By Madelaine Miraflor
About 839 National Food Authority (NFA) employees are expected to be retrenched as the government begins to implement the restructuring plan for the state-run grains agency in line with the provisions of Republic Act 11203 (Rice Trade Liberalization Act).
Based on the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 11203, NFA is given a 60-day transition period from the effectivity of the IRR to restructure or reorganize.
The law has limited NFA’s functions to buffer stocking.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Tuesday the proposed restructuring plan has already been approved and endorsed to the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs).
Under such restructuring plan, a lot of NFA’s regulatory functions will be removed.
Piñol said the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) suggested to further trim down the managerial positions at NFA, but this will be decided upon once the NFA’s Technical Working Group (TWG) releases in December the independent report it is doing on the said restructuring.
Moving forward, NFA will also conduct what is called “surgical marketing operations”, wherein it will still be asked to sell cheap rice at P27 per kilo in Manila and at select poor areas in the country.
“We will continue to release rice to the market even after we consumed our imported rice stocks,” Piñol said. “But we will not operate in areas that have surplus.”
Aside from Metro Manila, the NFA identified 40 provinces with high poverty incidence that could benefit from this scheme.
Meanwhile, NFA management assured that it is fully cooperating with the implementation of the rice liberalization law, especially on provisions directly affecting the agency.
NFA OIC administrator Tomas R. Escarez said that even before the signing of the law’s IRR, the NFA has already implemented the self-executing provisions of RA 11203 which took effect March 5, 2019. These include all regulatory functions over the international and domestic trading of rice.
On international rice trading, NFA has stopped processing documents for rice importation and issuance of rice import permits for private importers as well as the conduct of bidding for government importation.
On the domestic front, the NFA also ceased licensing and registration of grains businessmen, monitoring and inspection of rice businesses and facilities, and enforcement of grains trading rules and regulations, among others.
“We are now in the homestretch of our reorganization, which we are doing within the timeframe given to us,” Escarez said.
Under RA 11203, the NFA is mandated to maintain an optimal level of rice inventory that shall be maintained at any given time to be used for emergency situations and to sustain the disaster relief programs of the government during natural or man-made calamities.
Initially, this optimal level had been set at 15 to 30 days of national daily consumption requirement (DCR) currently pegged at 651,860 bags.
To do this, the agency must buy palay from local farmers. Right now the agency buys palay at P20.40 per kilogram.
From January to May 9 this year, NFA has already bought some 3.6 million bags of palay nationwide.
“We are working hard to meet our buffer stock targets as NFA shifts its focus under the new rice regime. We are optimistic that we will be able to comply with the requirements of the law with the full support and cooperation of our employees who are pouring all efforts to procure as much palay as our farmers are willing to sell to us,” Escarez said.