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More gov’t-to-gov’t rice imports feared as Davao cargo kept on hold

/ 02:41 AM November 06, 2013

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—A meeting of the highest policy-making body on food supply may yet result in more government-to-government deals to import rice, which would mean more public funds being used for duties instead of projects for the improvement of farm yield, according to a top critic of the government’s food sufficiency program.

The meeting of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, considered to be the highest policy-making body on rice and food supply, comes in the wake of the withholding of several rice shipments in this port that are being checked for import permits, prompting the shipments’ importers to cry foul.

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The meeting would be the first for the NFA Council following allegations that a government-to-government deal to import rice from Vietnam had been overpriced by at least P400 million.

Lawyer Argee Guevarra, of the militant group Sanlakas and who exposed the overpricing, said another government-to-government deal to import rice may be approved by the council.

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“The council used to be convened at least once every month, or even more when there are urgent matters that require its attention,” Guevarra said in a statement.

“Why is it being convened only now, when alleged anomalies, high rice prices and questions regarding rice supply have been raised since August this year?” he said.

“It’s possible that they plan on using these issues to again push for their anomalous G-to-G importation scheme,” he added.

The DA’s rice sufficiency targets had been put into question following the testimony in Congress by Assistant Agriculture Secretary Romeo Recide who said actual yield would be short by at least 500,000 metric tons of the target.

“Experts from government, the private sector and the academe all agree that public funds are better spent on agricultural infrastructure, irrigation, and post-harvest facilities,” Guevarra said.

In April, the government spent at least P4 billion, not including duties and taxes, to import 205,700 MT of rice from Vietnam.

The NFA Council is chaired by the agriculture secretary while the NFA administrator sits as vice chair. It counts among its members representatives of farmers, Office of the President, Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank of the Philippines and Philippine National Bank.

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One of its mandates is to determine the amount of rice to be imported in a given year, based on the recommendations of the Department of Agriculture.

Filemon Cangrejo, manager of the NFA in Davao, said Presidential Decree No. 4 required the NFA to demand import permits for rice shipments.

At least 107 container vans of rice are on hold at the customs area here for lacking import permits. With a report from Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Argee Guevarra, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Davao cargo, Food supply, Import Rice, National Food Authority, NFA Council, Public funds, Sanlakas
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