Post-Ompong: Army chief told to head NFA

PRESIDENT Duterte has asked the Philippine Army chief to be the next head of the National Food Authority (NFA) and rationalize its “idiotic” structure.

Lt. Gen. Rolando Joselito D. Bautista, commanding general of the Philippine Army and former commander of the Philippine Security Group, is set to take the helm from Jason Y. Aquino, the former administrator of NFA.

According to Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr., Bautista’s appointment as NFA administrator should be effective on his retirement on October 15.

“Rolly is kind. In the meantime that I cannot place you in Central Bank, maybe you can serve in NFA, to rationalize the idiotic…. So that it will be planned. Make it structural,” he told Bautista, who attended the situation briefing in Cagayan on the aftermath of Typhoon Ompong.

This was after Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III lamented during the briefing the implication of having no NFA administrator at the time that the country was hit by Ompong.

The President said in his televised interview last week with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo that it was Aquino who asked to be relieved from the post. Duterte said Aquino is “tired” and can’t keep up with how things are going with the NFA, adding that he and Aquino also had “disagreements” all the time.

During his interview with Panelo, the President already hinted about his preference for the new NFA administrator when he said that he was just waiting for someone to retire.

Previously, Aquino has been facing resignation calls for the agency’s alleged incompetence in handling the rice situation and for the delays in rice importation.

Aerial inspection

Prior to the situation briefing, the President also conducted an aerial inspection of Ompong-stricken areas in Cagayan.

Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Francis N. Tolentino, who was appointed by the President as his conduit during Typhoon Ompong, also reported no casualties so far in Isabela, Quirino and Aurora. However, there were at least a total of 24 casualties in other areas, including Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Sur, Kalinga and in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) because of landslides and soil saturation because of rainfall.

After hearing this report, the President said: “I share the grief of those who have lost their loved ones.” Despite this, the President said he is pleased with the turnout of government’s preparedness at the time of disaster.

“This is not really to minimize or maybe downgrade the damage but compared with what I have seen in the past, we thank God that this is what just happened to us,” he said.  “It was not so severe as we expected it be.”

Price freeze

However, Tolentino said they are still awaiting moves of various local government units to declare their respective state of calamity pursuant to the Local Government Code.

“If state of calamity is declared in Cagayan and in Isabela—and the other regions comprising CAR and Region 1, the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] will kick in the price freeze process,” he said.

The President added he made the “right decision” when he asked some of his Cabinet members to go to provinces along the path of typhoon.

During the situation briefing, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said there is enough supply of NFA rice and that the food items are being sold within the suggested retail price.

Lopez also informed the President of NFA’s plan to issue a regulation to all grains retailers to sell both regular and well-milled rice after they found out that some retailers only sell premium rice. Otherwise, he said, their licenses to sell will be canceled.

The Department of Trade and Industry will not renew the business permits of the violators of the regulation.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said prices of rice have already gone down and are stabilizing because it’s the harvest season.

He also said the department is now ready to airlift vegetables, fruits and chicken if needed to typhoon-hit areas.

Release funds

Sen. Grace Poe prodded Duterte administration officials over the weekend to fast-track the release of much-needed funding for Typhoon Ompong recovery and assistance in hard-hit areas, to be drawn from the P19.6-billion calamity fund in the 2018 national budget.

She also suggested that Palace officials could also tap available funding assistance from the Department of Agriculture, which, she said, has P1 billion in Quick Response Fund (QRF) and P500 million from the National Irrigation Administration that Poe said could be allocated for “replanting assistance and repair of irrigation.”

Apart from that, Poe proposed that the Department of Public Works and Highways tap its P1-billion available fund for immediate repair of damaged roads and bridges.

As for affected schoolbuildings. Poe proposed the Department of Education can also draw funds from DepEd’s P2-billion QRF.

She said other QRF recipients are DSWD-OSEC (P1.25 billion), DND-OCD (P500 million), DND-AFP (P750 million), DOH (P500 million) and NEA (P100 million).

The Duterte administration, she said, should “rush calamity funds to typhoon-damaged Cagayan Valley as the region, which ranks first in corn production and second in palay, is the cereal bowl that feeds the nation.”   

With Butch Fernandez

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Bernadette D. Nicolas currently covers Malacanang, Consultative Committee tasked to review 1987 Constitution, Department of Budget and Management and Philippine Competition Commission. She has more than 2 years experience of working with a multiplatform media group before transferring to BusinessMirror in February 2018. She earned her Journalism degree at University of Santo Tomas in 2014.

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