Ombudsman suspends NFA execs amid cheap rice sale probe

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
Ombudsman suspends NFA execs amid cheap rice sale probe
Workers unload sacks of rice at a warehouse in Tondo, Manila on Feb. 24, 2024.
The STAR/Ernie Penaredondo

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of 139 officials from the National Food Authority (NFA) for their alleged involvement in the sale of rice buffer stocks.

In a statement on Monday, Agriculture Secretary Francisco Laurel said that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has implemented the Ombudsman's preventive suspension order for the officials allegedly involved in the “improper” sale of rice buffer stocks.

“The preventive suspension will allow the Ombudsman to secure all the documents and other evidence relating, but not limited, to the sale of rice buffer stocks that is greatly disadvantageous to the government,” Laurel’s statement read.

On February 29, the DA started an investigation into claims that NFA officials sold tons of rice to certain traders at a “disadvantageous” price to the government.

Involved officials allegedly sold the rice buffer stocks to unidentified traders without the usual bidding process.

Among the suspended NFA officials include administrator Roderico Bioco and assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano.

Bioco is alleged to have authorized the sale of 75,000 bags of NFA rice totaling P93.75 million to certain traders.

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The preventive suspension, according to the Ombudsman, shall not exceed six months. 

Laurel also said that Bioco had already filed a leave of absence before the suspension “to allow investigators a freehand to undertake the probe.”

“We intend to dig deep as far as 2019 at least and welcome those who would come forward to assist us in cleansing the NFA,” Laurel’s statement read. 

In order not to compromise the projects and the operations of the NFA, Laurel said that he would take over the NFA.

“Apart from the suspended NFA personnel, who as we speak after being served their suspension letters, we expect everyone in the agency to do their regular jobs to ensure that our countrymen are provided the service they deserve,” he said.

According to the Rice Tariffication Law, the NFA is required to maintain the country's rice buffer stock at a level equivalent to 15-30 days of national rice consumption, taking into account disaster situations and emergencies. 

The NFA is allowed to sell stocks before the rice quality degrades or becomes unsafe for consumption. — with reports from the STAR/ Bella Cariaso

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