• Senate panel to grill Agriculture, NFA officials on rice supply

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    CONGRESS may be on a two-week break but that isn’t stopping senators from looking into the alleged rice price manipulation that happened recently as well as the supposed failure of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) to act on the problem.

    Agriculture and NFA officials are likely to be grilled once again when the Senate agriculture and food committee resumes it inquiry on Monday.

    The hearing is in consonance with Senate Resolution 233 filed by Sen. Loren Legarda, seeking an investigation on the actual state of rice supply.

    Legarda said the increase in the price of rice meant either a shortage in the market or someone was manipulating prices.

    At the last committee hearing, the panel instructed Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to come up with measures to stop the unabated increase in the price of rice.
    It was learned that the retail prices for regular-milled and well-milled rice are almost P4 higher than last year’s.

    The NFA meanwhile is claiming that the country has more than enough rice stocks.
    Based on the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), regular milled rice is P36.1 per kilo, higher than last year’s P32.4.

    Well milled rice in 2012 was P35.6 per kilo, lower than the current P39.2.

    “If you look at the trend last year, the retail prices of regular milled and well milled rice slightly peaked during the lean season, as expected, then normalized. This year, not only have the price hikes during the lean season been significantly higher, they have also failed to normalize at the expected time,” Legarda said.

    Edwin Paraluman of the Philippine Farmer’s Advisory Board based in General Santos City, said during the last hearing there was no rice shortage and the price increase was due to the speculation of traders.

    Paraluman explained that the price of rice usually goes up during the lean season from July to September, because it is the time when rice farmers start planting.
    The NFA also blamed the price rise on typhoons Labuyo and Mareng that hit major rice-producing provinces in Luzon.

    But Legarda didn’t buy the explanation and insisted that the DA and NFA should have
    anticipated the destruction that will be brought by typhoons on rice stocks considering that typhoon and severe weather disturbance are regular occurrences in the country.

    “As the agency responsible for ensuring the stability of rice prices, it is incumbent upon the DA and NFA to anticipate the adverse effects of these weather disturbances on rice supplies and take the measures necessary to prevent these from negatively affecting rice prices,” Legarda said.

    Jefferson Antiporda

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