Wenceslao: Evasco eased out

Bong O. Wenceslao

I DON’T think fans of Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco in Cebu like this development. President Rodrigo Duterte has eased out Evasco from the National Food Authority (NFA) Council. That means that in the power struggle between Evasco on one side and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on the other, the latter side got the president’s ear.

Okay, “fire” is actually too harsh a description for Evasco’s exit. What the president actually did was to place the NFA Council under the Department of Agriculture (DA), the council’s original supervisor. That means Piñol will now be heading the council instead of Evasco. Incidentally, I think this is the better arrangement considering that the DA and the NFA Council have the same concern: rice.

Evasco and Aquino had tussled on the issue of rice importation. Evasco favored the cautious approach, one that would shield rice procurement from corruption, and thus frowned on government-to-government purchase, the process that Aquino favors.

Evasco’s conflict with Aquino had reached a point wherein, according to a Rappler report, the former came up with a confidential memorandum claiming the latter diverted P10 million worth of NFA rice meant for Eastern Visayas to private Bulacan traders. Instead, Evasco was the one eased out of the NFA Council.

It would be interesting to find out how the new setup would pan out without Evasco. The NFA has been in the news recently because of dwindling rice buffer stock. Piñol said the president’s marching orders was for the NFA to buy rice from local traders first before buying stocks abroad. With the lack of supply, I say the NFA will eventually import rice. How that will be done will again be the issue.

Evasco has apparently moved on from the recent development after issuing a statement mentioning his effort to shield rice procurement from corruption. It will now be the Aquino and Piñol show and only time can tell whether the president made the right decision on the matter. Evasco can focus on other CabSec concerns.

Even then, what his exit from the NFA Council shows is that the president does not always have his ears despite their friendship. Interestingly, Aquino and Evasco were perched on opposing camps before their support of Duterte brought them under one roof. Aquino is a former military man while Evasco, a priest, is a former rebel. That could partly explain the difference in views and character.

With Evasco’s supervisory powers over the NFA and the president’s other decision to have the Philippine Coconut Authority also reverted back to the DA, only 10 government agencies have remained under the CabSec’s ambit. He can focus on those government agencies until another controversy embroils him there. As I have pointed out before, Evasco is vulnerable to intrigues by rightists in government.

He has so far managed to survive Malacañang’s snake pit mainly by focusing on work rather than basking in the limelight. This goes also for the other former militants whom he had brought into the fold of the government and who have stayed on even if the left is already critical of the Duterte administration.