Aquino eyes adding seized rice to PH buffer stock
MANILA, Philippines—President Aquino has asked the National Food Authority (NFA) to discuss with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) how it can purchase 50,000 metric tons of rice seized from illegal shipments to add to the former’s buffer stock.
Presidential assistant Francis Pangilinan told a public hearing at the House of Representatives on Tuesday that Mr. Aquino gave the order during a meeting last week in response to concerns that the seized rice would only be bought back by the smugglers themselves.
“The NFA and BOC are supposed to sit down and discuss how the NFA can acquire the seized rice. That’s the [President’s] marching order,” he said at the joint hearing held by the House committee on agriculture and food and the special committee on food security.
It was Deputy Customs Commissioner Jessie Dellosa who revealed that the BOC held that much rice – equivalent to more than 1 million bags – in its inventory, some of which have been in storage for 10 months now.
Pangilinan said the President was told during a meeting last Thursday, that only about 20,000 metric tons of smuggled rice were in the custody of the BOC, but the same principle should apply.
Dellosa noted that there might be tariff-related restrictions on the sale of the seized rice. “I think we have to wait for the official announcement of WTO [World Trade Organization] general council. But if the Office of the President will direct us, there is no problem,” he said.
But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said there should be no such complication.
“This is a local concern. The law states that we can restrict imports because only the NFA is the authorized importer. You have the authority [over the smuggled rice]. You can dispose it immediately,” he said.
Pangilinan, who was appointed presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization in May, said the price of the staple has stabilized, as of Tuesday, compared to a few months ago.
“The price of rice may not fall for now – there are places it fell by P1 or P2 – at least it’s no longer rising like in the past two months. It has stabilized as of now,” he said.
He said NFA rice, selling at P27 to P32 per kilogram at a quality “comparable to well-milled commercial rice,” continued to be accessible to Filipinos.
The Philippines is poised to import an additional 200,000 metric tons of rice to replenish NFA stocks, in addition to the 400,000 metric tons that recently came in, and another 400,000 that will be brought in at the end of September.
“Shortage of supply does not exist. There’s a slight tightening, but we’re addressing the issue,” he told reporters upon leaving.
Pangilinan also told the committees that he supported moves to impose a standard retail price (SRP) on agricultural commodities, including rice, garlic and other vegetables whose prices have soared in the past months.
He said that was also discussed in the meeting with Mr. Aquino, and that it would now be up to the Department of Trade and Industry when to implement it.
Asked by Rep. Colmenares for his opinion on imposing a price ceiling instead of an SRP, Pangilinan said he would need to look at the figures first.
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