OFFICIALS of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) are being implicated in the P547-million overpricing of a shipment of rice from Vietnam in April.
In a statement, activist and lawyer Argee Guevarra on Thursday said industry sources have provided him proof that on top of the 187,000 metric tons of rice it imported, the NFA inserted purchases of another 18,700 metric tons without approval from the Department of Finance under the Fiscal Incentive Review Board (FIRB), illegally increasing the volume of the grains import to 205,700 metric tons.
Guevarra said the documents showed the DA purchased the 187,000 metric tons at $459 (P19,762.95) per metric ton.
The prevailing market price in Vietnam for the same volume was $360 per metric ton (P15,480).
Guevarra said a check with the Oryza Global Rice price for the period will confirm that the NFA overpriced the shipment by at least $10,439,275 or roughly P457 million.
Guevarra said that industry experts who spoke to him on condition of anonymity revealed that the landed cost of Vietnamese rice—inclusive of handling and delivery—should only be $409 or P17,587. Clearly, he said, there was an overprice of P2,100 per metric ton.
“Secretary (Proceso) Alcala should be more circumspect now in his rice importation where the price disparity is already indicative of the potential hand of rice price profiteers,” he warned.
Guevarra said he is considering filing a graft complaint against Agriculture and NFA officials who may be behind the overpricing before the Office of the Ombudsman or the newly created Inter Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council.
He also voiced fears in the rice industry that profiteers would again manipulate the planned importation of 700,000 metric tons of rice in November.
During the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, the rice importation policy set by the NFA triggered an artificial global rice price hike wherein corrupt NFA officials leveraged importation requirements in commodities futures-like trading.
The series of rice importations was done amid tight import restrictions on private rice traders, which go against the country’s commitment to free trade as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Philippines was last granted by the WTO in 2005 the option to regulate rice imports through the imposition of trade quota or quantitative restriction (QR) to protect the price of domestically-produced goods to decrease or eliminate a trade deficit.
The restriction expired in June 2012, allowing private traders from importing rice again.