REDUCING the cost of rice to somewhere near P20 per kilo should be a staple in the Department of Agriculture’s (DA’s) rice sufficiency plan, especially if it will inch closer to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr.’s ambitious campaign promise.
This was the strong assertion of Deputy Minority Leader and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, as he urged the DA to go back to the drawing board and “complete” its Masagana Rice Industry Development Program (MRIDP) to include a reduced target price for rice by 2028.
“Hindi naman pwedeng wala sa plano ang targeted reduced price, kahit man lang mapababa malapit sa P20 per kilo na pangako ng Pangulo. The DA has to work hard to make rice affordable for a majority of the population,” Hataman, former governor of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said.
“For me, if we are funding the rice development program of the DA on taxpayers’ money, we should be able to see how they intend to reduce the price of rice and at what price is their target. Para naman may benchmark tayo if their programs are working or not, dahil yearly natin silang sisingilin during budget season,” he added.
He said if the target of DA is to reduce the price of rice to anywhere between P27 to P32, like what DA Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla said during Tuesday’s hearing, then they should put it in writing and include it in the Masagana rice program.
Under the DA’s MRIDP, the agency targets to have 97% rice self-sufficiency by 2028 through projects aimed at improving agricultural production in the country, but not a projected reduction in the price of rice.
Hataman raised rice sufficiency concerns yesterday during the DA budget briefing for members of the Committee on Appropriations at the House of Representatives, where members of the agency said that a P20 per kilogram price is unachievable.
“Pag may rice sufficiency plan, hindi lang (dapat) simpleng available ang mga binibili kundi dapat affordable din ito, lalong lalo na po na ang Secretary ng DA ay ang Pangulo and at the same time campaign promise niya ito,” Hataman said during the hearing.
“Kaya ang tanong ko, nakasama ba sa roadmap (for rice sufficiency) natin ang P20 per kilo na bigas, kung hindi 2028, kailan ang projection. Ang mahalaga, nasa plano ng DA,” he added.
To which Leocadio Sebastian, DA Undersecretary for Rice Industry Development, responded, “As the President has also said, that is our aspiration.”
“Ang tanong ko ay kung kasama siya sa plano. Kahit kami, mag-a-aspire kami ng P15 per kilo kung gusto ko. Pero dahil campaign promise ito, nakasama ba ito sa roadmap or sa plano na dapat self-sufficient tayo by 2028?” the Basilan lawmaker stated.
Sombilla said the reduction of the price of rice is indeed included in the rice sufficiency plan, but no figure has been mentioned as a target.
“Actually, doon sa RTL po, sa Rice Tariffication Law, if the same environment would have prevailed, we were really hoping to have stable prices between P27 and P32 (per kilogram) sa regular mill price. Kaya lang, napaka-volatile kasi ng environment,” she said during the hearing.
Although he remained unsatisfied with the response, Hataman said he will just pursue his queries during plenary debates on the national budget for 2024.
The DA is defending a P197.84-billion budget for new appropriations under the National Expenditure Program for 2024.