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Editorial

Probe NFA workers’ complaints

/ 04:40 AM May 10, 2022

Employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) last week called on President Duterte to dismiss the agency’s administrator, Judy Carol Dansal, over alleged graft and corrupt practices, nepotism, grave abuse of authority, wanton disregard of existing laws, rules, and regulations, and for being anti-labor. In a press conference, NFA Employees Association national president Maximo Torda said the immediate ouster of Dansal will “save the agency from further deterioration.”

The accusations against Dansal, according to the workers’ group, are not the first to be hurled at this law graduate from the President’s alma mater San Beda College, who was appointed NFA chief in June 2019. That was six months after her retirement from the food agency where she served for some 40 years, her last post being deputy administrator. The workers’ group claimed that Dansal is facing at least three graft charges at the Ombudsman, an administrative complaint at the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and an alleged violation of the NFA procurement rules by purchasing rice in Region 5 (Bicol) without the existence of an emergency, resulting in losses for the agency.

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Many of the accusations centered on how Dansal dealt with the NFA employees. The group claimed that Dansal favored certain people in the NFA, including those who were supposed to have been retired, and appointed her daughter-in-law and her mother to key NFA positions. The employees’ union also claimed that Dansal abused her power when she fired some employees, yet retained others similarly situated. Worse, Dansal allegedly refused to grant overdue economic benefits to workers such as, of all things, the rice subsidy. The workers’ statement said that Dansal also reportedly ordered all NFA employees nationwide to sign a pro-forma affidavit, signifying their resignation as members of the labor group and waiving their right to be represented by the union “as a precondition to availment of the separation incentive package and/or placement to the vacant positions in the agency.” Employees who refuse, the group said, are reportedly threatened that they will not be given any position; some were forced to retire, dismissed illegally, or demoted.

The day after the employees’ group went public, Dansal simply denied the allegations of graft and corruption, and refuted claims of her being anti-employee. She described the accusations as “mistaken” and “misleading,” adding that NFA management does not recognize the individuals who held the media briefing as representatives of the union because of their alleged noncompliance with the “requirements of election provided for under the NFA Employees Association Constitution, and their failure to represent at least 30 percent of the rank-and-file employees as required by law.”

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Dansal said their grievances had something to do with the implementation of the NFA restructuring plan as a result of the enactment of Republic Act No. 11203, the rice tariffication law, which removed certain market functions of the NFA as it allowed the private sector to import rice.

NFA is no stranger to controversies. In 2018, senators wanted then administrator Jason Aquino fired over the rice crisis that saw the price of rice going as high as P70 per kilo in Zamboanga City, with retailers coaxing the public to consider corn as an alternative. The Commission on Audit also flagged the agency for diverting P5 billion worth of government subsidies from the food security program to the payment of loans. The money should have been spent on incentives for farmers to encourage them to sell their produce to the government. In 2019, another senator advised NFA officials, including Dansal who was then already the administrator, linked to smuggling and making money out of imported rice to just retire.

Dansal could have easily refuted some of the union’s charges, particularly on nepotism. She could have readily proven this false by showing employment documents contrary to accusations about her hiring her daughter-in-law and her mother in the agency. For NFA employees to publicly appeal to Mr. Duterte to replace the agency’s current administrator shows that they have lost faith in the tedious bureaucratic processes at the Ombudsman or the CSC to address their concerns.

This NFA controversy deserves to be looked into soonest. Despite his last few months in office, Mr. Duterte should get to the bottom of this, if only to restore the credibility of political appointees and to enable the agency to focus on its remaining task of ensuring a steady supply of the Filipinos’ staple food. Absent this swift action, Congress should probe the serious charges hurled against Dansal as soon as possible. Waiting for a decision on the allegations from the Ombudsman, the CSC or the NFA management itself will no doubt take a long time, considering their record in adjudicating complaints in the past. This is unfair not only to the NFA employees and the agency, but to the country as well.

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TAGS: Editorial, National Food Authority, NFA workers' complaints
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