By Zaldy De Layola

House Deputy Majority Leader Erwin Tulfo (PNA photo by Joan Bondoc)

MANILA – House Deputy Majority Leader Erwin Tulfo on Thursday berated the National Food Authority (NFA) officials for manipulating the sale of rice buffer stocks to private firms that led to the preventive suspension of 139 officials and employees of the agency.

“Sa tingin ko may plano talaga na i-hokus pokus ito, i-mekus-mekus itong mga stock na ito para maibenta sa mga private corporations (I think, there is really a plan to manipulate these stocks to sell them to private corporations),” the ACT-CIS Party-list lawmaker said during the House Committee on Agriculture and Food inquiry into the sale of NFA rice buffer stocks to private companies.

Suspended NFA Administrator Roderico Bioco admitted that the sale of rice was not done through proper bidding, drawing the ire of the panel members, including chairperson Rep. Mark Enverga of the 1st district of Quezon province.

“Yun ang excuse mo, kaya mo ibinenta ng PHP25 per kilo, as is, where is, kasi malapit nang mabulok kaya ninyo ibinenta (That’s your excuse in selling [the rice] for PHP25 per kilo, as is, where is because it’s about to rot, that’s why you sold it)?,” Tulfo asked Bioco.

Tulfo said the NFA should have sold the rice buffer stocks to the government, particularly to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Bureau of Corrections, and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

“Susmaryosep, November, December, ikot ng ikot ang House leadership naghahanap ng murang bigas. Ang tao nagugutom, napakamahal ng bigas sa mga oras na yun ang presyo ng bigas umaabot sa PHP70 [per kilo], meron pala kayong bigas na ganun. Bakit hindi nyo na lang sinabihan ang gobyerno na meron kayong bigas (We’ve been going around in November and December looking cheaper rice. People are hungry, rice is expensive reaching PHP70. Then, there you have cheaper rice. Why you did not inform the government),” he said.

Bioco said the rice they sold are “aging stocks” which, he said, the government agencies would not buy.

He, however, could not answer whether he informed the said government agencies regarding the rice buffer stocks.

Tulfo also confronted the Commission on Audit (COA), particularly the resident auditors of NFA, for not doing their job and for not closely monitoring the transactions in the agency.

“Bakit hindi niyo alam ang nangyayari, bakit hindi niyo alam ito (Why you don’t know what’s happening, why are you unaware of it?) It looks like you’re not doing your job,” Tulfo said.

A COA representative explained that the NFA regional warehouses are under the jurisdiction of the regional auditors.

Enverga, for his part, showed a letter from DSWD addressed to NFA requesting supplies of rice, but the latter rejected the request.

Abang Lingkod Party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano also asked the committee to invite officials from the Office of the Ombudsman to shed light on its investigation.

Earlier, the Office of the Ombudsman placed Bioco and 138 other NFA officials and employees under preventive suspension for six months for “grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

It cited a Feb. 12, 2024 letter-complaint to the Office of the President filed by NFA Assistant Administrator for Operations Lemuel Pagayunan, claiming that Bioco and his assistant administrators acted with “manifest partiality, evident bad faith and/or gross inexcusable negligence” when they authorized the sale of allegedly aging stocks of milled rice to select traders at low prices without securing the NFA Council’s approval.

Bioco allegedly issued several memorandums allowing the sale of 75,000 bags of “deteriorating or aging” NFA rice totaling PHP93.75 million to the traders. (PNA)