fresh palay to ensure fair play with local traders.

These are higher than the NFA's previous price range set at PHP19 to PHP23/kg. and PHP16 to PHP19/kg for dry and fresh palay, respectively.

The NFA Council allowed the buying price tweak so it could secure supplies from local farmers and hit its target of 300,000 metric tons for national rice buffer stock. (PNA)