An umbrella consumer group on Monday called on the government to intensify its efforts to curb rice smuggling, which has affected the livelihood of marginalized palay farmers as well as the overall economy.
Bency Ellorin, spokesperson for the National Coalition of Filipino Consumers (NCFC), said that the continued proliferation of rice smuggling has adverse consequences on the income of Filipino rice farmers, noting that smuggled rice costs only P903 per bag, much lower compared to the average P1,500 per bag being sold by local farmers.
Data from the Bureau of Agricultur Statistics show that only 692,220 metric tons or 13.8 million bags in 2012 came in through official channels, while more than 16 million bags were wrongfully declared as construction materials.
The group earlier alleged that Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. (HCPTI) has been used as a transshipment point for rice, which is illegal.
NCFC insisted that the government allows only two ports—International Container Terminal Services Inc. and South Harbor Center—as transshipment hubs for rice shipments.
“This is the reason we are calling the attention of the National Food Authority to inspect the facility and probe reports of rice smuggling and other illegal activities,” Ellorin said.
The group also called on Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, to look into reports of smuggling activities inside HCPTI.
“Senator Villar should ensure that our consumers are protected. For the longest time, we have been receiving information that HCPTI has been keeping tons of NFA rice without accreditation from the NFA,” Ellorin said.
“We are sure that it’s not only HCPTI, but there are other unscrupulous businessmen who blatantly violate Republic Act 7581, or the Price Act,” he added.
NCFC said it will urge Villar to put in place more stringent laws against hoarding and smuggling.
NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay said that HCPTI is only being used as a transshipment point for rice imported from Vietnam—from the vessel to the trucks—before these are delivered to NFA-designated warehouses.
The state-run food agency made the statement after it investigated the charges made by NCFC that HCPTI does not have the requisite permits to store NFA rice.
Based on the food agency’s investigation, HCPTI was contracted by Golden Orient Ship Management and Agencies Inc., the cargo handler hired locally by Vina Foods Inc., which is the supplier of rice procured recently from Vietnam.
Dalisay said that under the terms of reference of the government-to-government procurement scheme of standby stocks in preparation for El Niño, the price per metric ton of the imported rice includes the cost, insurance and freight.
He said this means the winning supplier shall deliver the goods —free of obligation and expenses on the part of the government— to the NFA’s designated warehouse.
According to Dalisay, Vina Foods Inc. contracted its own shipping vessels and cargo handlers. He said the NFA will only accept good-quality stocks in accordance with th e specification.