Duterte sacks Usec over rice importation issue, hints at more firings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — Just two days after firing Interior Secretary Mike Sueno, President Rodrigo Duterte said he dismissed another official from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.

Read: Abella: Duterte dismisses DILG Secretary Sueno due to 'loss of trust and confidence'

During his speech at a harvest event in Nueva Ecija on Wednesday, Duterte said he fired a female undersecretary who is a holdover from former President Benigno Aquino III's administration over a rice importation issue.

The President said during his helicopter ride to the province, he found out that the official attempted to overturn a decision by the National Food Authority (NFA) to deny a permit to import rice.

"May isang undersecretary na babae, hold over 'yan, pag-usapan namin sa chopper kanina. Sabi ko, 'Anong mukha ko na iharap sa mga farmers?' na why would we allow importation to compete with the local product?" he said.

[Translation: There was a female undersecretary who was a hold over that we were talking about in the chopper. I said, 'How could I face the farmers?' because why would we allow importation to compete with the local product?]

Read: Duterte grants farmers' wish to defer rice imports

"Kaya sabi ko kanina papunta ako dito, pa-landing, sabi ko tawagan mo Malacañang, she's fired. May dalawa pang undersecretary. By the end of the day mamaya, meron nang mga lima in a week," he added.

[Translation: Earlier, I said while we were landing to call Malacañang, she's fired. There are two more undersecretaries. By the end of the day, there would be five in a week.]

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol later identified the official as Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez, who he said used to work under the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.

"It was Usec. Halmen Valdez who actually dealt with the NFA on the issue of rice importation. There was a conflict actually between the (Office of the Cabinet Secretary) and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino," Piñol explained.

"Jason Aquino's position is that if there should be any importation of rice, it should be done by government. Instead of private sector who obviously would be composed of traders," Piñol added.

Piñol said Duterte sided with Aquino and said Valdez had no business interfering with NFA matters.

Before the President ended his speech, he said he will fire two more undersecretaries, but did not elaborate.