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Ba’t di pa paalisin? Hontiveros grills Piñol on keeping Jason Aquino at NFA

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Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday grilled Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol about his move to cancel the leave of absence of former National Food Authority (NFA) chief Jason Aquino.

She wondered why Piñol had to retain Aquino’sservices despite the alleged “large-scale corruption” and shortage of government-subsidized rice in the market under his term.

Piñol earlier said that he needs Aquino during the “transition” of the NFA to a new leadership.

“Why is Aquino, who is included in a CoA (Commission on Audit) report pointing to possible technical malversation in the NFA, allowed to go back to work? And tasked no less to transition the NFA to a new leadership?” she asked.

A recent CoA report questioned the NFA’s move to use its P5.1 billion subsidy from to pay for maturing loans instead of allocating the funds to the food security program of the agency.

“Is the government rewarding corruption? Is it the policy of the government to provide graceful exits to disgraced public officials allegedly involved in corruption?” Hontiveros asked.

“Or is this an attempt to cover his tracks?” the opposition senator asked Piñol during the Senate’s hearing of the DA’s proposed 2019 budget on Thursday.

“Bakit sa gitna ng napakadaming alegasyon hinggil kay Aquino kasama na ang CoA report ng technical malversation, ay binalik pa ninyo siya sa NFA?” she wondered.

Hontiveros added, “Hindi po ba sa inyong speech nung kayo ay bagong hirang sa DA (Department of Agriculture), ang sabi ninyo ay: ‘Listen to this or read my lips: Corruption will not be tolerated in this Department. Not anymore.'”

“Bakit po si Jason Aquino, na-tolerate ninyo? This is no longer a whiff of corruption, Mr. Secretary. The stench of corruption is revolting,” she said.

The CoA report also pointed to the “low level of compliance and efficiency” in the allocation, distribution of rice stocks as well as the sale of ageing stocks.

“I find it extremely interesting that the CoA report already flagged the issues and anomalies in rice importation, diversion and stocking; that the personalities behind these schemes were already exposed, yet, these people still remain in the NFA,” she said.