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Ombudsman lifts suspension order vs over 20 NFA personnel

The Office of the Ombudsman has lifted the suspension order on more than 20 National Food Authority (NFA) personnel linked to the alleged irregular sale of rice buffer stocks to favored traders.

Interviewed on Dobol B TV on Friday, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said the suspension order was lifted after investigators from his office found erroneous data on the list provided to them by the Department of Agriculture (DA), which supposedly sourced the list from the NFA. 

"Kung may pagkakamali sa listahan na iyan, hindi namin kasalanan iyon. Hindi ko alam kung sino nanloko sa amin (It's not our fault if there were errors on the list. I have no idea who tried to hoodwink us)," Martires said.

Martires said among the NFA personnel whose suspension was lifted were warehouse supervisors in the National Capital Region (NCR).

"After conducting initial investigation ng mga imbestigador namin, itong nirekomenda nila na i-lift ang preventive suspension sa mga warehouse supervisors sa Iloilo, Antique, Cabanatuan, basta NCR. Basta mga 23 lahat 'yun," he said.

(After our investigators conducted initial investigation, they recommended the lifting of the preventive suspension on warehouse supervisors in Iloilo, Antique, Cabanatuan, and other NCR areas. There are more or less 23 of them.) 

Martires added that prior to the 23, they have already lifted the suspension order on one NFA employee.

Interviewed on PTV’s Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon, DA Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Arnel de Mesa said the Agriculture Department has not yet received the latest order from the Ombudsman.

“Pero may na-receive na ‘yung National Food Authority, yung assistant branch manager ng Batangas,” de Mesa said, referring to the lifting of the suspension order on one NFA employee.

(However, the NFA has already received one for the assistant branch manager in Batangas.)

According to Martires, the NFA said that they thought that the list being sought was for a list of members of the task force for El Niño.

"Ang tanong lang namin, kung listahan ng task force ng El Niño, bakit sinama 'yung mga kawani na patay na? Ano 'yung purpose noon? Niloloko niyo ang Secretary of Agriculture?" he said.

(Our question is, if it's the list for the task force on El Niño, then why does it include the names of NFA employees who have already passed away? What is the real purpose? Are they fooling the Secretary of Agriculture?)

He said they are also investigating who is behind the list.

The Ombudsman suspended 139 NFA officials and personnel — including administrator Roderico Bioco and assistant administrator for operations John Robert Hermano — as part of its investigation into the supposed “disadvantageous” sale of rice buffer stocks to selected traders.

The suspension took effect on March 4, 2024 and will last for 90 days.

Some of the concerned NFA officials and personnel have appealed their suspension.  

According to Martires, the lifting of the suspension order was not connected to the filing of the motion for reconsideration (MR) by the NFA personnel.

"'Yung lifting ng suspension '(The lifting of the suspension) is not because of the MR," he told Dobol B TV. —with Joahna Lei Casilao and Ted Cordero/KBK/VBL, GMA Integrated News