Rice wars: Dismissed Usec blasts alleged 'tinkering', favors for rice importers

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 10 2017 06:58 PM | Updated as of Apr 10 2017 08:14 PM

MANILA - Sacked undersecretary Halmen Valdez scored Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol for 'tinkering' with the functions of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary instead of focusing on his job.

In her first live interview since she was dismissed from her post, Valdez said it is "unfortunate" that Piñol is "tinkering" with agencies under Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, such as the National Food Authority (NFA), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

"If you observe, he’s the one making pronouncements and announcements when it comes to those agencies. He doesn’t know how to observe interdepartmental courtesy," she said in an interview with ANC's Headstart.

"It’s very unfortunate that you have a Department of Agriculture Secretary who has been tinkering and is not just focusing on what he is trying to do," she added.

She noted Piñol "prematurely" announced that the President is transferring the three aforementioned agencies to his department, but there was no executive order signed to say so.

Valdez said she is not certain if the two Cabinet secretaries are on good terms.

She said Evasco, her former boss, would calm her down whenever she would flag Piñol's actuations.

"Sinasabi ko sa kaniya, ‘Sir, meron na namang pronouncement itong si Piñol.’ Ang sinasabi lang ng CabSec, ‘Let him do his worst.’ Ganun lang ang sinasabi ng Cabinet Secretary," she said.

President Rodrigo Duterte last week said he would be firing an unnamed female undersecretary and three other government officials as he continues to let go of personnel at the “first whiff” of irregularities.

It was Piñol who later dropped Valdez's name, but Valdez asserted, "he had no authority to do it."

NOT BECAUSE OF PIÑOL

Valdez noted there is now a "bumper harvest" where the target for the harvest has been exceeded. But she insisted that Piñol's agency is not the one to be credited for it.

"Is it because DA is doing a good job? No. It’s because NIA is doing a good job and NIA is under the Office of the Cabinet Secretary," she said.

She also cited that at the onset of the Duterte administration, areas in Mindanao and Luzon were infested with 'cocolisap' that damaged coconut plantations and the PCA had to step in.

"Tapos, si Secretary Piñol, nakialam na naman doon—but it’s also under the Office of the Cabinet Secretary...To tell you, with the Cabinet Secretary’s leadership naayos yun, na-treat yung lahat, nasa income replacement stage na ang PCA in Basilan," she said.

"As you see, my boss works quietly. He works quietly and with integrity," she added.

NO ARTIFICIAL RICE SHORTAGE

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Piñol hit Valdez for accusing him and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino "conniving" to create an artificial rice shortage to justify additional rice information.

"For the information of everybody, the days when greedy businessmen were able to manipulate the data on rice production to justify importation are over," he said.

He insisted data from the Philippine Rice Information System (PRiSM) project of DA and its partners would bear him out that the rice production data could not be manipulated to make it appear that there is a rice shortage and justify rice importation.

"Based on the satellite data, a ground validation is conducted and a projection is made on the expected harvest based on the data," he said.

"That means that even before harvest, the Satellite data could already be used to determine how much harvest there would be in the current cropping season.The data are very accurate as the satellite could even identify the rice crops which are not growing well," he added.

"The Eye in the Sky will prove that you are lying."

In a separate post, Piñol clarified his stand on the issue of rice importation, saying he is against any form of rice importation, whether government to government or importation through the private sector.

FAVORED IMPORTERS? 

In the ANC interview, Valdez said a broadsheet had reported that Aquino signed three import permits from private importers, and though she did not get the names, she presented a different document.

"This is so strange because the NFA Council approved the extension of the MAV (minimum access volume) coming from all territories…However, based on the data and this has been published in the NFA website, he (Aquino) approved Pakistan and India," she said while the document was flashed onscreen.

Valdez believes Aquino is being selective and this means corruption.

"I think that him being selective about the extension of certain permits, it only shows that merong mga pabor-pabor happening," she said.

"We have the equal protection clause so bakit mayroon special treatment yung ibang importers, bakit may special treatment yung ibang countries?" she added.

She said the embassy of Vietnam had written to them requesting to extend their importation permit, "and he ignored it."

"But he gave extension to Pakistan and India, which we did not receive letters from those countries," she said.

Valdez said the country has government-to-government importation memorandum of agreement with Vietnam and Thailand, and this is the relationship that should have been given importance.

"That’s precisely the evil sought to be avoided by the NFA Council—that you give the administrator an unbridled discretion to select certain importers that he likes or he knows, he’s friends with perhaps," she said.

MALIGNED TO DUTERTE

Valdez also accused Aquino of writing to Duterte to malign her and her family.

"In a nutshell, he said that I received P2.5-million to have the private sector-led importation extended or to have it calendared," she said.

"Then next is that I’m close to Jojo Soliman and I’m expected to receive P300-million the moment that the whole private sector-led importation gets extended," she added.

But she insisted she had never met Soliman, a rice importer, and that it's "very unfair" to accuse long-time importers of being a cartel.

In the letter, she said, Aquino told Duterte that her mom, a retired NFA employee, is in a relationship with a man who is linked to the cartel.

"For the record, my parents are in a good, loving relationship. We live together in our family home. My mom has suffered a stroke three years ago, so she’s now our patient and we’re taking good care of her," said Valdez.

"These things can easily be checked. He can go to our family home in Quezon City and check that my mom and dad are in our home. That’s how crazy that letter is," she added.

ANC tried to get Aquino's side in response to Valdez's claims during the show but was informed that he was in a meeting.

On Monday afternoon, before Duterte left for his state visits to three Middle Eastern countries, he twitted Valdez anew, stressing that it was not her place to sign any document to overturn Aquino's rejection of the permits.