• Congress seeks to unravel rice ‘mystery’

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    The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) will have their hands full this week when the Senate starts its investigation on the country’s rice situation. At the House of Representatives, the Magdalo party-list filed a resolution seeking a parallel probe into the rice “mystery.”

    In an interview, Magdalo party-list Representatives Gary Alejano and Francisco Ashley Acedillo said they are set to file a resolution calling for a similar investigation in the House of Representatives, “with the intention of leaving no stone unturned to ferret out the truth amidst conflicting statements in media.

    “While news items of progressive price hikes and persistent allegations of corruption in the DA and NFA importation of rice may have precipitated the need for an investigation, this will be but starting points to a more thorough review of our self-sufficiency roadmaps and these agencies’ performance relative thereto,” said the lawmakers.

    Targets and policies on rice self-sufficiency are contained in the 2011-2016 Philippine Food Staples Self-sufficiency Roadmap (FSSR). The FSSR sets 2013 as the year within which the country should be rice self-sufficient.

    “The DA and NFA current rice self-sufficiency programs are inextricably the product of the FSSR. But while there is already a disparity between this year’s rice production target of 20.4 million metric tons and the 18.45 million metric tons that we may realistically produce by the end of the year, the FSSR, on paper, says we should be producing 21.11 million metric tons if we were to be truly rice self-sufficient this year,” said Alejano.

    “By that alone, measured against targets and deadlines they have set for themselves, the DA and the NFA need to explain their inability to meet their targets and ensure adequate, affordable rice supplies,” he added.

    Also among the strategies the FSSR recommends adopting to achieve rice self-sufficiency in 2013 is to allow the quantitative restriction on imported rice to expire in 2012 and to replace this with quantitative tariffs.

    “These have obviously not been done. Instead, the NFA has designated itself as the country’s sole importer of rice. Without prejudging either the DA or the NFA, we want to know why the policy shift in implementation,” Acedillo said.

    Several groups had previously alleged overpricing to the tune of P500 million in the NFA’s supposedly “monopolistic” rice importation transactions.

    The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas on Friday also warned of an intense rice crisis that “would lead to the eruption of the country’s social volcano.”

    Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on Agriculture, responding to Sen. Loren Le-garda’s resolution calling for an investigation into the country’s rice situation, said the inquiry will be conducted this week, and will be expanded to include other concerns such as the smuggling of rice and onions.

    “More importantly, we are preventing what may amount to P2 billion in losses to government coffers, if news reports of overpricing are indeed true. That’s no less than economic sabotage and profiteering,” added Acedillo.

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