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Rice crisis: Time to stop talking and take action

/ 05:01 AM September 04, 2018

Citizens are being hit by a triple whammy because of the current rice crisis under this administration, thanks to the National Food Authority (NFA), the NFA Council, the Department of Agriculture (DA), and rice importers.

Talk about steep rice prices, a dwindling supply and, in the end, our taxes will pay for the ballooning P160-billion debt of the import-inclined NFA.

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A year ago, a debate and intense Palace power struggle ensued among NFA Council’s Leoncio Evasco Jr., NFA Administrator Jason Aquino and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.

They could not agree on whether rice importation should be government to government (G2G) or government to private (G2P) with MAV (minimum access volume) import permits.

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Aquino wanted to import 1 million metric tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam to build up an ideal rice buffer stock, but the NFA Council was against it since it would mean an additional P24-billion loan from Landbank.

The council wanted to leave importation to the private sector as mandated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). But Aquino canceled MAV import permits, saying these were benefiting only rice cartels through their “dummies.”

In April, the President put his foot down, placed the NFA under Piñol (no formal executive order until today) and allowed the G2G importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam. He also revamped the NFA Council and created an executive council committee under him to supervise subsequent importations through “auctions.”

Last week, Mr. Duterte ordered the criminal prosecution of hoarders and unscrupulous rice traders, and a newly created DA-NFA antihoarding team set out to raid an initial five warehouses in Marilao, Bulacan province. A P250,000 reward was also announced for any information leading to the arrest of rice hoarders.

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Before he left for Israel on Sunday, the President said he would use his emergency powers against rice hoarders and raid their warehouses. All tough talk but the thing to watch for is will it lead to a decline in the price of commercial rice?

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Through G2G importation, 250,000 metric tons of rice arrived in the country recently but these were infested by weevil or “bukbok.”

We had the same problem in 2010, when we were literally swimming in NFA rice due to over importation (G2G) by the GMA administration, a practice denounced by PNoy in his first State of the Nation Address. Six years later, the anomalies have worsened.

First, market deliveries were delayed anew by continuous rains. And then bukbok was found in 130,000 sacks of rice on board the ship, MV Tay Son 2, at Subic Bay Freeport.

Another 200,000 sacks were discovered to be infested with bukbok in the MV Emperor 1 docked in Tabaco City, Albay. This meant that a total of 330,000 out of the 500,000 sacks of rice had weevils.

Not to worry, Piñol and the NFA said, because these would be returned while the noninfested rice would undergo 12 days of fumigation.

What happened to Thai and Vietnamese standards? Imagine, more than 50 percent of the total shipment was infested!

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I remember the stories about the NFA’s G2G importation during the previous administration. There were supposed anomalies from the selection of imported rice to the choice of shipping company, in addition to rice smuggling.

Will we see a repeat of these? Just asking!

Please send comments, suggestions to my e-mail address [email protected]

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TAGS: editorial, Food, Metro, metro news, News, NFA, opinion, Philippine news updates, Price, rice
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