By Jose Cielito Reganit

FIGHT VS. CORRUPTION. House Assistant Majority Leaders Raul Angelo Bongalon of Ako Bicol party-list and Mikaela Angela Suansing of Nueva Ecija, Deputy Minority Leader for Communications and ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Erwin Tulfo, and House Committee on Labor and Employment chairperson Fidel Nograles of Rizal hold a press briefing at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on Tuesday (March 5, 2024). They said the strong resolve of the Marcos administration in going after erring officials and employees of the National Food Authority is a testament to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s commitment to eradicate corruption. (Photo courtesy of House of Representatives)

MANILA – House of Representatives leaders on Tuesday commended the Marcos administration’s strong resolve in going after erring officials of the National Food Authority (NFA).

Preventive suspensions have been issued to 139 NFA officials and employees for alleged disadvantageous sale of rice buffer stock.

In a regular press briefing, Deputy Minority Leader for Communications and ACT-CIS Rep. Erwin Tulfo, House Assistant Majority Leaders Mikaela Angela Suansing of Nueva Ecija and Raul Angelo Bongalon of Ako Bicol party-list, and House Committee on Labor and Employment Fidel Nograles of Rizal all hailed the Ombudsman’s suspension order, including on NFA Administrator Roderico Bioco.

“We very much welcome the action of the administration of President Bongbong Marcos in this preventive suspension of 139 employees from the NFA. I believe this is a strong testament to our President’s commitment to eradicating corruption and demanding accountability from public officials in the government,” Suansing said.

Tulfo said the wrongdoings run counter to the efforts of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to bring down the price of rice and ensure the food security of Filipinos.

“Lahat dapat ng palengke binigyan nila ng bigas na ‘yan para kahit papano ilang daang libo kababayan natin nakabili ng bigas rather than napunta lang sa bulsa ng ilan (All public markets should have been provided with that rice so that at least several hundreds of thousands of our countrymen could have bought cheap rice, rather than just lining the pockets of a few),” Tulfo said.

“Samantalang mga kababayan natin cannot afford to buy na mga bigas na mga nasa 30 at 40 pesos, sila ibabagsak nila sa 25. Di ba naman lapastangan naman ho yon at tsaka insult. Dapat ho talaga managot sila, dapat makasuhan sila (While some of our countrymen cannot afford to buy rice at PHP30 to PHP40, they slashed it to PHP25. That is a mockery and an insult. They should really be held liable and haled to court),” he added.

For Bongalon, the suspension proved there is no preferential treatment in the government.

“Talagang seryoso po ang gobyerno sa laban sa mga kurapsyon. And in fact, NFA administrator ka man o karaniwang empleyado ng NFA, wala pong sinasanto ang ating gobyerno (The government is serious in the fight against corruption. Whether you are the NFA administrator or an ordinary employee, no one is spared),” Bongalon said.

He said the investigation should include private individuals who were in cahoots with the public officials.

Restructuring, not abolition

Meanwhile, Suansing said she is in favor of restructuring the mandate of the NFA.

“Perhaps we have to do an extensive evaluation of the mandate of the NFA, and whether or not the NFA is currently performing their mandate and whether the scope of their work and responsibility is still appropriate for the times. Kasi makikita din naman natin na malaki rin ‘yung ginagampanang papel ng (Because we do recognize the vital role of the) NFA in terms of rice buffer stocks, in terms of helping our farmers at times of harvest,” Suansing said.

Nograles agreed with Suansing, saying the NFA should not be abolished as it still plays an important role in achieving food security.

“Mahalaga po yung mandato at tungkulin ng NFA ngayon, lalong-lalo na sa panahon ng El Niño. Mayroon hong banta na tuloy-tuloy ang pagtaas ng presyo ng bigas. Kaya umaasa ho tayo sa NFA na tulungan ho tayo (The mandate and role of the NFA is important, especially in this time of El Niño. There is the threat of a continuous hike in the price of rice. That’s why we are counting on the NFA to help us),” he said.

Tulfo said he is also in favor of restructuring the mandate the NFA first instead of dissolving the agency outright.

He added that other government agencies also need restructuring as they have outlived their original mandates. (PNA)