Duterte fires undersecretary over rice imports row


Posted at Apr 05 2017 06:51 PM | Updated as of Apr 10 2017 01:24 PM

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has fired another official on Wednesday for purportedly defying the National Food Authority's (NFA) decision to put rice importation activities on hold, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Wednesday. 

On the sidelines of a harvest festival in Nueva Ecija, Piñol confirmed to reporters that the President has sacked Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez for overruling NFA Administrator Jason Aquino's decision to suspend rice importation as it is still harvest season in the Philippines. 

Valdez served as a deputy for Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco. 

The confirmation followed the President's speech at the Nueva Ecija event led by a private agriculture company, where he announced that he would be firing a female undersecretary currently on a “holdover” capacity from the previous administration.

He said the Undersecretary was among three government officials he would fire this week, as he continues to let go of personnel at the “first whiff” of irregularities. 

“He has ordered the dismissal of Undersecretary Halmen Valdez…I think this was the result of the controversy at the National Food Authority (NFA), because the report that I received it was Usec. Halmen Valdez who dealt with the NFA on the issue of rice importation,” Piñol told reporters.

According to Duterte, he was “appalled” by the undersecretary who reviewed the NFA Administrator's decision regarding importation.

“Why would we allow importation to compete with the local product? Ano ang ginawa nilang rason? Of course hindi natuloy kasi binara ko. Sinabi ko, stop. Ngayon (Now), there is a free trade agreement (What was their reason? Of course it did not push through because I blocked it. I said stop,” Duterte said in his speech.

Piñol told the media that Duterte saw things differently from Valdez, who opposed Aquino’s position against importation.

Aquino had required all planned importation to be done through government-to-government transactions. But Valdez, who had been tasked to revise the NFA’s importation plan, wanted sway importation guidelines to favor private importers, said Piñol.

The NFA, which oversees the country’s rice importation deals, declined to comment when ABS-CBN News asked about the issue. 

“Sabi ko kanina, tawagan mo Malacañang, sabihin mo she's fired. May dalawa pang undersecretary. Mamaya, may mga lima na...’di ako magdadalawang isip, maski kaibigan kita (I said call Malacañang and tell her she's fired. There are two other Undersecretary (to be sacked). Later, that might become five. I will not have second thoughts, even if you are friend),” Duterte said.

The removal of Valdez came in the wake of Duterte's decision to fire Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno this week, and the resignation of Irrigation Administrator Peter Laviña in March on allegations of corruption. The President had said he asked Laviña, his former campaign spokesperson, to resign his post. 

–with reports from Jorge Carino and Dexter Ganibe, ABS-CBN News