MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has conceded that the country would continue to import rice as long as the problems of overpopulation and lack of arable land hound the country.
“And if you’d ask me, in the next how many years, we will just have to import rice. I do not believe that we can be rice-sufficient,” he said during the signing of the Free Higher Education Act in Malacañang on Wednesday.
This is contrary to his April 2017 statement where he had opposed importation to protect local farmers.
He said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s statement that the country would achieve rice sufficiency at the end of the year was just a story.
“‘Yung sinabi ni Piñol na at the years end, storya man lang ‘yon,” he said.
But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque later clarified that the Philippines is still working towards 100 percent rice self-sufficiency, contrary to Duterte’s statement.
”We will forever aim to be rice-sufficient. All administrations want to be rice-sufficient,” Roque said during Thursday’s media briefing.
“The President believes it will not happen this year, so we will continue to strive to be self-sufficient in rice, although the reality is it hasn’t happened yet,” he added.
Duterte had earlier approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam and Thailand to augment the supply of subsidized rice in the market after being delayed by its policy-making body, National Food Authority Council.
Rice producer-consumers group Bantay Bigas had earlier denounced the government for letting the depletion of the country’s affordable rice stocks happen, and for its continued reliance to importation.
For his part, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao assailed the Duterte administration for spending NFA’s P7 billion budget for importation, instead of using it for local procurement.
“It is standing firm for its neo-liberal preference than to heed the broad clamor of farmers and consumers’ group including former agrarian reform Secretary Rafael Mariano for the government to increase local palay procurement. The NFA revealed that it only procured a mere 1% of local palay produced at P17 per kilo,” Casilao said in a previous statement.
“It is clear that the government failed and continues to on the food security agenda, as the prices are hiking up, making it less accessible to the poor,” the solon also said. (davaotoday.com)