In Pampanga, prisoners risk going ‘riceless’
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A total of 2,533 detainees at the Pampanga provincial jail here stand to go without rice once the National Food Authority (NFA) stops replenishing its stocks in the market next month, Gov. Lilia Pineda said on Monday.
Pineda said the provincial government would need additional funds to buy commercial rice that costs a minimum of P2,200 a cavan (50 kilograms).
The provincial government buys NFA rice at P1,300 a cavan. Stores in the local market sell a kilogram of NFA rice at P27 to P32. The agency’s stocks are mostly imported.
The NFA plans to import more rice but this has been opposed by farmers who want the government to buy local rice instead.
To feed the detainees, 70 percent of whom are standing trial for drug charges, the provincial jail uses more than 110 cavans weekly, or an average of 460 cavans monthly, according to warden Edwin Mangaliman.
As of Monday, he said the prison’s stock stood at 542 cavans.
Rex Estoperez, NFA director in Central Luzon, allayed fears of shortage, saying the current stocks in the region total 45,000 cavans.
These are available to institutional buyers like local governments, he said.
Central Luzon produced more rice in 2017, according to data obtained by the Inquirer from the regional Department of Agriculture (DA). The region generated 3.635 million metric tons (MMT) of palay, with more than 50 percent of these grown in Nueva Ecija province.
Yield increased from 1.794 MMT in January to June to 1.841 MMT in July to December.
“It’s most likely that the NFA bought a small volume [of local rice] because Central Luzon traders buy at prices higher than its buying price of P17 a kilogram,” said Roy Abaya, DA Central Luzon director.
Cathy Estavillo of the group Bantay Bigas said NFA officials and traders were the “biggest winners when we import rice.”
“Corrupt NFA officials and devious traders will reap the most benefits in the impending rice importation,” she said in a statement.
She said the importation was “very dubious as it contradicted Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s statement that the country had a 96-day buffer stock, which was one of the biggest inventories in recent years resulting from a 19.4 MMT harvest last 2017.” —TONETTE OREJAS
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