• ‘Available rice more or less still overpriced’

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    Activist lawyer Argee Guevarra, who first exposed the alleged P500-million scam in a single NFA rice importation deal with Vietnam, criticized officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA), for denying any anomaly in the transaction.

    Reacting to NFA Deputy Administrator Ludovico Jarina’s statement last week belying the lawyer’s accusations, Guevarra said on Tuesday that, “Jarina’s plain denial is swallowed by the public with a grain of salt amidst spiraling rice prices.”

    Guevarra is set to face off with DA and NFA officials in a Congressional inquiry before the House Committee on Food Security on Thursday.

    “Let us disabuse ourselves from this blanket and default defense that all criticisms directed at government officials are politically motivated smear campaigns. This is plain squid tactic,” said Guevarra.

    “The DA and NFA should start talking in terms of verifiable facts and figures, especially when they undergo grilling before the Lower House, where their anomalous importations and corrupt practices have taken them, first with Napoles pork and now, this Molso Rice,” the lawyer asserted.

    Molso, he explained, stands for “more or less still overpriced” rice.

    Jarina last week dismissed Guevarra’s allegation of P457 million overpricing in its April 2013 rice importation as a “smear campaign hatched by groups opposed to reforms being implemented within the NFA.”

    “What reforms is he talking about? Does he refer to the ‘reform’ of monopolizing the country’s importation of rice so they can assume the role of a public sector Mafia that maintains a stranglehold on the people’s daily staple? Why import overpriced rice when NFA insiders admit that the NFA hasn’t even finished unloading its 2008 rice stock? It seems that that the GMA-era Mafia in the NFA has either burrowed itself deep into the NFA infrastructure or the racket was simply hijacked by a new set of rice profiteers masquerading as ‘reformist’ bureaucrats.”

    Too, the lawyer bashed Jarina’s defense that 18,700 metric tons (MT) of the total 205,700MT importation was “authorized” under the so-called Molso (more or less at supplier’s option) provision of the NFA’s government-to-government contract with Vietnam.

    Molso
    “If this is the case, Molso should just be introduced into the market as Molso Rice: More-Or-Less Still Overpriced,” Guevarra quipped.

    “And I have the documents to prove so, from the NFA Administrator Orlando Calayag’s talking points with the Vietnamese Ambassador where he admitted that this so-called Molso was not covered by the Tax Expenditure Subsidy [TES] of the DOF [Department of Finance], and that it will be a violation of existing Philippine Accounting and Auditing rules and regulations, to a letter signed by Jarina himself admitting that the NFA Council had not, at the time of the transaction, approved the additional 18,700MT under this Molso,” he added.

    As to the NFA’s claim that it has saved the country nearly a hundred million pesos as their transaction included handling and freight costs, Guevarra had this to say: “There will still be a $100 difference, the minimum export price [MEP] of Vietnam being $365 per MT; and even assuming their claim that the price of their imported rice was inclusive of handling and delivery, the handling of goods from Philippine ports to the NFA warehouses costs only $22 per MT while the vessel freight cost amounts to no more than $25 per MT. Doing the math, NFA still has to explain the missing $36.74 per MT.”

    “It is an impossibility for NFA to claim to have saved P100 million while pocketing 400 [million pesos]more from a grossly anomalous transaction. This should be the NFA’s version of dagdag-bawas. Bago pa isaing ang kilong bigas ni Juan, ito pala ay nabawasan na ng isang salop at napunta sa bulsa ng mga kawatan.”

    Bulk price stabilize
    Prices of commercial rice have started to stabilize as the government intensified palay procurement and presence in the market, the NFA said on Wednesday.

    At the Intercity in Bulacan, prices of commercial premium quality rice were monitored to have gone down from P1,920 per bag to P1,880/bag; while medium quality rice from P1,820/bag to P1,780/sack; and imported premium quality at P1,800/bag to P1,750/bag.

    In a statement, NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag said the food agency will continue to monitor markets especially those with price increases in the past weeks. Calayag said the NFA will ensure that no NFA rice will be overpriced or diverted and sold as commercial rice, adding that market supervisors were dispatched in addition to monitoring teams that are already in place.

    The food agency will continue to maintain its monitoring teams in these markets to ensure the presence of affordable, good quality NFA rice. The NFA sells regular-milled rice at P27/kg and well-milled rice at P32/kg.

    Calayag warned that the government would not hesitate to file charges of economic sabotage against unscrupulous traders who will be found manipulating the current rice market situation.

    No shortage
    The NFA chief also reiterated that there is no shortage of the staple as national rice inventory is recorded at 1.7 million metric tons or 34,282,000 bags, enough to last for 51 days.

    Earlier, Calayag called on NFA employees to be vigilant for any unwarranted movements in rice supply and prices, as it warned from taking advantage of the current situation in the grains industry.

    He said that rice traders, particularly those affected by the massive cut in imports, are currently engaged in a media campaign to disrupt efforts to cleanse and to effect true and meaningful reforms to make the agency more efficient and effective in complying with its twin mandate of ensuring food security and stabilizing the price of rice in the market.

    The NFA also reported that it is starting to intensify palay procurement in various areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that have started to harvest their main crop. This will augment the current government rice stocks

    From January to August 2013, NFA palay procurement reached 281,767 metric tons, or 312.46 percent higher that the procurement for the same period last year of 68,313 metric tons.

    WITH REPORT FROM JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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