MANILA - Officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) may be liable for technical malversation for using funds to pay off debts instead of using it to buy rice from local farmers, a congressman said Wednesday.
The NFA is supposed to buy rice from farmers at P17 per kilo, mill it and sell it at P27 to P32 -- cheaper than commercial grain retailing for P43 to P55 per kilo. However, the agency last year diverted some P5 billion from its budget to pay debt instead of padding its rice stocks, a Commission on Audit report said.
House appropriations committee chair Karlo Nograles said he received information that the agency diverted its funds again this year to pay its debt, which it should have settled using its own revenue, not appropriations from Congress.
The Davao City representative said he will summon NFA officials to another budget hearing and warn them that diversion of funds may be grounds for technical malversation.
"Ipapatawag ko ulit, ire-recall ko ulit sila sa budget hearings natin para imbestigahan namin, tanungin namin anong balak ninyo dito. Kung pampabayad lang ito ng utang ninyo... sasabihin talaga namin sa kanila na hindi puwede iyan," he told rado DZMM.
(I will summon them again, recall them in budget hearings so we can investigate what they plan to do with their funds. If they will use this to pay debt, we will remind them that that is not allowed.)
"Kahit na nagkaroon ng approval mula sa NFA Council, technical malversation po ang tawag d'yan," he added.
(Even that had the approval of the NFA Council, that is considered as technical malversation.)
Nograles' statement came after a rice shortage drove up the staple's prices at P50 to P70 per kilo in Zamboanga City, which prompted local officials to declare a state of calamity.
The NFA has augmented the supply of government-subsidized rice in the southern city.
This supply, however, was intended for Northern Mindanao, where rice prices have started to spike in what seems to be a "domino effect" of the rice crisis, said Nograles.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday said he has proposed the importation of an additional 132,000 tons of rice by the private sector to address "very limited" supplies of the staple in the southern provinces.