MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday criticized anew fired undersecretary Halmen Valdez for supposedly approving the importation of rice that was earlier denied by National Food Authority.
In a speech before leaving for his state visits to Middle Eastern countries, Duterte said it should have been solely his decision to overturn NFA Administrator Jason Aquino's decision to deny the importation permits, and not Valdez's.
"It was appealed to the higher office, which is really the Office of the President. It never reached my desk, I was not put on notice, but I let the Cabinet decide it kung nasa cluster nila," he said.
"They overruled Jason, allowed the importation. Itong si babaeng si Valdez, signed, approved the importation. Alam mo, hindi yan inyo. It was the Office of the President," he added.
The council [sic] "makes the recommendation," said Duterte, but he will decide to grant or disapprove the appeal.
"The protocol, the procedure, the official procedure should be isauli mo ‘yan sa akin with the recommendation, then I will sign it. You’re not the Office of the President," he said.
The NFA, he said, is currently not under any department after it was removed from the Department of Agriculture and now falls under his office.
"Nilagay yan sa Office of the President. So you do not have any authority signing," he said.
Duterte last week said he was “appalled” by the undersecretary who reviewed the NFA Administrator's decision regarding importation and announced that he was firing the official along with three others.
In her first live interview since her dismissal, Valdez maintained that it was "not within the prerogative of a single member of the council, in this case the administrator, to decide on it, all the more an alternate like me."
DO NOT IMPORT YET; BUY FROM LOCAL FARMERS
During the same speech, Duterte also ordered NFA's Aquino to buy rice from the local farmers, emphasizing that it is harvest time.
"Galing akong Nueva Ecija. The harvest is good. Per hectare, it’s three times the original output. Bakit ka mag-import ngayon ng bigas, i-compete mo yung [local]? Patay ang farmers. Who will buy their [grains]?," he said.
"I am ordering si Jason Aquino sa NFA, kung may pera ka, you start buying. You buy the rice of the local producers if you really want a buffer. Unahin mo muna yang atin. Pabawiin mo ang farmers," he added.
Only if there's a shortfall, he said, should the NFA decide to import rice.