Senators remain divided on what to do with NFA

In Photo: NFA rice kept at the National Food Authority warehouse in Quezon City.

Senate leaders are divided on calls to abolish the National Food Authority (NFA), amid raging controversies hounding the agency.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III indicated he is not inclined to readily join the mounting clamor to close down the NFA for alleged failure to deliver on its mandate until after a hearing on the pros and cons of the food agency’s abolition.

“I will listen first,” Sotto said on Monday when asked if he would support calls to abolish the NFA.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, however, affirmed support for the NFA shutdown option. “Yes, it [NFA] is a total failure,” Drilon said in a text message to the BusinessMirror.

Sen. Francis N. Pangilinan, Drilon’s ally in the minority bloc, however, took the opposite view when asked the same question. “No. We still need an agency that will ensure we have rice buffer stocks from which we can draw [our] rice needs in times of natural and man-made calamities or disasters.”

“We cannot rely on the private sector to do this,”  Pangilinan added.

But Sen. Richard J. Gordon, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Accountability and Investigations (Blue Ribbon), suggested there may be a need to consider a leadership revamp at the NFA to ensure it delivers on its mandate.

“Maybe change the [NFA] director,” Gordon said.

But Sen. Gregorio B. Honasan II told the BusinessMirror the policy- makers must first obtain  “timely and accurate information” before making a decision to abolish the NFA.

“What does the data [about] NFA’s historical performance tell us? Are the problems systemic or institutional? Are the variables related to production, supply, distribution, pricing, importation  and even smuggling controlled by the NFA?” Honasan asked, adding “we need complete, timely and accurate information to make an informed policy decision beyond abolition.”

In an earlier interview during an out of town sortie, Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, indicated lawmakers are poised to pass a tarrification bill, as the government is on the verge of liberalizing of rice importation.

“We just have to impose tariff to protect our local farmers,” Villar said, adding “once it is done, I think there is no need for NFA, I think they will abolish NFA.”

 

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes

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Butch Fernandez is BusinessMirror’s senior political reporter based at the Senate. He has covered Malacanang (3 presidencies), the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, local governments and defense since 1984.

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