Is NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino just naïve or part of the cabal?
For the past few weeks, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco and Aquino were at loggerheads over the issue of rice importation specifically whether or not to extend the import permits that had expired on February 28, 2017 to March 31, 2017. The NFA Council and its Chairman Evasco were for the extension; Aquino was against it.
Despite several threatening memos, Aquino stood his ground: No to extension. The issue came to a head a week ahead of the President’s state visit to the Middle East when he dismissed posthaste an undersecretary at the Office of the Cabinet Secretary for overreaching her authority. The undersecretary signed the import permits for the five importers whose permits had expired on February 28. By law, only the Administrator can sign and issue Permits to Import. Many saw this development as a clear victory for Aquino.
Even the President saw the wisdom of disallowing the import extension at that time since the months of March, April and May are harvest season. Allowing the importation of rice during these months would flood the market with imported rice and weigh down the prices of the locally produced staple thereby adversely affecting the interests of our farmers.
Before the Holy Week, this writer had dinner at the EDSA Shangrila with Aquino and his assistant, Atty. Rachel Manuel. Aquino clearly emphasized to me that he was against extending the import permits from 28 February to 31 March for the importers whose import permits were due to expire. He explained that “If the others can comply with the deadline, why can’t they?” Solid argument for standing his ground. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as the saying goes.
Aquino accused the NFA Council chaired by Evasco of denying his request for the approval of the standby authority to import 250 MT rice through government-to-government (G2G) contract while at the same time railroading the MAV extension issued by the Council to the importers whose permits were to expire on February 28.
At around 9 p.m. of February 23, someone from the Council directed the NFA Council Secretariat to “facilitate ASAP” the unnumbered Memorandum dated February 21 to draft a Resolution extending the MAV arrivals, Aquino said. A resolution extending the MAV arrival was routed to the Council members, bypassing him (Aquino) as the Vice Chairman of the Council, he added.
Little did the President know that Aquino himself had signed three import permits from Vietnam on March 13 way beyond the MAV February 28 deadline. These are in documents obtained by The Manila Times from a source at the Department of Finance during the Holy Week. The three importers whose permits were signed on the same day were: Villa Shipping Lines, Inc.; JVV Ex/Import and Kakampi MPC. The permits cover a total of 5,380 MT.
If Aquino were concerned about the timing of the rice imports, why did he sign on March 13 the import permits for the three knowing fully well that the imported rice would arrive in the Philippines during harvest season or at a time when imports should have been disallowed?
In a phone interview, Atty. Rachel Manuel said that the reason for the issuances of the import permits to the three was “force majeure,” which is allowed under the law. According to her, the shipping company itself had asked for an extension of the MAV “dahil nagkaroon ng problema sa port” (“because a problem developed in the port”). She added, “due to the port congestion in Hong Kong.” She also specified that the date of the Bill of Lading was before February 15.
Wrote Aquino in his memorandum to the NFA Director, GMOD (Grains and Marketing Operations Dept.), dated February 28 and a separate memo to Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon on March 20, 2017, respectively, the key paragraphs of which read:
“After due deliberation and reconsideration on the request of (name of importers) please prepare the corresponding Import Permit for the shipment of this importer under the 2016 MAV Rice Importation Program.”
“This is in view of the explanation made by (name of shipping company) (copy attached) that (sic) transpired to (sic) the voyage of the carrying vessel that effect (sic) the shipment of their rice imports. Their rice cargo was already on board carrying vessel as reflected in their Bill of Lading as early as February 16, 2017.”
At the same time, Aquino also signed a memorandum exempting imports from Pakistan and India from the MAV February 28 deadline. Manuel rationalized the exemption by saying that it was the Ambassador of Pakistan who requested for the extension. She did not mention the Ambassador of India. She also said that it takes 30 and 28 shipping days for the imports from Pakistan and India, respectively, to arrive in the country compared to 7 and 5 days from Thailand and Vietnam, respectively. Besides, the requests for extensions by the two ambassadors were made on January 20, way before the February 28 deadline, she added.