MANILA, April 16, 2008 (STAR) President Arroyo vowed yesterday to jail people who are involved in the pilferage of government-subsidized rice as she ordered tighter controls on the sale of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) to curb “domestic hoarding” of grains.

In her statement at the Cabinet meeting held at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Mrs. Arroyo said the government is sparing no effort to ensure that rice gets from the source to the tables of Filipinos nationwide.

“Anyone caught stealing rice from the people must be thrown in jail,” she said.

The Cabinet meeting was held at the DOJ so that Mrs. Arroyo could witness the filing of separate charges against several traders and Customs officials accused of hoarding rice and smuggling flour.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had filed criminal complaints against 13 rice traders for illegal price manipulation through hoarding and violation of revised rules of grains business.

He said the harshest penalty that could be meted against the traders is 50 years imprisonment for economic sabotage.

Mrs. Arroyo also reiterated that the NFA buying price of palay would remain at P17 per kilo at least until next month.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said that within two weeks, the cheaper variety of NFA rice will be pulled out of markets and be sold directly to the poor through outlets of local government units (LGUs) and in churches and mosques.

He also said LGUs and non-government organizations will issue access cards to poor families to control the sale of NFA rice.

The rice to be sold to the poor would be priced at P18.25 per kilo while commercial-grade NFA rice sold in public markets would be priced at P25 per kilo.

“Because the rich and poor go to the same markets, so now we are targeting the distribution of rice to the poor,” Yap said. – Paolo Romero

Cabinet revamp: Esperon to DND, Teodoro to DOJ? By Jaime Laude Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Come May 14, the defense department may have a new chief in the person of outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

This was disclosed yesterday by a highly reliable source who claimed that Esperon’s appointment as defense chief is part of a major Cabinet revamp that would be undertaken by Malacañang on or before May 14.

Esperon is bowing out of the military service on May 9, after his term as military chief was extended by President Arroyo for three months last Feb. 9.

According to the source, Esperon’s entry into the defense department was triggered by the impending appointment of incumbent Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro as Secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Teodoro, a seasoned lawyer, the source added, was handpicked by Malacañang to replace ailing Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, a staunch defender of President Arroyo.

But Esperon denied the report of his assuming the defense post when contacted by The STAR.

“It’s just rumor. There is no such thing,” he said.

“Secretary of self-defense, perhaps!” Esperon quipped.

Asked if any other Cabinet post has been offered to him, Esperon retorted: “None so far.”

The AFP chief said he would definitely retire and is, in fact, ready to take his scheduled vacation in San Francisco, California, a day after his retirement next month.

He added that Mrs. Arroyo told him she has already picked May 8 as the date of the formal turnover rites to Army chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano who has been designated by the President as the new AFP chief.

On the other hand, Teodoro’s spokesman Nelson Victorino said the defense secretary hasn’t received any orders, verbal or otherwise, or any communication of any sort, to indicate that the President wanted him to be next DOJ Secretary.

“Wala pa kaming alam tungkol dyan. Baka mga tsismis lang ang mga iyan. (We don’t know anything about that. It’s probably just gossip),” he said.

Victorino added Teodoro is happy with his present job as defense secretary and is no longer interested to occupy other government posts.

“Masaya na siya dito. Pero kung yan ang utos ni Presidente dapat lahat sumunod. Pero in the case of Secretary Teodoro, hindi na siguro siya tatanggap ng ibang puwesto sa gobyerno (He’s happy here, but if that’s what the President orders, everyone should follow. But Secretary Teodoro will probably not accept another government post),” Victorino said.

At present, according to Victorino, Teodoro has lined up defense programs for the benefit of the military and the country’s veterans. “He is busy right now. He wants to see all his programmed development plans implemented,” Victorino said, adding that the defense department is “close to his (Teodoro’s) heart.” – With Marichu Villanueva

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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