“If funds were misapplied by agency officials, prosecute the offenders. When Congress gives you money, tells you where and how to spend it, then you do something else, that’s illegal. We should also make the NFA accountable for the storage fiasco that led to wastage and infestation of stocks in Luzon while rice supplies at the very same time were critically scarce in Mindanao.”

Senator Koko Pimentel III issued this statement on Thursday after it was revealed in a Commission on Audit (COA) report that the National Food Authority (NFA) diverted part of its budget allocation for maintaining rice buffer stocks to pay for the agency’s loans to lending institutions in 2017, a practice continued in 2018 by the grains agency according to one of its top executives.

A COA report revealed that the NFA used P2.09 billion of the P5.1 billion fund allocated for rice price and supply stabilization to pay for principal and interest on loans obtained from the Land Bank of the Philippines (P1.046 billion) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (P1.044 billion).

This prompted a farmers group, the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), to file a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday against NFA Administrator Jason Aquino and NFA accounting manager Gerry Ambrosio.

“These NFA officials should face both criminal and administrative charges for their repeated neglect.”

“Technical malversation or the illegal use of public funds or property is committed when a public official applies public funds or property under his or her administration for some purpose different from that which they were originally appropriated by law,” explained Pimentel, who took up law in the University of the Philippines and topped the Bar Exams in 1990.

“If it’s verified that NFA officials applied their price stabilization funds to pay for agency loans instead, they are liable for technical malversation. We should send a strong message to government officials that this practice will not be tolerated. They should be held criminally liable for the illegal use of government funds.”

The senator from Mindanao also reacted to published reports that the NFA recently fumigated 130,000 sacks of imported rice from Thailand and Vietnam that became infested with weevils (bukbok) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone after arrival on Aug. 2.

The NFA said the infestation arose because recent heavy rains from the past weeks prevented the immediate unloading and distribution of the rice shipment.

NFA officials made assurances, however, that after a chemical treatment of 12 days to eliminate the pests, the rice from the Subic warehouse was declared safe and fit for public consumption.

“Sila muna ang dapat magpatunay na safe na talaga ang bigas na sinabuyan nila ng mga kemikal. Ipasaing at ipakain kaya natin sa mga NFA officials ang bigas para masigurong safe for consumption at pwede nang ipagbili sa taong bayan. They should be made accountable for this storage mess. Palagi na lang may kapalpakan sa NFA,” Pimentel lamented.

“Sila muna ang dapat magpatunay na safe na talaga ang bigas na sinabuyan nila ng mga kemikal. Ipasaing at ipakain kaya natin sa mga NFA officials ang bigas para masigurong safe for consumption.”

The lawmaker pointed further that “it’s unconscionable that we’re wasting hundreds of thousands of sacks of rice while supplies were dwindling in Mindanao at the very same moment.”

Rice prices shot to as high as 70 pesos a kilo in Zamboanga City two weeks ago, forcing the local council to declare a state of emergency, which has since been lifted.



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