MANILA - Outgoing National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Jason Aquino and some other officials pocketed around P2 billion every year from an alleged "tara" or grease money system over rice imports, Senator Risa Hontiveros claimed Tuesday.
Citing information from traders and insiders, Hontiveros said that a "tara" of P100 to P150 is paid to certain NFA officials for every bag of imported rice.
The country, she said, imports about a million tons of rice or about 200,000 bags of the staple every year.
"Imagine, multi-bilyong pisong enterprise [ito] na pumunta sa bulsa nina Jason Aquino at naging sanhi naman sa pagkakagutom ng napakaraming Pilipino," the senator told radio DZMM.
"Economic sabotage po ang nangyari," she added.
(This is a multi-billion peso enterprise that went to the pockets of Jason Aquino and led so many Filipinos to go hungry. What happened is economic sabotage.)
Hontiveros also accused Aquino of delaying the distribution of imported grains so buffer stocks would fall and drive up the prices of commercial rice.
In a privilege speech at the Senate on Monday, the lawmaker also presented documents from her sources showing the supposed release of import permits to "favored" traders, the removal of some NFA inspectors from ports and Aquino's order allegedly banned officials from speaking to media without go signal from his office.
Hontiveros said she has referred the issue for possible investigation before the Senate's Blue Ribbon and agriculture committees.
Under Aquino, the NFA drew flak for the low supply of the state-subsidized grain in local markets and the weevil infestation of hundreds of thousands of sacks of rice.
The NFA chief earlier denied meddling with the local rice supply.
Aquino, a former soldier, wants to be relieved from his post because "he's tired and cannot cope with laro (workings)," President Rodrigo Duterte said earlier this month.
Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said Tuesday that he is willing to lodge charges against Aquino in connection with the rice shortage in some parts of the country.