Press Release
October 4, 2018


Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday interrogated Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol regarding his decision to cancel the leave of absence of former National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino and retain his services despite the alleged large-scale corruption and shortage of government-subsidized rice in the market under his term.

The Agriculture chief reportedly said that he needs Aquino during the transition of the NFA to a new leadership.

"Why is Aquino, who is included in a COA report pointing to possible technical malversation in the NFA, allowed to go back to work? And tasked no less to transition the NFA to a new leadership? Is the government rewarding corruption? Is it the policy of the government to provide graceful exits to disgraced public officials allegedly involved in corruption? Or is this an attempt to cover his tracks?" Hontiveros asked Piñol during the Senate's hearing of the DA's proposed 2019 budget on Thursday.

"No longer a whiff of corruption"

"Bakit sa gitna ng napakadaming alegasyon hinggil kay Aquino kasama na ang COA report ng technical malversation, ay binalik pa ninyo siya sa NFA? Hindi po ba sa inyong speech nung kayo ay bagong hirang sa DA, ang sabi ninyo ay: 'Listen to this or read my lips: Corruption will not be tolerated in this Department. Not anymore.' Bakit po si Jason Aquino, na-tolerate ninyo? This is no longer a whiff of corruption, Mr. Secretary. The stench of corruption is revolting," Hontiveros added.

COA confirms corruption

It was reported that a Commission on Audit (COA) report questioned why the NFA used its P5.1 billion subsidy from the national government to pay for maturing loans instead of allocating the funds to the food security program of the agency. Agricultural groups reportedly accused Aquino of technical malversation.

The COA report also highlighted the lack of documentation and the absence of pertinent documents that prevent the proper assessment of many of the NFA's transactions. It also pointed to the low level of compliance and efficiency in the allocation, distribution and issuance of stocks as well as the sale of ageing stocks.

Hontiveros said that the COA report confirmed the existence of massive corruption in the NFA involving personalities she exposed during her privilege speech on the NFA "tara system" and previously mentioned by Senator Grace Poe during a Senate Committee on Agriculture hearing.

"I find it extremely interesting that the COA report already flagged the issues and anomalies in rice importation, diversion and stocking; that the personalities behind these schemes were already exposed, yet, these people still remain in the NFA," Hontiveros said.

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