Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday dished out a speculative, albeit funny, response when asked if Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte.

ROQUE 4“Unless fired, yes!,” Roque told Palace media when asked if Piñol still has the trust and confidence of Duterte amid calls for the DA chief to quit over the issue of rice shortage.

The House minority block and a group of farmers on Wednesday said officials of DA, the National Food Authority (NFA) and its policy-making body, the NFA Council, should step down for their actions that jacked up the price of rice.

Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza scored officials of NFA and the NFA Council, headed by Administrator Jason Aquino and Jun Evasco, respectively, for pointing fingers at each other as to who should be blamed for the rice crisis.

Atienza, a former mayor of Manila, has also called for the abolition of the NFA and the NFA Council.

On the other hand, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), headed by former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, has questioned DA’s move to resort to rice and fish importation instead of improving the local agricultural production.

Last Wednesday, Roque advised the NFA and NFA Council officials to stop blaming each other.

He said the government will continue to find means to address the country’s rice supply shortage.

Meanwhile, Roque defended Piñol over reports that the DA official is proposing to legalize rice smuggling.

“We understand Agriculture Secretary Pinol was misquoted on the issue of legalized smuggling of rice in Zamboanga,” he said in a press statement.

He said the DA’s recommendation is to establish a rice trading post where government can collect customs duty on legally imported rice with import permit from the NFA.

“We also understand that the amount of imports to be allowed will be enough to cover the needs of the ZambaSulTa (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) area,” Roque said.

Roque said the rice situation is expected to normalize “because the main harvest is beginning to come in by next month”. (PNA)

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