A lawmaker pressed on the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA) officials on Thursday to stick with the government’s plan to ensure the country’s rice sufficiency by 2016.
At the House of Representatives’ Committee Hearing on Agriculture on Wednesday, Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada party-list said that the DA and NFA should strictly follow the 2011-2016 Food Staples and Sufficiency Program (FSSP) to ensure the rice supply.
“The DA and NFA worked together on a very good, very sound plan to ensure rice self-sufficiency by 2016, which is why we do not understand why DA and NFA officials just don’t stick with the plan they themselves put together,” dela Cruz said in a statement.
According to NFA officials, the Philippines need to import additional 500,000 metric tons of rice for next year. The lawmaker said that this approach of the NFA drains the agency’s fund—instead of implementing higher taxes for rice imports, it bears the tax costs.
“Rather than earn from fees it charges rice importers, the NFA is instead bearing the tax costs of importing rice. And now rather than us being rice self-sufficient, we now learn that we have to import an additional half million metric tons of rice,” lamented dela Cruz.
The lawmaker said that the problem with rice supply is the result of policy implementation inconsistent with the FSSP. He reminded the NFA that according to the FSSP, the agency should have a limited role in rice importation and should focus instead in buffer stocking, intensifying palay procurement and strengthen price support.
“If they adopt the recommendations of the FSSP, we could probably earn P10-billion annually, while keeping pace with our food security program,” he added.
Rice prices have soared since the start of September but the NFA said that the country has enough rice supply.
Meanwhile, authorities have already identified the personalities believed to be responsible in the massive manipulation and sabotage of rice supply in the country following the discovery of some P15-billion worth of rice that were smuggled into the country from Vietnam.
This developed as the Philippine National Police-Intelligence Group reportedly raided the ship Komatse Star docked at the Manila Bay from which some 1.6 million sacks of rice worth P15 billion were discovered.
The authorities involved in the raid however are yet to divulge the complete details of the operations purportedly so as not to affect their ongoing follow-up operations.
The ship is reportedly being used to repack the smuggled rice and the government stood to lose some P15 billion in revenues had the smugglers succeeded in bringing it to the market even at the price of P500 per sack.
A certain A. Yang and Alex S reportedly act as contacts of the group inside the Bureau of Customs (BOC) who are responsible for facilitating the “necessary” documentary requirements of the smuggled rice.
Agents who were involved in the operations but who requested anonymity revealed that prior to the raid, a meeting was held on August 11 in an undisclosed place among several key figures behind the botched P15-billion smuggle attempt.
They identified the personalities as a very high official of the BOC, and a few other private businessmen, including a certain Eldon Cruz. It is not yet clear if Cruz is the “presidential brother-in-law” or husband of Aquino’s sister Ballsy.
The same group is reportedly also angling to spirit out of BoC premises a huge volume of smuggled rice which was part of initial smuggling operations.
Another ship MV Song Nan also loaded with millions of metric tons of smuggled rice is also awaiting the go ahead while docked in the Port of Manila to unload the products.
The smugglers have reportedly banded together to get back at Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag who have earlier imposed strict rice importation requirements to protect the interest of local farmers.
Both Alcala and Calayag have stood firm in their declaration that the country has sufficient rice supply and stock and that there is no shortage of the main staple especially now that it has already reached the harvest months of September and October.
The operatives discovered that the smugglers have reportedly used and manipulated the media by giving false information to confuse the public make it appear that there is a rice shortage and thus force the NFA to allow more importation of the product.
They added that the same group is behind in the false text messages that the NFA was giving away free rice in various big markets in Metro Manila.
Alcala has earlier sought the help of the authorities to run after and apprehend those behind the false text messages and file charges of economic sabotage against them.
WITH REPORT FROM JING VILLAMENTE