MANILA - The National Food Authority (NFA) on Thursday failed to pass the scrutiny of the Senate subcommittee on finance on its proposed budget for next year.
The budget hearing, headed by panel chairperson Senator Cynthia Villar, ran for more than three hours with the main question centering on the P7-billion subsidy that Congress allocated to NFA.
Villar, also chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, pressed NFA Assistant Administrator for Finance Yolanda Nieves where the agency spent the P5 billion “buffer stocking program” subsidy.
Nieves explained that the fund was used in shouldering the additional costs whenever they purchase rice – local or imported.
She said that the expense is “times two” which means that a P17/kilo of palay acquired from local farmers is usually delivered to the NFA as a well-milled rice at P34 per kilo.
The agency loses P7 per kilo of sold NFA rice to a consumer at a price of P27 per kilo and a P3 per kilo loss on commercial rice, she said.
But Villar was unconvinced and told Nieves that the agency is failing because of the refusal of its officials to fine-tune the system.
“Kasi nga institutional confusion, ayaw nyong kumuha sa local.. Problema kasi, wala na kayong credibility,” Villar said.
The remark was immediately debunked by NFA Assistant Administrator Maria Mercedes Yacapin.
“We take exception to that allegation kaya po we welcome any investigation and inquiry on this matter,” she said.
“Sa inyo gusto ng senator i-file na yung case… so the court will decide. Kami na naman ang mahihirapan. We have been doing this for the past 6 years tapos wala rin namang nangyayari. Eh 'di i-file na ang case,” Villar retaliated.
Interviewed after the hearing, Villar said NFA officials need to settle the rice importation issue first before getting the nod on their proposed P7-billion budget for next year.
“Di satisfied ang minority, yung process nila ng pag-import parang may problema,” she said.
Senator Kiko Pangilinan, meantime, inquired about the status of former NFA administrator Jason Aquino and moved that NFA officer-in-charge Judy Nansal be present in next week’s hearing.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also quizzed Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on the gravity of Aquino’s status in the agency.
Piñol said Aquino has already forwarded his resignation letter to the President, which took effect last September 30.
He added that Aquino's participation in the last NFA Council meeting was part of his obligation to turn over the affairs of his office properly.
“Jason Aquino was just summoned to the NFA meeting as part of the transition process… All allegations of corruption against Jason Aquino would have to be proven, in fairness to the guy… Whatever issue is raised against him, there is still need for a smooth transition from one leader to another,” Piñol said.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, said she looks forward to the eventual Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the NFA rice shortage issue.