By Karl Ocampo, Auguts 29 2018; Philippine Daily Inquirer


Image Credit to Inquirer.net

An industry group has filed a graft complaint against two officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) for allegedly diverting the agency’s funds in other purposes that led to the unabated increase in the prices of rice and corn in the market.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman on Wednesday morning, accusing NFA administrator Jason Aquino and NFA accounting manager Gerry Ambrosio of redirecting some P5.1 billion-fund to reduce the agency’s debts.

The fund, which was allocated for NFA’s food security program last year, should be used to stabilize the price and supply of rice and corn in the market as mandated by the General Appropriations Act. But according to the Commission on Audit (COA), the grains agency used it to pay for maturing loans.

Based on COA’s audit review, it showed P3.01 billion of the fund was deposited to the Bureau of Treasury as payment for debt while the remaining P2.09 billion was deposited to NFA’s rice collection savings account (RCSA).

The money from the RCSA was then used to pay the agency’s loans to the Landbank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines at an amount of P1.046 billion and P1.044 billion, respectively.

Sinag’s complaint said this partly caused the agency’s inability to procure enough unmilled rice (palay) from local farmers last year, noting that NFA incurred a shortfall of about 124,969 metric tons (MT) of palay during the period.

“The procurement shortfall affected other programs of NFA, such as rice distribution and buffer stocking resulting in higher price of rice, unavailability of NFA rice in the market and lower inventory of rice in various NFA warehouses,” the complaint read.

Citing prices from the Philippine Statistics Authority, the complaint showed the dramatic increases in the prices of rice and corn from March 2017 – when NFA received the P5.1 billion-fund from the Department of Budget and Management – to July 2018.

“The diversion of the funds had clearly contributed to the substantial across the board escalation of the prices of rice and corn. This increase has obviously affected the industry negatively and has caused undue injury to the public in general,” Sinag’s complaint stated.

In a press statement released by NFA last year, it reported to have cut its outstanding debt by 15.8 percent to P149 billion by the end of October 2017 from a high of P177 billion in 2010.

Aquino said the agency adopted “austerity measures” by implementing only cost-efficient projects and minimizing its expenses, including reforms in its rice importation program, but did not mention anything about the redirection of funds.

Under the term of former President Gloria Macapapagal-Arroyo who is now the Speaker of the House, the NFA has racked up a massive debt load largely due to its efforts to keep both farmers and consumers happy through subsidizing both the farm gate and market prices of rice.

“The NFA accumulated these loans to finance the implementation of food programs which were not sustainable during those times,” Aquino said. /jpv