DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas expressed doubt as to the availability of cheap rice from the National Food Authority in retail markets as earlier announced by the government.
Instead, KMP aired its belief on the possibility that the NFA is reserving imported rice for selling to private rice traders.
“Tens of thousands of bags of imported rice from Vietnam have started to arrive this week but the assurance that these rice stocks will reach retail markets and rice consumers in need of affordable rice remains uncertain,” says Antonio Flores, KMP Secretary-General in a statement on Wednesday.
The group said the NFA has already imported around 250,000 metric tons of rice and the supply had already started to arrive this month.
“For all we know, the NFA is only showcasing that cheap rice will be available soon, but in truth, NFA warehouses in Visayas and Mindanao are still empty or with dwindling supply, and there are no Php27 and Php34 per kilo of NFA rice in retail markets,” Flores continued.
He added that the NFA “kept on announcing that cheap imported rice will hit the markets soon to stabilize rice prices. Pero nasaan na ba talaga ang bigas? Hindi pa umaabot sa mga palengke at baka mauna pang pakinabangan ng mga traders ang bigas na inimport ng NFA at ang bigas na ilegal na ipinasok ng mga rice smugglers.”
The peasant leader also disclosed that KMP has received information that the rice imported by NFA is still in barge containers and have not yet passed necessary customs inspection.
“We are worried that the NFA is once again reserving these imported rice stocks for priority selling to private and commercial traders. Rice smugglers could also take advantage of a large shipment of imported rice coming in to bring in their shipment of smuggled rice,” he said.
Flores also questioned the sincerity of NFA in accomplishing its mandate, and that is to ensure the stable supply of rice in the country.
But the present situation would suggest that the bulk of the imported rice will land into private traders and not in retail markets, he pointed out.
“Bodegero na lang ba ang papel ng NFA ngayon? What happened to the agency’s mandate of ensuring the country’s rice staple supply?” Flores asked.
Artificial rice shortage plagued the country’s markets earlier this year due to the unavailability of cheap NFA rice, the group noted.
KMP also recalled that in the midst of that artificial rice shortage, rice prices have skyrocketed until this month, with prices ranging from Php43 to Php55 per kilo for well-milled and premium rice, respectively.
“It was then exposed that scrupulous officials in the NFA have sold imported rice at cheaper prices to private traders. Nauubos ang badyet ng NFA sa pag-import ng bigas pero hindi naman nakakarating ang murang bigas sa mamamayan. Ang traders lang ang nakikinabang,” the group said.
Flores said that the government has once again opened the bidding for the importation of another 850,200 metric tons of imported rice from Thailand and Vietnam with a maximum volume of 293,100 MT each.
The imported rice, as indicated by the NFA, will be allocated for Luzon (467,000 MT or 58 percent), Visayas (153,000 MT or 19 percent), and Mindanao (185,000 MT or 23 percent) to meet the daily consumption needs, he added.
KMP also reiterated its position against massive rice importation and asserted that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte should wholly address the issues of the domestic rice industry and the rice farmers. (davaotoday.com)