• Shortage used as excuse to import rice

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    THE National Food Authority (NFA) was criticized on Monday for using the country’s rice shortage to justify additional importation of rice into the country this year, a move that could be “beneficial” to the official of the NFA and not the public.

    This was revealed by activist-lawyer Argee Guevarra, following reports that the NFA is set to import additional 100,000 metric tons of rice this year to beef up its buffer stock and address high rice costs arising from a supposed rice shortage allegedly orchestrated by rice cartels.

    Guevarra, of Sanlakas party-list, said that the reported plan to import more rice into the country contradicts earlier claims of the NFA that there is no rice shortage and that the country has enough buffer stock to last for more 51 days.

    “The sad part here is that stabilizing rice prices and rice supplies is not the real priority of NFA officials; ultimately they will use this predicament to pave the way for another government-to-government transaction, an additional racket for them,” explained the lawyer-crusader.

    NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag during the Senate deliberation of the Department of Agriculture budget told lawmakers that the NFA has a 15-day rice inventory, which is considered as one of the highest stock compared to previous years.

    Besides the NFA stock the private sector has 36-day buffer stock and with the lean season coming to an end, there is no reason to worry about possible rice shortage.

    Guevarra said he received information that Calayag had met with NFA managers to discuss the additional importation of rice to address the rice shortage.

    This is consistent with reports that the government’s economic team was pressuring Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala to import additional quantities of rice, as data from the DA’s own Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) belied Alcala’s claims that the country would be able to produce enough palay to make the country rice self-sufficient by the end of 2013.

    “Credible sources have told me that the recommendation is for us to import an additional half million metric tons of rice, but Alacala has stubbornly refused to do so. Mas importante pa pride nya kaysa sa kumukulong tyan ng taongbayan [His pride is more important than the grumbling stomachs of our people],” said Guevarra.

    The activist lawyer alleged that the move is part of the desire of the NFA to profit from the hardship of the people.

    The alleged overpricing of the NFA’s government-to-government transaction and the continued rise in rice prices prompted the filing of resolutions calling for separate inquiries in the Senate and the Lower House by Sen. Loren Legarda and Reps. Garly Alejano and Ashley Acedillo of Magdalo party-list, respectively.

    In light of the issue, Guevarra emphasized the importance of the media in exposing the problems at the agencies tasked to ensure the country’s food security.

    He noted that the lack of transparency in the dealings of the DA and NFA, raised the need for the legislators and the media’s increased vigilance and take a closer on what is going on in the DA.

    “Can you imagine what would have happened if the media or the congressional hearings had not exposed the reality of our rice situation? We would have been kept in the dark until it was too late,” he added.

    The planned importation of rice is inconsistent with the earlier announcement of Alcala that all the necessary rice importation had been completed in June.

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