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NFAC asked to stop private traders from importing rice

  • Written by Ryan Ponce Pacpaco
  • Published in Nation
  • Read: 371

A HOUSE leader has called on the National Food Authority Council (NFAC) to discontinue its
longstanding policy of allowing private traders to import rice, given that certain unscrupulous
grains have cashed-in on this system to corner the bulk of domestic supply and unduly jack up prices
of this staple at the expense of ordinary Filipinos.

Amid the current “artificial” supply problem, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said the
NFA Council should also consider setting up a separate body to monitor the supply and prices of
rice, with the end goal of imposing a price ceiling once retail prices spiral out of control -- in
the same way that the government exercise regulatory control over vital services like electricity
for the protection of consumers.
    
“In the same way that there exists regulatory control on the cost of electricity, there
should also be regulatory control on the price of rice to prevent the profiteering schemes of
unscrupulous traders from upsetting the supply of the staple in the domestic market,” said
Villafuerte, who filed last year a House resolution calling for an inquiry into the true state of
the country’s rice inventory.
    
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, who chairs the House committee on Metro Manila
development, said the government should run after unscrupulous traders who may take advantage of the
situation.
    
“There is no justification for a price increase in view of sufficient supply,” said Castelo
as he cautioned NFA officials from making one-sided statements that tend to cause panic among
consumers.
    
Castelo expressed belief that rice supply would soon stabilize with the importation of
250,000 tons (five million bags) authorized by President Rodrigo Duterte and the additional 350,000
tons or seven million bags to be brought in under the minimum access volume program of the
Department of Agriculture (DA).
    
He said the additional stocks would be on top of the dry season harvest that is coming in.
Villafuerte filed House Resolution (HR) No.  993 last May 2017 amid the then-unstable rice price and
supply scenario in Camarines Sur, or several months before the current situation became a nationwide
problem.
    
The House committee on agriculture and food chaired by ANAC-IP party-list Rep. Jose
Panganiban Jr. conducted a hearing this week in response to probe resolutions separately filed by
Villafuerte and other lawmakers.
    
“We need to fix the existing system to shield both farmers and consumers from the shady
practices of private traders that have left the NFA helpless in carrying out its primary task of
ensuring the stability of the price and supply of rice in the market,” he added.
    
Under the current system, the NFA has the sole authority to import rice, but the NFA Council
allows private traders to similarly purchase stocks from abroad through the NFA.
    
Villafuerte said the NFA Council, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., should do
away with the current system of allowing private traders to facilitate rice importations as “this
setup obviously does not work in the face of the recent price spike of the grain in the retail
market, which could apparently be traced to the hoarding done by unscrupulous businessmen that has
created an artificial supply shortfall.”
    
He said the rule of thumb is that palay (unmilled rice) bought from farmers should only have
a 100-percent markup once milled and sold as rice in retail outlets. “At the current average
farmgate buying price of P20 per kilo of palay, regular milled rice should be sold at around P40
only,” he said. “But right now you, can see that regular-milled commercial rice sells for around P43
to P50 in retail outlets.”
    
Villafuerte said the NFA should also have the power to warehouse rice stocks and distribute
the grain rather than allowing traders to store their imported stocks, which gives them the
opportunity to mix these with their existing inventory and sell them later at higher prices, as what
Piñol had revealed.
    
Villafuerte has pressed the Congress as early as last year to swiftly act on his call for a
public inquiry into the “true state” of the national rice inventory amid all the confusion generated
by the conflicting statements of different government agencies and private grains traders on the
correct supply of this staple stored in NFA warehouses.
    
He cited earlier reports from the NFA that the country has only two day’s worth of milled
rice and government supply of the staple and has been limited in authorized outlets not only in
Bicol, where supply has been diverted to meet the needs of thousands of evacuees affected by Mt.
Mayon’s latest eruption, but in other parts of the country as well.