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Solon: NFA rice diversion led to shortage

SELLING STATION NFA rice is sold at barangay stations in Zamboanga City to make it available to the communities. —JULIE ALIPALA

The rice shortage has hit not only Batanes but also Tawi-Tawi—the northernmost and southernmost provinces, respectively—forcing the administration to divert supply meant for other areas to those hit hard the most, reports reaching the Inquirer showed.

Rice supply allocated for other regions has been sent to the Zamboanga Peninsula to ease the severe shortage in Zamboanga City following the surge in the price of the staple to P70 a kilo. The shortfall prompted the city government to declare a state of calamity.

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Rep. Karlo Nograles, chair of the House appropriations committee, said he found that the National Food Authority (NFA) had sent additional sacks of rice to Zamboanga from stocks meant for Northern Mindanao.

Nograles said the diversion of stocks was “very worrisome.”

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Cagayan de Oro retailers

The Davao City lawmaker said he learned from rice retailers in Cagayan de Oro City that they were receiving only 25 sacks of NFA rice a week, down from the previous 100 sacks.

“Because of this, the people were fighting over the supply of NFA rice,” he said.

Nograles said the “absence of cheaper alternatives in the form of NFA rice has allowed commercial rice suppliers to dictate prices in the market.” (See related story on page B6.)

He said he visited Cagayan de Oro in response to the challenge of NFA Administrator Jason Aquino for lawmakers to drop by marketplaces around the country to find out the real reason behind the surge in rice prices.

The escalation of prices nationwide largely stems from the depletion of stocks of the NFA, which is tasked with ensuring a stable supply and prices of rice.

In Batanes, the supply of cheap rice from the NFA is dwindling fast. Provincial officials are asking the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the military to fly in emergency supplies.

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No NFA rice in Itbayat

Itbayat town has run out of NFA rice, according to Mayor Raul de Sagon. He said the last 60 sacks had been distributed to poor families last week.

The NFA warehouse in Basco, the capital town, had 280 sacks as of Aug. 24, but huge sea waves had prevented the agency from ferrying 60 sacks to Itbayat, said Philip Cesar Rumbaoa, the officer in charge of the NFA office in Batanes.

Rumbaoa said the monsoon rains that had been battering Northern Luzon since last week also delayed a shipment of 3,000 bags of rice to Batanes.

The province relies on NFA allocations because commercial rice sells from P65 to P72 a kilo. Most residents prefer NFA rice, which retails for P32 a kilo.

On Monday, a small vessel tried to brave the waves but failed to deliver eight sacks of rice to Itbayat. The town has an airstrip on which a military plane can land, said Gov. Marilou Cayco, who contacted the OCD and the Philippine Air Force to airlift 500 bags of rice.

Zamboanga crisis

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol declared on Saturday that the rice crisis in Zamboanga City was over.

Piñol said he had recommended to President Duterte that an additional 203,000 bags of rice be made available to Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to prevent the rice shortage from recurring.

He said most of the warehouses in Zamboanga City had been filled with stocks from neighboring provinces—Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and parts of Cotabato.

Rice from Zamboanga Sibugay and North Cotabato is starting to flood the city markets.

Prices still up

Prices are still up, however. These ranged from P58 to P60 a kilo.

Piñol is optimistic prices will go down. “Soon, supplies will stabilize,” he said.

He blamed the price increases on traders who bought rice at a higher price earlier.

Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were not just receiving 10,000 bags each from the NFA, Piñol said. “An additional 20,000 bags have been committed to them to address the shortage while waiting for augmentation from [other] provinces.”

The secretary attributed the rice crisis that hit Zamboanga to the disruption in the smuggling of rice from Malaysia.

Calls for NFA abolition

The rice shortage and steep prices have prompted calls from lawmakers to abolish the NFA.

“Ask the farmers, consumers and stakeholders. Not us,” NFA spokesperson Rex Estoperez said on Monday when asked about the calls to dismantle the agency.

Anac-IP Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr., House agriculture and food committee chair, said scrapping the NFA would not do the country any good.

Nograles dared NFA officials to deal with the rice shortage or relinquish their posts promptly.

Pest-infested

The NFA has imported rice to shore up its stocks, but at least two shiploads are infested with weevils (“bukbok”).

Panganiban slammed NFA officials for claiming that the infested rice was safe for human consumption even after fumigation.

“It’s not acceptable. That’s irresponsible,” he said at a news conference. —WITH A REPORT FROM KARL R. OCAMPO

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TAGS: Duterte Administration, International news, Philippine news updates, rice, rice importation, rice shortage, Zamboanga City
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