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Duterte insists Cabinet remains strong despite public bickering

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday insisted his Cabinet remained strong amid public bickering among the members of his official family. 

Speaking to reporters before leaving for a three-country swing to Middle East countries, Duterte also criticized anew dismissed Palace undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez, who supposedly approved the importation of rice without his knowledge. 

“There is no infighting, there’s no ruckus there, there’s no trouble there. I just don’t like people who are corrupt,” the President said. 

Cracks within Duterte’s official family appeared after the President fired Valdez over a disagreement on rice imports. 

Valdez represented her boss, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., in the NFA Council, which sets policy for the National Food Authority.

Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez (Photo from www.pca.da.gov.ph)
Evasco’s position differed from that of Duterte’s and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s, who favored self-sufficiency in rice and government-to-government imports to build up the country’s buffer stock.

Similar clashes have erupted over the administration’s policies on the mining industry, with Environment Secretary Regina Lopez butting heads with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez over her drastic moves to close down large mining companies, and the impact this will have on thousands of workers and the economy.

Another conflict arose between Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II over the issue of overtime pays for Immigration employees. 

In all cases, Cabinet members have yet to reach a breakthrough to resolve issues. 

Duterte said it should have been solely his decision to overturn NFA Administrator Jason Aquino’s decision to deny the importation permits and not the Palace undersecretary under the office of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco. 

“It was appealed to the higher office, which is really the Office of the President. It never reached my desk, I was not put on notice, but I let the Cabinet decide it (if it is in their cluster),” he said.

“They overruled Jason, allowed the importation. (This woman Valdez), signed, approved the importation.” he added.

Duterte likewise confirmed rumors earlier raised by Pinol that “monetary considerations” led to a differed position taken by Valdez. 

Valdez on Saturday accused Piñol and National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino of  “making it appear there is a shortage of rice” so they could push a government-to-government deal instead – an allegation Piñol swiftly denied. 

In the same speech, Duterte ordered Aquino to buy rice from the local farmers because of the record harvest of paddy rice in the first quarter. 

“I am ordering Aquino...if you have money, you start buying. You buy the rice of the local producers if you really want a buffer.” he added.

Only if there’s a shortfall should the NFA decide to import rice, Duterte said. 

“I just arrived from Nueva Ecija. The harvest is good. Per hectare, it’s three times the original output. Then why do you import rice now, to let the local compete wioth the imported variety?” Duterte said in Filipino and English.

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez , rice imports , National Food Authority
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