Rosendo So

RICE IMPORTS BUCKED

August 20, 2023 People's Journal 345 views

SINAG: Abolish NFA for preferring imports over PH rice

THE head of farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), Rosendo So, is calling for the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA) over what he said was the agency’s preference to import rice rather than buy from Filipino farmers.

In a statement, So said the latest showcase of the NFA’s skewed preference for imported rice was the ongoing negotiations with India for rice procurement.

“They’re not buying from our farmers anymore. They’re buying from Vietnam, India. They’re negotiating on rice. What’s this!,” So lamented.

The SINAG chair also expressed fear that funds for buying local produce might be diverted to the procurement of rice from India.

“The NFA power is to buy palay isn’t it?” said So. “What are they doing negotiating with India to buy rice?”

“They might use the money allocated to buy domestically produced palay to acquire imported rice again,” So added, referring to the agency’s P8.5 billion available funds for procurement of rice.

Also, the NFA’s tack seems to be contrary to the policy of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. who wants to ramp up domestic production in agriculture.

“For the past administration, the direction was to import,” So said.

“In President Marcos Jr.’s administration, he wants local production, so a lot of Filipino farmers were encouraged to return to farming but then again the NFA’s policy seems contrary to this,” So said.

If the NFA will not help the country’s grain and farming industry by buying domestically produced rice then the agency should be abolished, he added.

“Since they are running contrary to the President, the NFA is not helping by buying ‘palay,’ then we should just abolish the NFA,” So lamented.

The SINAG chair also questioned the NFA’s decision to source Philippine rice stocks from abroad when it could buy rice at a much lower rate in the country’s other agricultural regions.

He cited Philippine Statistic Authority (PSA) data showing average buying rates for a kilogram of domestically produced palay was between PHP18.50 to PHP19.

The NFA can always look for prices lower than these in other regions, according to So.

“Buying rates in other areas are lower, so they should have bought there, right? They should have bought there already,” So said.

“If you are comparing price ranges, especially in Nueva Ecija, prices there are really high. But if you will check on Mindoro and other areas, prices there are lower,” he said.

So also scored the NFA for justifying importation by announcing it has only 46,000 metric tons of rice left in its inventory, which is good for just 1.3 days.

But this is the fault of the NFA, So said, since it has not been buying locally-produced rice to add to its stock.

“That is their fault, why did they not buy more palay in the first place? That is their mandate, which is to buy locally produced palay,” said So.

He recalled the NFA saying at a congressional hearing that it still has P8.5 billion left for rice procurement, which was enough to buy palay at P19 per kilo.

So said the amount of palay that can be bought with P8.5 billion translates into 290,789 metric tons of rice which is more than enough to boost the country’s buffer stock.

The Philippines’ daily consumption rate of rice is 35,000 metric tons.

“The NFA should have sufficient buffer stock if they bought ‘palay’ ahead of time, the problem is they did not buy any,” So said.”

The SINAG chair earlier said that charges are to be filed at the Office of the Ombudsman against officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and NFA who are part of a “mission” to exempt the Philippines from India’s rice export ban.

So made this comment after noting that NFA administrator Robert Bioco was absent at a hearing of the House committee on agriculture and food about rice supply as Bioco was in India.

“The question is why are the NFA (officials) in India when they are not allowed to import,” So said, referring to the provisions of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or Republic Act 11203 prohibiting NFA from importing rice.

Aside from Bioco, the DA has confirmed that Assistant Agriculture Secretary for Operations Arnel de Mesa is also part of the delegation in India.

“We will file cases against them before the Office of the Ombudsman just like what we did in 2018 when they used the budget for the procurement of palay in the importation of rice,” So noted.

SINAG had sued former NFA administrator Jason Aquino and accounting services department manager Gerry Ambrocio for technical malversation and graft at the Ombudsman over the use of P5.1 billion in NFA funds.

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