By Madelaine Miraflor
The National Food Authority (NFA) has accused the NFA Council, the highest policy-making body of the grains agency, of defying the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately replenish the state-run grains agency’s already depleted stocks with imported rice.
“The NFA Council has been defying President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s order for an immediate importation of the 250,000 MT buffer stock replenishment,” NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said on Thursday.
During a special meeting with the NFA Council chaired by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco in March, Duterte directed the NFA to immediately import rice, saying he would rather prefer an excess supply of rice than a shortage.
But a report in Business Bulletin three days ago showed that until now, the NFA Council has yet to sign the Terms of Reference (TOR) that will allow the NFA to proceed with the bidding process for the importation of rice.
In particular, Mercedita Sombilla, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environment, was quoted as saying that there is still an argument as to the “changes” that the NFA had made in the TOR.
Asked about the changes, Sombilla hinted that the NFA may not want to follow the similar guidelines used in the 2017 importation, which will have the importation done through an Open Tender scheme or Government-to-Private (G2P) for a “corrupt free and competitive bidding process.”
“Up to this time, the CabSec [Cabinet Secretary] has yet to approve the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice that NFA management has submitted for approval, adopting the 2017 rice importation TOR, under an open tender or government to private scheme,” Aquino said.
Aquino also reacted to the call of the NFA Council for an independent audit by the Commission on Audit of the agency’s operations.
“Our documents are ready for scrutiny,” Aquino said.
The NFA Council is particularly questioning the NFA management why it released a lot of its rice stocks during the harvest season from October to December while distribution was low during the lean months of July to September.
In its defense, the NFA issued a statement on Thursday, saying that “is not correct” to say that NFA’s rice distribution was high during the harvest season and low during the lean months.
“Over the last ten years, records show that NFA rice distribution was in fact lowest in 2017 at 14 million bags,” NFA said.
“NFA rice distribution was highest during the rice crisis in 2008 at 40.5 million bags. In 2009, total rice releases were recorded at 37.4 million bags; 35.1 million bags in 2010; 22.2 million bags in 2011; 15.3 million bags in 2011; 15.1 million bags in 2012; 26.4 million bags in 2014; 18.8 million bags in 2015; and 22.9 million bags in 2016,” it added.
It explained that part of the NFA rice releases in October, November and December went to the relief agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Office of Civil Defense and local government units (LGUs) for their relief operations totaling 292,848 bags. Total rice issued for relief operations in 2017 was 784,429 bags.
Aquino likewise pointed out that the government-contracted 250,000 metric tons imported rice in 2017 started arriving in the country only during the last week of August. Thus, distribution during the lean months was calibrated due to low inventory.
With the arrival of fresh buffer stocks, the NFA had to release older stocks to its network of accredited retailers nationwide to avoid deterioration, a move that is in line with the agency’s total quality management program.
“There are more than 10 million marginalized Filipinos who are dependent on government subsidized rice. As part of our stabilization mandate, we have to continue distributing rice at any given time to be able to respond to the high demand for cheap rice as the price of commercial rice started to increase along with other commodities,” Aquino said.
“We also have to serve the rice requirements of island provinces and municipalities and critical areas like Batanes, Romblon, Masbate, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan that are 60-80% dependent on NFA for their rice supply,” he added.
As early as January 2018, the NFA said it has been prudently allocating the remaining rice stocks in its warehouses to where it is most needed. The order of priority is: relief agencies, LGUs, government institutions, non-government organizations, and accredited retailers.