By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has given the green light to the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice to boost the country’s supply.
The President however left to the National Food Authority (NFA) Council to decide which method of rice importation would be pursued, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. said.
Evasco is currently the chairman of the inter-agency NFA Council.
“Mayroon verbal instruction si Presidente na i-activate’na yung 250,000 metric tons on standby (The President has a verbal instruction to activate the 250,000 metric tons (of rice) on standby),” he said in a media interview.
Evasco said he would call for a special meeting of the NFA Council on Monday to decide on the rice importation scheme. He said they could pursue government-to-government procurement, government-to-private rice importation, or just let local traders import rice themselves.
“The President would leave that to council to decide which mode of procurement to be pursued in getting this rice from outside,” he said.
Evasco said he was confident about the country’s rice supply due to the expected arrival of the rice imports under the minimum access volume (MAV).
He lamented that the NFA “tried to put the people in panic mode” by telling about the rice shortage. “Mayroong bigas (There is rice supply),” he said.
Prior to the President’s directive, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said earlier the government would not yet import more rice due to the expected delivery of 325,000 metric tons of rice this month.
“There’s no need to authorize the standby order of an additional 250,000 because there’s more than enough rice on its way to beef up the NFA stock,” Roque said, citing information from Evasco.
NFA rice shortage
Earlier, Senator Nancy Binay called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the NFA Council to stop finger-pointing and, instead, come up with a plan to augment the dwindling supply of NFA rice in the markets.
Binay said she hopes Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol and the NFA Council and other stakeholders would settle their differences and find ways to resolve allegations of a rice shortage.
“Yung isa sinasabi na kailangang mag-import, yung isa naniniwala na walang need. At the end of the day, walang NFA rice tayong nabibili (One agency is telling us there’s a need to import, another is saying there’s no need. At the end of the day, there’s no NFA rice available in the market),” the senators said.
“Unahin muna natin ang pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan bago ang internal issues among the different agencies, (Please let’s look into the needs of our people before we entertain internal issues among different agencies),” she appealed.
She also called on commercial traders not to take advantage of the situation and instead help keep rice prices stable.
Binay said she does not dispute Piñol’s claim that there is “a huge inventory of locally harvested rice but pointed out that the rice varieties available in the market are more expensive than NFA rice.
“Daing tuloy ng karamihan, buti pa ang presyo ng bigas nagmamahal habang yung bulsa ng taumbayan ang nasasaktan, (As a result, people are groaning that the price of rise is getting higher while their pockets are suffering),” she added.
She said the NFA sells rice between P27 and P32 per kilo, which is lower than commercial prices of P45 to P60 per kilo.
Rice on the way
Malacañang assured yesterday that consumers could expect a reduction in rice prices in the market with the arrival of additional supply in the country.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has assured the country’s adequate rice supply, citing that 325,000 metric tons of rice would be delivered to the country this month.
“Kapag dumating na 325,000 metric tons sigurado naman na bababa ng presyo ng bigas kasi malaking volume ‘yan (When the 325,000 metric tons of rice arrive, prices of rice will certainly go down due to this large volume),” Roque said during a Palace press briefing.
“Kahit anong klaseng rice siya kapag maraming supply, bumababa ang presyo. Law of supply and demand (Regardless of the kind of rice, the prices tend to go down when there’s huge supply. That’s the law of supply and demand), he added.
Reserved for calamity
In Nueva Ecija, there are barely 8,700 bags in the NFA warehouse and they are already reserved for times of calamity.
NFA Provincial Manager Genoveva Villar admitted Tuesday that they have stopped supplying NFA rice to accredited rice retailers since January.
Villar said they reduced their deliveries from 20 bags a week to only seven bags per week per retailer starting in December due to diminishing inventory.
“Our priority is for calamity times,” she said.
Villar was quick to add, though, that rice inventory in private traders and households could last for at least 240 days or until the forthcoming harvest season.
A monitoring on the current prices, she added, showed no significant increase in commercial rice but only the absence of cheaper grains.
At the moment, Villar said, it was totally-zero arrival of palay in their warehouse, supposedly because of the attractive farm-gate buying price of P19 per kilo offered by local traders which was higher than NFA buying price. (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza and PNA)