Philippines Report

From juice tester to rice gatekeeper: Duterte wants DA Usec Berna Romulo to take charge of rice imports

President Rodrigo Duterte is planning to put Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat in charge of all rice importations in the country.

“The President is considering the approval of rice importation to be centralized under the Office of DA Undersecretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, subject to the review of the Office of the Executive Secretary,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement.

Romulo, a widow, is a close and constant companion of Duterte during agri-related events. They were recently seen at a food event in Davao City where Duterte broke protocol when he made Romulo his taster for a lemongrass juice (a member of the Presidential Security Group normally does this security measure).

Roque’s announcement came just hours after Agriculture Secretary Manny inol claimed that Duterte had ordered the abolition of the National Food Authority Council headed by Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco.

Pinol claimed that Duterte would transfer the responsibility of deciding onNFA’s rice importation to his department. Pinol, and NFA Chief Jason Aquino, had been quarreling for the last 12 months with Evasco on NFA’s rice imports.

Pinol and Aquino wanted to import rice through government-to-government negotiated deals while Evasco wanted a more transparent bidding process through private suppliers. The NFA Council has the final say on rice imports and it’s abolition meant that Pinol and Aquion could go ahead with their importation plans.

Roque, however, denied that the President was abolishing the NFA Council. Roque said the NFA Council would be retained but without its power to approve rice imports to be taken over by the office of Romulo.

Roque said the President “expressed his intent” to place the NFA under his office.

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