National Food Authority (NFA) representatives attending a Senate probe were recently admonished like children and also castigated for theirsystem of keeping a buffer stock of rice, among many other things. Senators learned during a hearing that the NFA failed to sell the four million bags or 290,000 metric tons of imported rice still in its warehouse and buy the palay and rice of local farmers.
NFA officials confirmed to the senators that the agency has yet to dispose several bags of imported rice, reason why local rice has not been sold.
‘We still have lots of imported rice that is why we are trying to have it sold before we sell the local rice’, NFA administrator Carol Dansal explained.
This did not sit well with the senators specially Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, who did not find the NFA official’s explanation acceptable and insisted that there were massive rice importations before the passage of the law.
Without mincing words, Villar told the NFA officials to just avail of early retirement or resign if they find public service to be difficult. The feisty lady senator also lamented that she and the authors of the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL) are the ones who get the blame when ‘it looks now as if the NFA is an accomplice of the rice cartels.
She told the NFA to ‘stop with that buffer stocking,’ noting NFA’s repeated excuse they could not buy rice from local farmers because their warehouses are still full of buffer stock. The lawmaker also points out that the NFA ‘bought a lot to circumvent because after the RTL, you can’t import anymore. And we all know you make money out of importation.’
At the Senate hearing, Villar is urging the local government units (LGU) to invest in farmers to boost the industry saying the NFA had neglected them and not buying their produce.
‘That’s why we are convincing the LGUs to give them capital. It’s up to them who to choose, but the (local officials), maybe they want to help so that people will vote for them in the coming elections. These NFA officials are not elected, so that’s why they don’t care if the people get mad at them,’she said.
It was also bared that there were local government units who wanted to buy rice from NFA but were discouraged as the agency was selling it at P37 per kilo. The senator recalled an exchange with a farmer, who said the NFA allegedly did not buy palay from them because of its high moisture content.
‘Baguhin ‘nyo ‘yang ugali na ‘yan…. Kung gusto ‘nyo talaga tulungan ang mga tao, ‘wag kayo magrarason ng ganyan. Kaya lang naman kayo nandiyan para tulungan ang farmers eh,’ the scolding continued.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development had also been urged to use its funding to purchase local rice instead of doling out money to its beneficiaries, saying the agency receives an annual rice subsidy of P31 billion, which could be used to support the country’s own palay producers.
At the same hearing, Villar said the NFA should have sold the rice at its warehouses and used the money to buy local rice. They have to sell their stocks in order to return the money, she said.
The harvest season is near in which the NFA can buy rice from local farmers and according to Villar, ‘it is their mandate under the new RTL to buy rice from the local farmers and sell it to the Filipino consumers at a reasonable price.’
Last month, President Duterte directed the NFA to buy the palay produce of local farmers at competitive prices, even as he defended the law that liberalized the importation of rice. Duterte defended the measure, saying it was intended to serve the greater interest of the majority of the people.
The RTL aims to ensure that market rice prices would remain affordable by replacing the quantitative restrictions on rice imports with tariff.
Safety nets were included in the law, among which was a comprehensive assistance program worth P10 billion a year for the next six years under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). Based on the country’s palay harvest calendar, 30 percent of total annual production comes from the summer harvest between March and May while 70 percent comes from the main harvest from October to December.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar blamed hoarding for the drop in the prices of palay in the market and not the implementation of the RTL. Dar said some millers and traders may have used the tarrification law – which lifts the quantitative restriction on imported rice — to gain access and hoard supply of the grain.
Dar also directed the agency to increase palay support price to P19 from P17 per kilo.
Jokjok (from Judiel Crisostomo of Pakil, Laguna)— JUDGE: Ano ba talaga ang nangyari? PEDRO: (di sumasagot)/ JUDGE: Sumagot ka! Ano talaga ang nangyari?!/ PEDRO: Naman eh! Kala ko ba hearing lang to? Bakit may speaking?!
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