House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Karlo “Ang Probinsyano” Nograles warned the National Food Authority (NFA) against continuing its fund diversion spree, noting it could influence other agencies to likewise violate the law.
“Kung ginagawa ng NFA yan, (If NFA has been doing this) nothing will stop other agencies and departments from also diverting their funds elsewhere in a complete disregard of the law that was passed by this Congress called the General Appropriations [Act],” Nograles warned NFA officials led by Administrator Jason Aquino.
Aquino as well as representatives of the NFA Council were recalled by the Nograles committee specifically to explain to legislators why huge portions of its Price and Supply Stabilization of Rice fund and Buffer Stocking Program fund in the years 2017 and 2018, respectively, were used to pay its existing debts to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).
“Kasi yung primary job ng NFA (The primary job of NFA) through this subsidy is to support local farmers, which we do not see here. Ang nakikita namin, perang inilaan sa inyo, ginamit ninyo pambayad ng utang imbis na pang suporta sa magsasaka, imbis na pambili ng palay (What we see here is money allocated to you which you have used to pay for debts instead of supporting farmers, instead of buying rice),” a visibly irked Nograles said.
“The primary job of NFA through this subsidy is to support local farmers, which we do not see here.”
The Davao lawmaker earlier called the NFA’s diversion of funds as “misappropriation,” emphasizing that the budget passes through the House of Representatives, which is mandated to determine allotments for line items.
“We’re the ones who approve the budget every year. When we approve the budget, we approve it line by line, item by item, purpose by purpose,” stressed Nograles.
Pointing to a report by the Commission on Audit (COA), the NFA used P2.09 billion out of its P5.1 billion Price and Supply Stabilization of Rice fund to pay the principal and interest on loans it obtained from the LBP worth P1.046 billion and P1.044 billion from the DBP.
This caused the NFA to miss its 2017 palay procurement target since the agency was only able to purchase 28,514 metric tons (MT) of palay, or just 18.58 percent of its target of 153,483 MT–a shortfall of 124,969 MT.
“Ibig sabihin kung na procure sana ito, hindi sana tayo magka problema ng supply ng NFA rice,” (If these have already been procured, we would not be having this problem with NFA rice supply) Nograles said, referring to the shortage of the cheap rice in areas plagued by hefty rice price spikes, particularly in Mindanao.
“If these have already been procured, we would not be having this problem with NFA rice supply.”
It was also learned from Aquino during the hearing that P6.12 billion from the P7 billion Buffer Stocking Program fund allocated by Congress for 2018––and not just P5 billion as previously reported––were tapped for the payment of NFA’s bank debts.
At one point in the hearing, Nograles was visibly irked as no one from the attending resource persons––particularly representatives of the NFA Council––wanted to answer his question as to where the NFA should source payment for its debts.
“Anyone from the Council? Mga economic managers natin, mga experts sa numero, sige magsalita na kayo (Our economic managers, numbers experts, go ahead and talk) If I’m not satisfied with your answers I’ll ask NFA to come back again ha. Sagutin niyo ang mga katanungan na ito dahil (You better answer these questions because) if you’re not qualified or ready to answer these questions then I’ll call you back again.”