Councilor asks Duterte to look into ‘anomalous’ rice procurement in Zamboanga City
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur –– A city councilor here is asking Malacanang to investigate the alleged anomaly in the procurement of more than 250,000 sacks of overpriced rice intended to help residents cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilor Joselito Macrohon, who wrote a letter to President Duterte, said the city bought each of the 25-kilogram sacks of rice at P1,300, against the P950 to P1,100 prevailing price in the market.
Macrohon, who called himself part of the “conscience bloc” at the city council, wrote President Duterte a letter, urging state auditors to look into the controversial P325 million purchase.
“While we laud Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar for her decision to distribute 25 kilos of rice to every household, we find the questionably high price of the purchase most disturbing,” he said.
Macrohon said part of the funds used to purchase the rice was the P263.8 million allocated for this city from the national government’s Bayanihan grant.
He also said the multi-million rice contract was awarded without public bidding and was negotiated with only one supplier, who later turned out to have “questionable” financial credentials.
“The Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) only considered one single supplier for the purchase of such a huge quantity of rice,” he said.
“Other items like canned sardines, other canned goods, vegetables, and iodized salt were also procured from the same supplier,” he said.
While he understood the need for speed in the purchase of these welfare goods during an emergency, certain laws against hoarding, profiteering, and manipulation of prices could have been violated, Macrohon said.
“No less than President Duterte declared that the government would not tolerate the slightest misuse of emergency public funds earmarked to help poor Filipinos cope with this pandemic,” Macrohon said.
“I am appealing for an immediate investigation of the transactions from the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic up to the present,” he said.
He added he was dismayed to learn that city officials did not consider other bidders or suppliers, not even the local National Food Authority (NFA) which still had 10,000 sacks available at half the price.
The city awarded the P325 million procurement contract to 5MJ Marketing, owned by a certain Maria Socorro U. Santiago, Macrohon said.
He said 5MJ, which was described as a family-owned single proprietorship engaged in general merchandise, was not even a licensed rice dealer.
“It appears that the city government did not check the financial capability of 5MJ Marketing for the multi million-peso award,” he said.
He added that 5MJ Marketing did not have any track record with the city government in the supply of rice.
“In the record, 5MJ Marketing is a retailer and merchandiser, which supplied the city government in 2018 with motorized vehicle parts, batteries, tires, musical instruments, submersible water pumps, and muriatic acid, etc,” he added.
“We have received reports that 5MJ Marketing is not even a licensed rice, grain, trader, importer, nor wholesaler, and does not have a warehouse to store such a huge quantity of rice.
He said the rice that the city government delivered to barangay residents was so poor in quality that the recipients did not accept them.
Pilarica Ledesma, barangay chair of Sinunuc village, said residents’ complaints about the poor quality, powdery, and foul-smelling rice went viral on social media on May 9.
Of the 2,300 sacks allocated to her barangay, a total of 1,784 sacks were returned for replacement.
“Rice quality was not good, it had a foul smell. Other (recipients) complained about seeing worms. The color of the rice was off-white. It had a powdery texture,” Ledesma said.
Serbelio Molina, barangay captain of Cawit, said they returned 2,065 sacks of poor quality rice, while Cabatangan Barangay Chair Antonio Saavedra said they suspended rice distribution when over a thousand residents returned the sacks of rice they received.
“There was a foul smell and our residents said they wanted better quality,” Saavedra said.
On May 10, Mayor Salazar said they acted with dispatch by replacing the ‘poor quality rice’ distributed to some beneficiaries of its second wave of relief assistance in Barangay Sinunuc.
She said they already replaced the rice. She ordered a thorough probe and vowed to come up with measures to prevent a similar incident in the future.
“We call on beneficiaries who encounter similar issues to immediately coordinate with their barangay for the replacement of the goods,” she said as she urged village officials to see to the quality of the goods being delivered.
The Inquirer repeatedly asked City Hall and Salazar for copies of the purchase order sent to 5MJ Marketing, but Salazar only said their transactions were all legal and no laws had been violated.
BAC Chair Erwin Bernardo promised to provide copies of their transactions as long as the Inquirer wrote an official letter of request.
The letter has been sent to his office but until now, there had been no reply yet from Bernardo.
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