Policy war leads to 1-m idle rice bags in Cebu
CEBU CITY—At least one million bags of imported rice, mostly from Vietnam, are sitting idle at the Cebu International Port since last March owing to a clash of policies between Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. and National Food Authority Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino.
The shipment of rice arrived at the Port of Cebu on board m/v SITC Fujian last Jan. 21, and the National Plant Quarantine Services Division Station 16 in Cebu certified the consignees, Pilmico Foods Corp., complied with the pre-inspection requirements on Feb. 28, the Manila Standard learned.
However, the processing of subsequent shipments that arrived later could not meet the February 28 deadline when a policy disagreement on rice importations erupted in the Duterte Cabinet.
The rice shipment formed part of an allocation of 10,000 metric tons obtained by Pilmico under the 2016 Minimum Access Volume of the NFA.
Documents at the Bureau of Customs in Cebu showed only a shipment that arrived on Feb. 21, 2017 containing 10,000 bags was released.
The processing of the shipment that left Hanoi, Vietnam, onboard MV SITC Fujian was finished on Feb. 28. This is the importation deadline specified by import permit number MAV-2016-0433 signed by NFA chief Aquino.
Aquino, who was formerly with the Intelligence Group of the Bureau of the Customs during the previous Aquino administration, wants government-to-government or G2G rice importation.
However, Evasco, who chairs the NFA Council overseeing rice importation, prefers importation through private traders. Neither official has commented on the issue at press time.
Just before the Duterte administration came to power, Aquino and 15 others at the BoC were either forced to resign or sacked by Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Jessie Dellosa because of “loss of trust and confidence” in them for allegedly receiving “tara” (grease money) from smugglers.
The Manila Standard learned that in a three-page memo to NFAC members last March 8, Evasco accused Aquino—whom he called a “crook”—of not attending NFA Council meetings, not signing import documents, and Aquino going over Evasco’s head as Council chair straight to the President.
Evasco had asked President Rodrigo Duterte in effect to choose between him and Aquino.
Aquino has refused to implement an NFAC order that extended all rice importations to March 31, 2017. The extension could have prevented the situation of the Pilmico importations.
Based on the NFA March 31, 2017 report, the 2016 MAV rice importations brought in a total of 692,340 MT nationwide with 99 percent already covered by the payment of advance customs duty through the Land Bank of the Philippines.
NFA records showed 92.38 percent of the MAV allocation already arrived through various ports in the Philippines covered by 728 import permits signed by the NFA administrator. Some 92,209.35 MT had been arriving at the Cebu port from January to March 2017.