By Mario Casayuran
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate ways and means committee, pressed on Tuesday authorities to ensure that the poorest consumers truly benefit from government-subsidized rice amid allegations of irregularities in the distribution of rice by the National Food Authority (NFA).
Angara said his call is based on a study by the Senate Economic Planning Office that the government policy of stabilizing price of rice—both for producers and consumers—has cost the government P45 billion in subsidy for the past 10 years.
“Napakalaking halaga na ang nagugol ng gobyerno sa subsidiya sa bigas. Sigurado ba tayo na ang pinakamahihirap nating kababayan na direktang nakikinabang dito? (The government has appropriated huge amount of funds to subsidize rice. Are we sure that the poorest Filipino families are benefitting from these subsidies?) ” said Angara, questioning the reported leakages and poor targeting of the agency.
Angara has filed a resolution seeking to look into the NFA’s effectiveness in ensuring the food security of the country, and the stability of supply and price of the staple grain-rice.
The NFA said early this month that it only has 64,000 metric tons or two days worth of buffer stock. The NFA is required to maintain a buffer stock of at least 15 days worth of consumption at any given time.
The NFA said it had decreased its distribution in the market and prioritized distributing stocks in calamity-prone areas and highly-depressed regions.
Given the low supply of NFA rice, the price of commercial rice has already increased by P3 to P5 per kilo in some areas.
Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said, however, that the reported shortage in NFA stocks is being used “to justify the increase in the price of rice in the market” and the “additional importation of rice.”
Piñol stated that there was no need to import rice because the country is 96 percent rice sufficient—with a record harvest of 19.4 million metric tons last year.
Because of the Pinol statement, Angara said the public should be told that there is no rice shortage in the country.
Increases in the price of rice in some places are the handiwork of abusive rice traders who should be prosecuted, he stressed.
“Rice is the most important staple food for every Filipino family. Dapat ay siguruhin na ang supply nito sa merkado ay sapat at abot-kaya lalo na ng ordinaryong mamamayan (The supply of rice should be ensured and is made affordable to ordinary citizens),” he added.