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NFA quality lab told to pass off good rice as bad, says Tulfo

Officials behind the questioned sale of rice stocks of the National Food Authority to certain traders made the agency's quality assurance officer declare good inventory to be in bad condition to drive down its price, Senator Raffy Tulfo said on Monday.

In a privileged speech, Tulfo decried how the NFA could sell 150,000 bags of good rice to traders while scrimping on the purchase requests of local government units.

Tulfo in his privilege speech named NFA administrator Roderico Bioco and the agency's sales officials as those involved in the alleged irregularity.

GMA News Online is seeking comments from Bioco and the other NFA officials involved and will publish their comments as soon as they become available.

Under the alleged scheme, the NFA will buy unmilled rice or palay for P24 a kilo. A P2-per-kilo subsidy from the Palay Marketing Assistance Program for Legislators and Local Government Units (PALLGU) is added to the NFA's buying price.

"So nakukuha po ng NFA ang palay sa halagang P26.  Tapos ito po ay ipagigiling nila and they will pay it in kind or with rice mill by-products," Tulfo said.

(So the NFA gets the unmilled rice at P26. They will then have this milled and they will pay it in kind or with rice mill by-products.)

Tulfo said the NFA Office of the Administrator would then look for stocks they can sell. He said the sales officers were told to identify the stocks and instruct the quality assurance officer to issue a laboratory analysis report to declare satisfactory stocks as no longer in good condition.

He said ranking NFA officials will then ask the NFA sales officers to negotiate the sale of rice to private millers.

"At pag nagkasarahan na, they will issue rice sales to the millers gamit ang mga lab report na nagsasabing not fit for human consumption upang mapababa ang presyo ng mga ito," Tulfo said.

(When they close the deal, they will issue rice sales to the millers using the lab report indicating that the rice was no longer fit for human consumption so that its price could be driven down.)

Tulfo adverted to the suspension of 139 NFA officials and staff over the questionable sale of 150,000 bags of rice.

He mentioned how the province of Isabela requested to buy 10,000 bags of rice but was only given 3,000 by the agency.

"Grabe na ang garapalan sa NFA.  Imagine, nagbenta ng 150,000 bags of good rice tapos yung mga nangangailangan na ahensya tinitipid nila. Ito po ang ginawa nila sa probinsya ng Isabela," Tulfo said.

(The impunity in the NFA is too much. Imagine, they sold 150,000 bags of good rice and then scrimped on the requests of needy agencies. This is what they did to the province of Isabela.)

Tulfo said Governor Rodolfo Albano had informed him of their request from NFA to purchase 10,000 bags of rice for their constituents but they were only given 3,000 bags.

"Napra-prioritize ay itong mga private traders. This is contrary to to the PALLGU program where LGUs even subsidize itong pagbili ng NFA ng palay sa mga farmers," Tulfo said.

(Private traders are prioritized. This is contrary to the PALLGU program where LGUs even subsidize the NFA's purchase of unmilled rice from the farmers.)

"Ang mga LGU, under the PALLGU program, are qualified to participate as buyers of NFA rice. It’s supposed to enable palay farmers to maximize their income and at the same time assist Legislators and Local Government Units in sourcing their rice requirements intended for their constituents," he added.

Tulfo expressed his intention to ask the NFA officials about the alleged sale of buffer stocks of rice in a Senate investigation.

The Office of the Ombudsman earlier suspended 139 NFA officials and employees to secure all the documents and other evidence relating to the supposed “disadvantageous” sale of the buffer stocks of rice.

In a press statement Monday, the Department of Agriculture said the anti-graft body also suspended Piolito Santos, who was tapped as OIC administrator of NFA last week, along with Jonathan Yazon, acting department manager for operation and coordination.

Because of this, DA Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. said he reassumed the post as administrator of NFA.

He also designated Director IV Larry Lacson as officer-in-charge deputy administrator of the NFA to ensure uninterrupted service at the government-owned and controlled corporation.

“We want to stabilize the situation at the NFA following the events of last week. We want to help NFA employees during these challenging times to continue to provide uninterrupted service, especially during this harvest season,” the Agri chief said.

Amid the controversy, Tiu Laurel has ordered an audit of the agency's rice stocks disposition since 2019.

Tiu Laurel earlier established a panel to look into allegations that certain officials authorized the sale of milled rice stored in the agency's warehouse for P25 a kilo without bidding, and after purchasing the grains in palay (unmilled rice) form at P23 per kilo.

In response, the NFA issued a statement saying it had the mandate to dispose of its rice in good and consumable condition, as it released the supply responsibly by stretching to the maximum shelf life and minimizing the sale of residual volume to other accounts.

It has assured that it would continue to provide unhampered operations amid the controversy. —LDF/NB/AOL, GMA Integrated News