VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Piñol wrongly claims there were no major issues against him when he was DA secretary

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol is wrong in saying that there were no major issues against him when he was head of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

STATEMENT

A press release from the DA on June 27 said:

“Piñol also said that in his three years as Secretary, there were no major issues, and no cases of corruption and anomaly.”

Source: Department of Agriculture, Press Release: I am proud of all of you, June 27, 2019

FACT

Piñol was involved in at least three controversies in his three years as agriculture secretary.

The most recent was his handling of the case of 22 fishermen, whose boat was sunk by a Chinese fishing vessel on June 9 while it was anchored near the Reed Bank, one of the disputed islands claimed by China in the West Philippine Sea.

Allegations of intimidation and bribery by Piñol emerged after boat captain Junel Insigne and his crew changed their tune, following a closed-door meeting with the agriculture secretary in a venue surrounded by policemen in a full battle gear on June 19, according to reports of Inquirer.net, CNN Philippines and Interaksyon.

The fishermen initially insisted that they were intentionally rammed and abandoned by the Chinese. Subsequently, the fishermen retracted their pronouncements saying “they were now unsure if their boat was purposely hit or not.” (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The evolving statements on the Recto Bank allision: a visual timeline)

In an interview with ANC, Piñol dismissed the Filipino boat sinking as a “simple maritime incident” that was blown “out of proportion”. He denied accusations that he threatened the Filipino fishermen to revise their previous accounts.

Before his courtesy resignation, Pinol had been criticized for the rice shortage. He received flak for proposing to legalize rice smuggling to solve the rice crisis in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi last year. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Piñol falsely claims state TV reporter misquoted him on rice smuggling).

He said:

“It’s the more practical option. Legalize it. Hindi na smuggled rice ‘yan (It won’t be smuggled rice anymore). Then, we are able to control the situation kaysa maghabulan tayo ng mga bangka diyan (instead of wasting our time chasing boats).”

Source: GMA News Youtube, Saksi: Piñol: Dapat i-legalize ang smuggling ng bigas para mapunan ang supply, Aug. 28, 2018, watch from 1:50 to 2:08

Zamboanga City and Basilan declared a state of calamity in August last year due to the rice shortage that caused prices to soar to as high as P70 per kilo, according to a DZMM interview of Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar.

Amid supply woes, rice imported by the National Food Authority from Thailand and Vietnam, which arrived in Subic in June last year, turned out to be infested with weevils or bukbok.

To allay fears of health risks, Piñol offered to eat the bukbok-infested rice and galunggong, speculated to be unsafe for consumption due to formalin contamination, provoking backlash from the public.

Then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno called the agriculture sector the “weakest link” of the Philippine economy, which grew only 0.56 percent last year, compared to the DA’s reported target of 4 percent farm growth for 2018. In the first quarter of 2019, farm output grew by only 0.67 percent, compared to 1.08 percent growth recorded last year.

DA has accumulated over P4 billion in unliquidated fund transfers, according to the Commision on Audit (COA).

In a Facebook post, Piñol said there was “nothing irregular” about the COA report and that “the funds that were transferred to other government agencies and organizations...only [need] liquidation.”

Piñol said the DA has already issued demand letters to the agencies, which received the funds to submit their liquidation report.

#

Sources

Department of Agriculture, Press Release: I am proud of all of you, June 27, 2019

Inquirer.net, No intimidation in meeting with Recto Bank fishermen — Piñol, June 20, 2019

CNN Philippines, Piñol denies pressuring Filipino fishermen to revise ramming account, June 20, 2019

Interaksyon, Behind Filipino boat captain’s ‘change of tune’ on South China Sea collision, June 21, 2019

Rappler.com Youtube, PH boat’s captain: Chinese ship intentionally sank us, June 14, 2019

Rappler.com, Pinol, Gem-Ver captain hold press conference on maritime incident, June 19, 2019

ABS-CBN News, 'Simple maritime incident' at Recto Bank 'blown out of proportion: Agri chief, June 17, 2019

Manny Piñol Facebook, Statement on alleged bribery and intimidatio, June 20, 2019

GMA News Youtube, Saksi: Piñol: Dapat i-legalize ang smuggling ng bigas para mapunan ang supply, Aug. 28, 2019

ABS-CBN News, P70/kg of rice: Zamboanga City eyes state of calamity due to rice shortage, Aug. 21, 2018

ABS-CBN News Youtube, The World Tonight: Rice weevil-infested rice to undergo fumigation, Aug. 23, 2018

UNTV Public Service Channel Youtube, EXCLUSIVE: Sec. Piñol kumain ng kanin na may bukbok, Aug. 31, 2018

ABS-CBN News, Philippine 2018 GDP growth still among world's fastest: Diokno, Jan. 8, 2019

Philippine Statistics Authority, Performance of Philippine Agriculture, October-December 2018, Jan. 23, 2019

BusinessWorld, Agriculture dep’t maintains 4% farm output growth target, Aug. 13, 2018

Philstar.com, Farm sector barely grows in April-June 2018, Aug. 9, 2018

Inquirer.net, PSA: Agri sector growth slower in Q1 of 2019, May 8, 2019

Philippine Statistics Authority, Performance of Philippine Agriculture, January-March 2019, Jan. 23, 2019

Commission on Audit, Department of Agriculture: Executive Summary for 2018

Manny Piñol Facebook account, Nothing Irregular In This, It Only Needs Liquidation!, July 17, 2019


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)


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