NFA warns government rice stock gone by April

The National Food Authority (NFA) will ask the NFA Council (NFAC) to reconsider its earlier decision to set the arrival of rice imports in June, as it warned that the government’s stockpile could be wiped out by April.

NFA Administrator Jason L.Y. Aquino also urged lawmakers to convince President Duterte to reschedule the arrival of rice imports before April during the hearing on the food agency’s rice stock conducted by the House of Representatives’s Committee on Agriculture and Food.

“To address this NFA crisis, I would recommend to this body to make an appeal to the President. After all, it is the President who approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons [MT] of rice,” Aquino said at the hearing on February 20. “Immediate importation is the only immediate solution [to address this problem].”

Aquino’s special assistant, lawyer Rachel Miguel, told the BusinessMirror that the NFA would file a request for reconsideration to the NFAC within the week.

“The memorandum is being drafted and, within this week, it will be submitted to the Council. [The ideal time for the arrival of imports] definitely would be before April.”

He revealed that the current stockpile of the NFA, which stands at around 1.1 million 50-kilogram bags, equivalent to 56,100 MT, would be depleted as early as end-March. The volume would last for only 1.7 days.

Aquino said the NFA has further slashed its rice distribution to conserve its dwindling stockpile. “In about 31 to 32 days, the NFA’s rice stock would be gone. By April to May, the NFA will not have rice anymore, as the NFAC allowed imports to arrive in June.”

Party-list Rep. Jose T. Panganiban Jr. of Anac-IP, committee chairman, questioned the NFAC members present during the hearing regarding the timing of the arrival of rice imports. “Why should the imports arrive by June, and not March or April? What kind of policy does the NFA Council have?” Panganiban appealed to the NFAC to reschedule the arrival of rice imports. He said he would write a letter to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr., who chairs the NFAC, to formalize his appeal.

“The price of commercial rice would certainly increase further after [the NFA] admitted that, by April, there will be no more NFA rice. That’s the concern, that’s really the issue here,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, who also attended the hearing, said he does not oppose the idea of allowing rice imports to arrive during the harvest season.

“Even if farmers are already harvesting rice, the Department of Agriculture [DA] will not oppose the importation of the NFA because of the situation right now. It will not affect the farm-gate prices of palay,” Piñol said.

Piñol also said the importation of rice should be undertaken only by the NFA to stabilize prices and ensure the country’s food security. “It is always my position, our intention, that importing rice to provide Filipinos with rice at affordable price and to stabilize price in the market should be controlled by government.” Last week the NFAC approved the importation of 250,000 MT of rice to beef up the food agency’s depleted stockpile, after President Duterte gave his go signal.

Aquino, however, assured that there is no rice shortage in the country, as the total national rice-stock inventory stood at around 2.242 million MT, which would last for 71 days.

The panel chaired by Panganiban also approved a motion to summon in its next hearing 13 rice traders allegedly involved in manipulating rice prices in Metro Manila.

During the committee hearing on the status of the country’s rice supply, Rep. Manuel Luis T. Lopez of the First District of Manila raised the motion to invite 13 rice traders located along Dagupan Street in Tondo, Manila.   The lawmaker asked the NFA and the DA, as well as the Philippine National Police  to inspect the warehouses of the 13 rice traders.

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