By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippines must continue to import rice since it could not attain a self-sufficiency status in the national staple, President Duterte declared Wednesday.
The President has voiced his doubts about Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s claim that the country could soon attain rice self-sufficiency, citing the decreasing number of rice fields.
“If you’d ask me, in the next how many years, we will just have to import rice. I do not believe that we can be rice sufficient. ‘Yung sinabi ni Piñol na at the year’s end. Istorya man lang ‘yon [What Piñol said about the year’s end is just a story],” Duterte said during the signing of an education agreement in Malacañang.
Duterte said many vast tracts of lands have been converted to produce “cash crops” instead of “food crops” that could meet the country’s rice needs.
“With the advent of the coming of cash crop instead of the food crop, kinukulang na tayo ngayon ng lupa [we are having a shortage of lands] and even to really satisfy or do we have the resources to answer for the food of the Filipino,” he said.
“Kasi sa Mindanao [Because in Mindanao], the choice lands there were eaten up by the cash crop guys. Iyong food crop, wala na masyado [The food crops are not that plenty anymore],” he said.
The President however still has high hopes for the potential of Mindanao to provide food for Filipinos.
“Mindanao could really properly cultivated. Mindanao could supply the food that we are going to eat. But if we cannot solve the problem in time, magkakaroon tayo ng problema [we will have a problem],” he said.
Piñol earlier said the country was stepping closer to its goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency as early as 2019 or 2020 at the latest. At present, the country is 96 percent rice sufficient.
In the same remarks at the Palace, the President said he has already authorities to boost the country’s rice inventory amid reports of artificial shortage last April.
Duterte admitted that he carried out some changes to end a “turf war” among some government officials to prevent any more rice supply problems.
“I had to cut some powers of Cabinet members for just being too shortsighted or jumping into others’ territory, turf war,” he said.
“Ang sabi ko sa kanila, bakit hindi pumupuno ‘yung up to the ceiling? [I told the, why aren’t you filling it up to the ceiling] Ang atin kasing buffer stock was only good for three to four days. You must be crazy,” he added.
Last April, the President implemented a reorganization of the NFA following the controversy arising from low inventory of the government-subsidized rice.
Duterte stripped Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. of his chairmanship of the NFA Council, and placed the NFA under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.
Local rice traders have also been allowed to freely import more rice after Duterte has lifted the quota on rice importation in a bid to increase the country’s rice stocks.
The NFA reorganization came amid the reported feud between Evasco and NFA administrator Jason Aquino over their differences in the mode of rice importation, buying price for palay, among others.