THE Palace on Sunday said President Rodrigo Duterte sacked Undersecretary Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary because she insisted on allowing private traders to import rice, a move that would hurt farmers.
“Proceeding with importation would prejudice the farmers’ interests, aside from implying other considerations. Hence, he exit,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella.
“Continued elaborations on the matter implicating others are bordering on the malicious and should now be laid to rest,” Abella added.
Valdez on Saturday accused Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino of “making it appear there is a shortage of rice” so they could push a government-to-government deal instead—an allegation that Piñol swiftly denied.
Valdez on Saturday accused Piñol of interfering in the business of the National Food Authority Council (NFAC), and said Aquino was no friend to Filipino farmers because he was pushing for a government-to-government rice importation deal to build up the NFA buffer stock instead of buying rice from local farmers.
Valdez also said she only cast the vote of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco to continue private rice importation.
“Being a mere alternate of the Cabsec, I only cast the vote of my principal. I am not a member of the NFAC,” Valdez said.
She also insinuated that the Special Assistant to the President, Christopher Go, was blocking documents from the NFAC, so that they “failed to reach” Duterte.
“The NFAC members have also long been requesting for a dialogue with the President, again, through OSAP. This leads us wondering, how come Jason Aquino and Emmanuel Piñol, were able to get direct access to the President, when the Cabsec has been trying to get through the President from the gatekeeper [OSAP], but to no avail?” she added.
In a statement issued Sunday, Piñol said he was against rice imports, whether these were done by private traders or the government.
In the peace and quiet of my farm in Kidapawan City, Cotabato, I was bombarded today with text messages from concerned friends and inquisitive journalists asking for my reaction to the allegations of a dismissed Malacañang Undersecretary that I am conniving with the National Food Authority Administrator “to create an artificial shortage” to justify the importation of rice by the agency.
“I and the Department Of Agriculture And Fisheries and our stakeholders are against the unregulated entry of imported rice,” Piñol said, noting that any importation at this time would hurt local farmers.
Piñol also said he had personally recommended to President Duterte not allow the government-to-government deal pushed by Aquino to go through because of the record harvest of paddy rice in the first quarter.
“For the first time in the history of the country, the national average yield per hectare is now at 4.15 metric tons per harvest, up from 3.9-metric tons,” Piñol said. “The first quarter harvest is also 210,000-metric tons more than the same period last year. It is the position of the department and mine as well that any importation at this time will result in the collapse of the buying price of paddy rice to the disadvantage of the farmers. In fact, I publicly proposed that NFA instead buy the produce of the farmers this season if its intention is to stock up buffer rice stocks.”
Piñol also denied he was meddling in the NFA Council, even though by law, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is suppose to sit in the group.
“The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and I, as secretary of Agriculture, do not participate in the decision-making on whether to import or not and when to import. But since it will be the Filipino rice farmers who will be affected by the decision, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries from time to time shares its views on the issue. That is definitely not meddling with the functions of an agency that is not under the DAF but simply performing our functions as a department involved in producing food and protecting the farmers and fishermen,” he said.
Piñol also said he had no quarrel, either with Evasco or Aquino.
“I am against the position of Secretary Evasco that the private sector be allowed to import rice now not only as it will affect the prices of local paddy rice but also because most of the private sector importers are also traders who play with the rice market once they have the imported stocks,” he said. “I also do not agree with the proposal of Administrator Aquino that NFA should import rice for its buffer stocks now because of the bountiful harvest during the first quarter of 2017. Instead, I am proposing that the NFA buys the local produce of the farmer to protect them from being manipulated by the rice traders instead of bringing in imported rice.”
“The differences that I have with Secretary Evasco and Administrator Aquino on the issue of importing rice by the private sector or the NFA do not mean that I have a quarrel with them. I am just embracing the position of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on the issue... based on the sentiments of the country’s rice farmers during the national consultations conducted late last year,” Piñol said.
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