Palace: Duterte wants NFA placed under Office of the President

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 6) — Amid the looming rice supply shortage, President Rodrigo Duterte wants to place the National Food Authority (NFA) under the Office of the President, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement.

There was no reason given as to why the President wanted the agency to transfer directly under his office. But the government has previously revealed it wanted to fast-track the importation of rice to the country.

Roque said Duterte is considering centralizing the approval of rice importation under the office of Agriculture Undersecretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, subject to the review of the Office of the Executive Secretary. For their part, rice traders pledged to the President at least 700,000 sacks of rice to help replenish the NFA stocks, Roque said.

Abolition of NFA Council

However, Roque was mum about the abolition of the NFA Council.

Multiple sources have said that the President expressed his intent to abolish the NFA Council led by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. during the meeting with rice traders on Thursday.

The Council was created under President Decree No. 1770. It is the policy-making body that deals with food and rice security, including the supply of affordable rice in the country.

The President's call came amid the rift between Evasco and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino, who wanted to import 250,000 metric tons of rice from private traders as early as October to address a shortage in NFA rice.

The National Food Security committee gives its recommendation to the Evasco-led NFA Council, which is made up of 10 members from several agencies. The administration, in a January 25 statement, said the council disapproved the request for importation, resulting in a low supply of NFA rice.

But Evasco allayed fears of an NFA rice shortage. A day after, the NFA Council chairman said that Duterte ordered to go ahead with the importation — and that he will talk to stakeholders if the supply will be procured from government-to-government, government-to-private trader, or letting the traders purchase from outside.

Evasco earlier blamed the NFA administration for causing panic over the low supply.

"The way things are happening now, they create the artificial shortage, and pin down on the Council that we're responsible for creating such situation of shortage," he said in a press briefing on April 4.

Evasco led the Council after an Executive Order issued in June 2016 gave him the power to supervise 12 government agencies, including the NFA and the NIA.

NFA rice caters to about 4 to 5 percent of the Philippines' total rice consumption, serving around 8 to 10 million Filipinos from the D and E classes. It is more affordable at ₱27 to ₱32 per kilo compared to commercial rice, which sells from ₱36 to ₱65 per kilo.