132,000-MT rice import OK’d

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We can’t impose SRP on rice and fish, DTI tells solons

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol bared this Wednesday after attending an emergency meeting with the members of the NFA Council, the highest policy-making body of the NFA, regarding the rice smuggling and supply issues in Zambasulta. The Price of rice in these areas has shot up as high as P70 per kilo.

But apart from the four areas, an industry source assured that no other area in Mindanao is poised to face the same problem. South Cotabato has plenty of rice farms. Butuan has plenty of rice farms. It’s really only there (in Zamboanga) because it is controlled by certain people. The Bureau of Customs there, they all receive money out of it,” the source said.

In the meantime, Piñol said the government will fast-track the immediate importation of the first 32,000 MT of rice for Zambasulta.

“The first 32,000 MT will be delivered after its procurement process is completed in 15 to 20 days and that will be good for two months,” Piñol told reporters after his meeting with NFA Council.

Mercedita Sombilla, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environment Staff, said the bidding process for this MAV importation should happen within the next couple of weeks.

“The 32,000 MT of rice should arrive in 15 days. It will take two months for all the 100,000 MT to arrive. I think the bidders have been identified already so it won’t take awhile to award permit contracts,” Sombilla said.

For the longest time, Zamboanga City and the three island provinces have relied on smuggled rice from either Vietnam or Thailand brought in as transhipment via Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia.

But a few weeks ago, Malaysia closed the borders, effectively stopping rice smuggling. Caught off guard, rice traders suddenly scrambled to source rice from other areas since it was also off-harvest season.

In just a matter of days, prices of rice went up from about P38 per kilo as high as P70 per kilo, prompting the local government to declare a state of calamity in the province.

SRP on rice, fish

With the government scrambling to find the right solution to the rice crisis and some sectors calling for price control, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez told congressmen that the agency doesn’t have the authority to compel retailers of agricultural goods to follow a suggested retail price (SRP), which it defined as practically a price ceiling.

If it’s any consolation, Lopez said the DTI is now assisting the Department of Agriculture (DA) – the agency that does have jurisdiction over these goods – in monitoring product prices in the market.

“I’ll go to agricultural products. This is covered by the DA but we have extended our assistance. We told them we would help you in price monitoring and pass on information about retailers going beyond the SRP,” he said during DTI’s budget hearing Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate probe

As this developed, the Senate minority bloc demanded a full-blown Senate public hearing, in aid of legislation, on the rice crisis in Zamboanga City and the eight-month increase in rice prices in the country.

In Senate Resolution 868 they filed Wednesday, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the NFA “must be held accountable and must see to it that cheap and quality rice is available in the market.”

They said the NFA “must explain the said shortage, the alleged hoarding, and how the situation in Zamboanga City reached calamity level.”

Pangilinan and Aquino said the public must be informed of how NFA is trying to solve the crisis situation so that “unscrupulous traders and other influential forces

in and out of government are not able to manipulate the procurement process and the availability of rice stocks.”
As if the current NFA problem is not enough, industry lobby group Samahang Industriya sa Agrikultura (SINAG) filed Wednesday graft charges against NFA

Administrator Jason Aquino and NFA’s accounting manager Gerry Ambrosio for allegedly diverting P5.1-billion worth of subsidies to pay the agency’s debt. Both officials could not be reached for comment.

“The case we are filing against officials of the NFA at the Ombudsman is the industry’s first collective response to the series of recent bad decisions of the NFA and the Department of Agriculture,” SINAG chair Rosendo So said.

Sen. Aquino said the removal of the NFA chief will help resolve the rice crisis.

The senator from Tarlac said Aquino insisted that the root cause of the rice crisis is gross mismanagement of the NFA.


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