Piñol distances self from rice importation row

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 10 2017 07:50 PM

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. Manny Palmero, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday reiterated that he has nothing to do with the removal of undersecretary Halmen Valdez from her position for allegedly going against the order of the National Food Authority (NFA) administrator.

In an interview on DZMM Teleradyo, Piñol said he only answered questions from reporters after President Rodrigo Duterte failed to name the official he sacked for overruling NFA Administrator Jason Aquino's decision to suspend rice importation as it is still harvest season in the Philippines. 

He also said that Duterte told him about firing Valdez beforehand, but this does not mean that he has a hand in what happened.

"The decision to fire or not to fire is with the President," Piñol said.

Piñol, likewise, denied that he is conniving with Aquino to create an "artificial shortage" to justify rice importation.

"Ayoko nga mag-import tapos magke-create ako ng artificial shortage? Eh sinasabi ko nga na may surplus, na masagana 'yung ani kaya 'wag na muna mag-import. Wala akong kinalaman sa pagkatanggal sa kanya," he said.

According to Piñol, he is not quarreling with any other Cabinet officials.

"No, I have the highest respect for Jun Evasco. The differences in our position does not mean that I am quarreling with anybody. Hindi ako nakikipag-away. I don't see any reason why I should be quarreling with anybody. Hindi ko style ang mag-away ng tao," he said.

"'Yung aking posisyon, posisyon ng magsasaka. People should understand that," Piñol added.

Piñol earlier said he is against any form of rice importation, whether government to government or importation through the private sector. 

"The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has publicly declared that it is against the immediate lifting of the Quantitative Restriction (QR) on imported rice on the ground that the Filipino rice farmers are not yet ready to compete with their counterparts in the region because of low productivity and high production cost," he wrote.

Duterte on Thursday ordered a temporary halt in rice importation from Vietnam as local farmers posted a high yield of the staple this harvest season. 

At a harvest festival in Nueva Ecija on Wednesday, Duterte fired Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez for defying NFA Administrator Jason Aquino's decision to suspend rice importation given the local harvest season.

Valdez, on the other hand, alleged that the President may have received false information about her, saying this also maligned her “tatay (father) in the government," Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.