Evasco stands by sacked usec over rice policy

Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. stands by his former undersecretary Halmen Valdez, who was sacked by President Duterte amid conflicting policies with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and National Food Food Authority administrator Jason Aquino over rice importation.

Evasco, who chairs the NFA Council (NFAC), has also allowed the importation of rice by private traders up to June this year despite the harvest season.

Piñol is opposing the continued entry of imported rice in the Philippines because there is, according to him, a bumper rice crop. Aquino, on the other hand, is blocking the importation by private rice traders, since he wants it done on a government-to-government basis.

Last Monday, Evasco issued a new memorandum circular extending the deadline for the importation of rice by traders from March 31 to June 30. He signed the memo two days before Duterte fired Valdez for supposedly pushing for rice importation amid the ongoing harvest.

Evasco moved the importation deadline by three months after Aquino and his two NFA underlings refused to process import permits requested by their council chairman.

The April 3 memo shows that the total volume of imported rice the NFAC has allowed to be brought in was 805,200 metric tons, or 16,104,000 50-kilo bags.

It is not clear what volume has arrived as of the March 31 deadline and what quantity is covered by the three-month extension. The memo does not indicate the urgency of still bringing in imported rice in the middle of the harvest season.

Evasco issued the memorandum circular on the same day Aquino and other NFA officials reportedly met with Duterte to oppose rice importation at this time.

Two days later, Duterte told farmers in Nueva Ecija, a major rice-producing province, that he had just fired an undersecretary for supposedly pushing for rice importation.

Duterte said he was appalled that an undersecretary reviewed the decision of Aquino when it was appealed before the Office of the President and asked why imported rice would be allowed to compete with local harvest.

In two memos dated March 24 and 28, Evasco directed Tomas Escarez, NFA deputy administrator for marketing operations, and Lemuel Pagayunan, grains marketing operations department manager, to prepare import documents for private traders for his signature.

The Cabinet secretary furnished Aquino copies of his memos, which were printed on Office of the President letterhead and marked “Extremely Urgent.”

He did not address the memos to Aquino because the latter has refused to prepare the importation documents.

But like their NFA boss, Escarez and Pagayunan defied Evasco.

In his March 28 memo, Evasco threatened Escarez and Pagayunan with “disciplinary action” if they continued to defy him.

He told them that rice importation was “a matter of national food security” and “further refusal to comply with this directive may be subject to disciplinary action.”

Apparently, Evasco wanted rice importers to beat the March 31 deadline.

Evasco told The STAR he shares the same position raised by his former undersecretary, who has maintained that she was merely implementing the decision of the NFAC to extend the deadline for the rice imports under the minimum access volume scheme from Feb. 28 to March 31.

Evasco was mum when asked yesterday whether he would appeal Duterte’s decision to sack Valdez. 

In a statement on Friday, Valdez said she accepted Duterte’s decision to fire her. She accused Piñol of trying to meddle in rice importation and claimed the government-to-government procurement of imported rice Aquino prefers is less transparent than importation by private traders. 

Rice importation is lucrative for traders and corrupt bureaucrats and their backers. During the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, commissions and kickbacks reportedly amounted to at least $30 per metric ton.


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