MANILA, Philippines — Rice producer-consumers group Bantay Bigas and Anakpawis staged a protest action on Wednesday in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) office in Quezon City, as it assailed the government for letting the depletion of the country’s affordable rice stocks happen and for its continued reliance to importation.
Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao assailed the Duterte government for spending NFAs 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.
President Rodrigo Duterte has green-lighted the importation of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice in a government-to-government arrangement.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque quoted the President as having said that the government needs to import to beef up its rice buffer stock during his meeting with NFA Council members last Monday.
Duterte said subsequent importation would be done through auction and would be supervised by the Executive Council Committee headed by the Office of the President (OP).
In the same briefing, Roque also bared that Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. is removed from the NFA Council since the NFA is now under the Department of Agriculture, along with the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority.
Roque said Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol is expected to head the new NFA Council.
Piñol said the President has ordered the NFA to increase its rice buffer stock inventory from the current 15 days to 60 days and to buy more from Filipino rice farmers.
In Facebook post Tuesday, he said Duterte asked the NFA to increase its buying price of local palay so it could rack up its needed buffer stocks.
He said the President said he did not like a repeat of what happened recently when the country’s rice agency went low on its buffer stocks which led to a spike in the price of commercial rice in the market.
He directed Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to help provide funds for the NFA’s local rice procurement program emphasizing that he would like the rice agency’s warehouses filled to the roof to assure the Filipino people of sufficient rice supply, he added.
The President, Piñol said, also directed them to buy more from the Filipino farmers.
“Buy from the Filipino farmers first and if you could not find sufficient stocks to be bought at the price approved by the NFA Council, that’s the time you source it through importation,” the President was quoted as saying.
The NFA buys its buffer stocks from local production by Filipino farmers and through importation to maintain supplies sold at P27 to P32 per kilo in the market.
At present, it buys rice “clean and dry” with 14 percent moisture content from farmers at P17 per kilo but lately, the NFA said it could hardly buy locally because the buying price of private traders of fresh rice at 18 percent moisture content ranges from P18 to P25 per kilo.
Piñol said he wanted to increase the NFA buying price by P3.
Casilao said the high profile order of the government for the selling of P39 per kilo of affordable rice by private traders is a dud as it was reported that only a few rice traders followed and maintained retailing at P42 per kilo.
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 said.
Casilao also slammed the reported NFA selling of 10.4 million kilos of rice from its Eastern Visayas warehouses to Bulacan-based private traders.
Another 900 sacks or 45,000 kilogram of rice were reportedly wasted after NFA’s Eastern Visayas regional office failed to dispose the confiscated sacks of rice which were stockpiled back in 2014.
While the country is amid crisis on affordable rice supply, Casilao said NFA is operating with one blunder to another.
He also called on Congress to investigate this highly scandalous action of the food agency and to make the agency’s officials accountable. (davaotoday.com)