By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has ordered National Food Authority (NFA) chair Jason Aquino to “ignore” the NFA Council and go ahead with the additional rice importation to increase the country’s supply.
At at gathering of congressional allies and other government officials last Thursday night, the President asserted that he placed Aquino at the NFA “because I trust him,” effectively rejecting calls to remove him over the agency’s dwindling rice inventory.
“Sinabi ko na sa kanya, [I told him] ‘Ignore the Rice Council which is mandated by law, go ahead and make the importations,’” Duterte said during the birthday celebration thrown for him at the Sofitel Hotel.
“Ang ayaw ko kasi ‘yung matakot ‘yung tao [I don’t want people to fear] of a possibility not really on the actual — it’s happening — but you put people on a very unsettling environment na dito magkukulang daw ang bigas na ganun. Sabi ko ‘sobrahan ninyo’ [that there will be a rice shortage so I said, ‘make it excessive'” he said about the planned rice imports.
Duterte also said Aquino told him about the “indications of a shortage” of the rice stocks even though there was actually no shortage.
“It is not really an actual shortage but when you start to see something which is also true, it cannot be rumormongering because what is at stake is the stomach of the people,” said Duterte, who just came from a meeting with the country’s rice traders in Malacañang Thursday night.
The President earlier authorized the country’s state-run grains agency to proceed with the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice to augment the supply of subsidized rice.
Aquino has preferred the importation of rice under a government-to-government scheme. The rice imports will reportedly come from Vietnam and Thailand.
The NFA Council led by Leoncio Evasco Jr. however told the NFA management to import rice through open tender scheme or the government transacting with the private sector. The additional rice imports are expected to be delivered to the country before June.
Some senators have called on Aquino to resign for supposed failure to ensure sufficient supply of cheap rice in the market. He has been criticized for creating panic and confusion when the agency announced a supposed shortage of rice in the country.
The President, meantime, assured the nation that the country would have a “better environment” involving the rice supply soon. Duterte said he has appealed to the rice traders “to use their inventory” to boost the supply in the markets.
“There are enough left to help us out. Sabi ko sa kanila [So I told them] whether it is really man-made or there’s a crisis, ang sabi ko just help me make it through the night,” he said.
“More or less we can expect a better environment tomorrow. I think we will have the rice for our people,” he added.
The President has also has ordered dismissal of certain transport officials involved in extortion in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya.
Duterte said he called Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to take action after rice traders have complained about the Land Transportation Office (LTO) personnel assigned in the truck weighing station who extort millions of pesos a month from the truck owners.
“Sabi ko, ‘You talk and I will protect you,'” he said, recalling his conversation with the rice traders.
“Kaya tinawagan ko kaagad si — itong si Art, ‘You remove.’ Ngayon pagka isang balita lang which I’ve been saying even a whiff, and I was not referring to the Cabinet members alone even a whiff, maka-amoy lang ako, tatanggalin kita,” he added.
He said he could hire many brilliant Filipinos to replace corrupt or abusive public servants.
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