Importation of rice to stabilize soaring prices too late, says House leader | Inquirer News

Importation of rice to stabilize soaring prices too late, says House leader

/ 07:22 AM August 31, 2018

The government decision to allow the importation of an additional 132,000 metric tons (MT) of rice was laudable but came late, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said Thursday.

Nograles, chair of the House appropriations committee, welcomed the National Food Authority (NFA) Council’s approval of the importation to stabilize soaring rice prices across the country.

But the lawmaker lamented that the action should have been taken earlier to prevent rice prices from getting out of hand.


“As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Nograles said in a statement.


The NFA Council said the 132,000 MT of rice would go to the Zambasulta region—Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi—to solve the rice crisis there.

A shortage of “cheap” NFA rice in the region led local governments to  declare a state of calamity in Zamboanga City and Tawi-Tawi. Prices of commercial rice  shot up to P80 a kilogram in Tawi-Tawi.


A confluence of events—a crackdown on smuggling of rice from Malaysia, depleted NFA supply and the onset of the lean months—resulted in the rice crisis in the region.

It may take two months after the bidding before the imports arrive in the country, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

In the meantime, Piñol said Wednesday, the government would fast-track the arrival of an initial batch.


“The first 32,000 MT will be delivered after its procurement process is completed in 15 to 20 days and that will be good for two months,” said the secretary, who also heads the NFA Council.

The NFA said in a statement on Thursday that it was supplying more than half of Zamboanga’s rice requirements, with about 2,000 bags of rice being deployed to markets every day. Rice variants provided by the agency are retailed at P27 to P32 a kilo, depending on quality.

Nograles said the NFA Council should have foreseen the problem when NFA rice stocks were depleted.

‘Disturbing trend’

According to him, NFA rice stocks in the first half of the year showed “a disturbing trend” that should have prompted “immediate” action.

He cited the NFA rice stock inventory records on the agency’s website, which showed that in January the NFA had 107,200 MT of rice, which dropped to 60,300 MT in February, to 43,500 MT in March, to 12,200 MT in April, to 3,900 MT in May, and finally, to 2,100 MT in June.

These figures, the congressman said, were way below the 15-day buffer—equivalent to 400,000 MT—that the NFA was mandated to maintain during nonlean months.

“When the lean months come in, which will be from June to September, their stock is only 2,000 MT. What did they do? This is one of the questions we will be asking NFA (officials) when they face the appropriations committee on Monday,” Nograles said.

Lift quotas

House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. called for long-term but effective solutions to avoid a repeat of what he described as the “turbulence” rocking the rice sector.

“The sooner we institutionalize a rules-based system of importing rice, the better. That’s the only way of legally bringing in rice, all other methods are smuggling,” Andaya said in a statement.

The chamber recently passed the rice tarrification bill. Andaya said the Senate should do the same but added that replacing quantitative import restrictions with duties was only one of the ways to make rice affordable and abundant.

The 200,000 bags of rice imported from Thailand that arrived at the port of Tabaco City two weeks ago are ready for discharge from the MV Emperor 1 and distribution to consumers in Bicol after the seven-day fumigation and 24-hour aeration.

The rice, which was initially found to be infested with weevils (“bukbok”), is now cleared of pests, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Quarantine Service.

Phosphine tablets were used to fumigate the rice, said Danilo Doblon, regional manager of the BPI Quarantine Service. The tablets melted and turned into gas, eliminating the pests.

‘Terrible’ performance

In the Senate, Sen. Joel Villanueva rated Piñol’s performance as “terrible” after the latter suggested legalizing rice smuggling in some parts of Mindanao to ease the rice crisis.

The senator took exception to the agriculture chief’s statement that the government’s move against smuggling had resulted in the rice shortage in certain areas.

There have been calls for Piñol and NFA Administrator Jason Aquino to resign because of the rice crisis. Others also want the NFA abolished.

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Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the agriculture secretary still enjoyed the trust and confidence of President Duterte. —REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, KARL R. OCAMPO, MAILA AGER, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO AND MICHAEL JAUCIAN

TAGS: Agriculture, Food, importation, Local news, Manny Piñol, Nation, national news, News, NFA, Prices, Regions, rice, Smuggling

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