P2-B loss from rice importation seen by end of year

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LUCENA CITY—The head of a national consumers’ cooperative on Monday warned that the government stands to lose at least P2 billion by the end of the year from a “flawed and graft-prone rice importation” scheme being implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the National Food Authority (NFA).

Lawyer Tonike Padilla, head of Ang Gawad Pinoy Consumers Cooperative, pointed to the “monopolized” rice importation by the DA and NFA and cited an opinion from the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) to strengthen his claim.

“Even the Neda believes that the NFA’s role should be limited to increasing domestic procurement of palay and reducing importation for buffer stocking, as well as encouraging the private sector’s primary role in rice importation,” Padilla said in a statement.

But he noted that during the first half of this year alone, the NFA paid P1.7 billion in duties and taxes for rice imports.

“An amount that should have otherwise been paid by the private sector and received as revenues for the government had the DA-NFA not insisted on its monopolistic G2G (government to government) scheme,” he added.

Padilla also alleged that at least P457 million in public funds have been lost, due to corruption, on the importation of rice from Vietnam last April.

“In NFA’s April importation alone, the prevailing price per MT (metric ton) of rice in Vietnam ranged from $360 to $365 per MT. But the government, using public funds, paid an overpriced $459.75 per MT for the transaction,” Padilla said.

“Multiply these figures by 450 percent should the November G2G importation proceed and P2 billion shall have been lost to corruption,” the lawyer said.

But NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag, in a statement posted on the NFA website on April 30, defended the cost of rice imports from Vietnam.

He said the quoted price by the exporter is lower than the tender made by Thailand, another export bidder.

Padilla, in his statement, also said President Aquino may have been fed with erroneous data on government rice importation.

“We did not import 187,000 metric tons (MT) of rice in 2013, as he (Mr. Aquino) claimed in his July SONA (State of the Nation Address). We imported more—a total of P205,700 MT as of April of this year,” Padilla said.

In a separate statement, the militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called on Congress to investigate what it described as “artificial palay shortage” hatched by rice cartels and the reported overpricing of P457 million in rice imported from Vietnam.

“It is high time to unmask more Napoleses in government and more rice cartel-led bogus farmer-cooperatives given rice importation permits by their protectors in the Aquino administration,” said KMP secretary general Antonio Flores in a statement.

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