By Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee on Tuesday pressed authorities to ensure that the poorest consumers truly benefit from government-subsidized rice amid allegations of irregularities in the distribution of rice by the National Food Authority (NFA).
Citing a study by the Senate Economic Planning Office, Angara said the policy to stabilize the price of rice—both for producers and consumers—has cost the government P45 billion in subsidy for the past 10 years.
“The government has appropriated huge amount of funds to subsidize rice. Are we sure that the poorest Filipino families are benefitting from these subsidies?” said Angara, questioning the reported leakages and poor targets of the agency.
Angara has filed a resolution seeking to look into the NFA’s effectiveness in ensuring the food security of the country, and the stability of supply and price of the staple grain-rice.
“Rice is the most important staple food for every Filipino family. The supply of rice should be ensured and is made affordable to ordinary citizens,” he added.
Last month, NFA announced it only had two days worth of buffer stock which alarmed consumers triggering a spike in rice prices.
The NFA is required to maintain a buffer stock of at least 15 days of consumption at any given time.
NFA Administrator Jason Aquino explained it decreased its distribution in the market and prioritized distributing stocks in calamity-prone areas, highly-depressed regions and relief agencies.
Given the low supply of NFA rice, the price of commercial rice increased from P3 to P5 per kilo in some areas.
Sufficient rice stock
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the reported shortage in NFA stocks is being used “to justify the increase in the price of rice in the market” and the “additional importation of rice”.
“In the last quarter of 2017 going into the first quarter of 2018, the country has a buffer stock of 2.7 million metric tons (MT), good for 88 days,” Piñol told Manila Bulletin after attending a public hearing on the reported rice shortage conducted by the Senate agriculture committee chaired by Sen. Cynthia A. Villar.
“By the end of this quarter going into the second quarter, the country will have a projected buffer stock of three million metric tons, good for 96 days,” Piñol added.
He said the “confusion” over the supposed rice shortage could also be traced to the failure of the NFA to adjust its strategies probably because of its conflict with the
NFA Council which prevented the NFA to bring in rice stocks right away to support the needs of retailers who are pressured by consumers to provide rice at P27 per kilo.
Piñol also traced the rice problem to the failure of the NFA to increase the price of palay it buys from farmers and is losing out to the private sector.
Piñol assured farmers’ groups there is no need to fear a proposed imposition of tariff on imported rice “because in the long run everything in the end will level up.”
P18 per kilo
At the hearing, NFA was urged to increase its buying price for rice at P18 so that local farmers will sell them their harvest and address the shortage of cheap rice.
Villar said the shortage would not have happened if the agency had fulfilled its mandate to buy unmilled dry rice from local farmers at P17 per kilogram.
But Aquino said while they “did (their) job” and were “aggressive” in procuring rice supply, they are having difficulties in looking for farmers who would sell their harvests at the said rate.
Citing their data from the last quarter of 2017, Aquino said the average buying price for rice currently stands at P18.95 per kilogram.
He said he sought the approval of the NFA Council to buy rice at P22 per kilo but was rejected.
Villar supported the Council’s decision saying the increase would result to higher price of NFA rice in the market.
She, however, is amenable to increase the buying price to P18, but warned that NFA rice would increase to P30 to P34 per kilo, from its current P27-per-kilo rate.