The government’s plan to import rice following the alleged shortage of government-subsidized rice should be free from any political interference and rely on credible data to avoid rice smuggling, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima said today.
De Lima issued the statement as the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food opens this morning its probe into the alleged conflicting views of the National Food Authority (NFA) and Malacañang officials on the alleged rice shortage in the country.
“There is a need to clarify the conflicting positions of the Duterte Administration on this matter, and to ascertain that government action is dictated by sound policy and based on reliable data in order to eliminate irregularities, such as rice smuggling, that accompany replenishment of NFA stocks through government-to-government importation,” she said.
Last Feb. 14, De Lima has earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 629 calling for a Senate investigation into the reported shortage of NFA’s rice buffer stock leading to a concomitant increase in the prices of rice in the country.
She recalled how NFA Spokesperson Rebecca Olarte announced that the NFA’s buffer stock was down to two days’ worth – or roughly 64,000 metric tons at the end of January, its lowest level in ten years, on Feb. 6.
Malacañang, on the other hand, refuted reports that there exists a rice shortage in the country as Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. claimed that as much as 325,000 metric tons of the staple are being delivered to the country until the end of the month under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme.
De Lima expressed concern over a news report that the rice importation policy of the current administration is embroiled in politics. She noted that NFA Council Chairman Secretary Evasco Jr. is inclined to let the private sector do the importation. Disturbingly, she added that the same report revealed that Special Assistant to the President Secretary Christopher “Bong” Go is favoring the government-to-government importation scheme.
The Senator from Bicol explained that it is the government’s obligation to ensure availability and affordability of rice to its citizens, especially since about 10 million Filipinos depend on the NFA for their rice supply.
“It is the avowed policy of the State to promote food security, including sufficiency in our staple food, by providing adequate support to optimized production to meet local consumption and stabilize its price in our markets,” she said.
In her resolution, De Lima noted that while Executive Order No. 1028 (s. 1985) vested in the NFA the mandate to implement the state policy on food security, Executive Order No. 1 (s. 2016) transferred the supervisory authority over the NFA to the Office of the Cabinet Secretary.
As a result of the alleged dwindling inventory on rice, the NFA stopped supplying rice to its accredited retailers, thus leading to an increase in commercial rice prices of about two pesos per kilo, according to the Grains Retailers’ Confederation of the Philippines Inc. (GRECON).
“This will be a burden to Filipino citizens, especially the poor,” she said.