‘Only NFAC can talk about rice situation’

Malacañang has ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to desist from  making pronouncements about the current rice situation, saying the food agency’s statements about its stockpile may have caused the recent increase in rice prices.

Starting on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. said the NFA Council (NFAC)—the highest policy-making body of the NFA—s the only one authorized to speak on the country’s rice situation.

“During the Cabinet meeting on Monday, there was an acknowledgment that the statements made by NFA Administrator Jason L.Y. Aquino caused panic, which probably caused prices to rise,” Roque told reporters in a news briefing in Malacañang.

Roque also said there was “some disagreement” on the figures presented by the NFAC on Monday but, “ultimately, there was agreement that there is no rice shortage.” He added, however, that Aquino did not attend the Cabinet meeting.

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“The President instructed that there will be a cluster Cabinet meeting for about two hours in the next Cabinet meeting next month, and Aquino will be invited to that meeting,” he said.

Roque said the NFAC told the members of the Cabinet that there is “absolutely no shortage of rice.”

In January the NFA revealed that its stockpile has fallen to less than 100,000 metric tons (MT), or equivalent to three days of national consumption. The food agency attached to the President had urged the NFAC to import rice to beef up its dwindling stockpile.

The NFAC green-lighted the proposal of the food agency to import, but its requested volume of 250,000 MT would only arrive in June, after rice farmers have harvested the dry-season crop.

Because it has been mandated to ensure national food security and stable prices, the NFA buys paddy from farmers and imports rice. Part of its stockpile is sold to the poor at a lower price.

“The reality is that NFA rice constitutes just a fraction of the Philippines’s rice supply. The bulk of our national inventory constitutes commercial rice. Henceforth, it will be the NFAC that shall speak on the current rice situation,” Roque said.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told the BusinessMirror that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is not covered by the President’s directive.

“[The order] only pertains to the rice supply of the NFA. The DA can always report on the country’s rice output. Besides, we are not part of the NFAC,” Piñol said.

Piñol disclosed that it was Roque himself who made the proposal to task the NFAC to speak on the NFA’s rice situation to ensure that the public would get only “accurate information.”

With Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas

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Turning Points 2018