Abolish NFA – Gatchalian

Published August 23, 2018, 7:13 PM

by Roel Tibay

By Mario Casayuran

Pro-administration Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian and opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan ganged up Thursday on the National Food Authority (NFA) over the current rice shortage saying the reforms put in place during the second Aquino administration has allegedly been “overturned by greed, incompetence, and corruption.”

Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee, said he is pressing for the abolition of the NFA to spare taxpayers the burden of subsidizing the “inefficient and unproductive” operations of the agency.

“lsa sa mga problemang nakikita ko kaya kulang ang supply at mataas ang presyo ng bigas ay iyong operations ng NFA. Hindi maayos at hindi nagagampanan ang responsibilidad nito,” Gatchalian said. (The inefficient operations of the NFA are causing the current rice supply shortages and high prices of rice.)

Gatchalian pointed out that the NFA has become “a liability to the government” after its revenue continues to drop every year.

Earlier, Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, chairwoman of the Senate agriculture and food committee, tagged the NFA as a “dismal failure.”

Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party (LP) and former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization during the later part of the Aquino administration, said the rice crisis in Zamboanga city is “a combination of both corruption and incompetence by top government officials in cahoots with wealthy private players in the rice industry taking advantage of the rising prices to profit handsomely.”

But Agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñolsaid rice prices in Zamboaga soared when rice smuggling operations stopped after President Duterte met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to address movements of terror groups.

In his Facebook post Wednesday, Piñolsaid “the rice crisis in Zamboanga city and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawitawi is a dire warning of the fate that would befall on the Philippines if the economic managers succeed in their proposal to just rely on imported rice and reduce government spending on the country’s rice farming sector.”

“For so many years, these areas called ZAMBASULTA have relied on smuggled rice from Vietnam and Thailand which is brought into the country via Sabah, Malaysia,” Piñol said.

Smuggled rice, Piñol added “was sold in the marker at prices lower than locally produced commercial rice and local officials hardly lifted a finger to stop the illegal activity.”

“There was no serious effort to develop and support the rice industry in their localities for very practical reasons: Good quality smuggled rice was being sold for P29 in the islands and at least P35 in Zamboanga City.”

This situation reportedly prompted rice farmers to abandon their rice fields and shifted to other agricultural activities like fishing “because there was no way they could compete with cheaper smuggled rice.”

P150B loses

Citing financial data, Gatchalian said NFA’s revenue shrank 38 percent to P17.93 billion in 2017, from P29.3 billion in 2016. NFA’s losses, on the other hand, swelled to P150 billion.

The Bureau of Treasury reported that the NFA was the biggest recipient of subsidies provided to government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) in June 2018.

Record shows that the treasury department allocated P5.2 billion of the total P9.72 GOCC subsidy released that month for NFA’s food security program.

Gatchalian said the Commission on Audit (COA) has called out the NFA for using GOCC subsidy funds to settle outstanding debts, saying the funds were intended “specifically to stabilize the price and supply of rice and corn.”

“Taxpayers continue to shoulder the losses that NFA despite its consistent failure to fulfill its mandate to stabilize the market price of rice so that every Filipino family will be able to put enough rice on their plates. It’s time to abolish this unproductive agency and put taxpayers’ money to better use,” he added.

Gatchalian threw his support behind the recommendation of the country’s economic managers to let market forces determine rice prices instead, which he believes will make the country’s foremost staple food more affordable for all.

He alsocalled for the passage of his Senate Bill 1839 which aims to replace quantitative restrictions (QRs) on rice with a reasonable tariff to make the country’s rice producing provinces more competitive.

The measure, according to Gatchalian, would also give the President elbow room to adjust tariff rates on imported rice, to regulate rice exports, and to impose special rice safeguards to ensure food security for Filipinos.

DTI should step up

In the light of the rice crisis in Zamboanga, Davao City 1st district Rep. KarloNograles and Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel said it is responsibility of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to carry out anti-profiteering and price monitoring operations in a bid to temper the effects of such problems.

“We have to send a message that profiteering does not pay. Government must make it clear that if businesses try to illegally pad their profits, they will literally pay for their crimes,” said Nograles, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Nograles, who earlier called on the National Food Authority (NFA) to look into the “abnormally high” rice prices in Zamboanga and nearby provinces, said DTI’s provincial offices need to be “extra vigilant” especially since “probinsyanos’ budgets are hurt the most when the prices of basic goods go beyond their SRPs (suggested retail prices).”

Pimentel, a member of the Appropriations panel, said the DTI headed by Secretary Ramon Lopez should do something to address the Zamboanga rice crisis.

“It’s the responsibility of the DTI to always monitor and regulate the prices of our commodities so I think DTI should send some of its officials to Zamboanga to solve the rice crisis that is happening there,” Pimentel said.

The situation in Zamboanga is so serious that the City Council was forced to pass a resolution urging the local government to declare a “state of calamity.”

Nograles warned that unscrupulous businessmen may attempt to jack up the prices of basic goods and commodities while unfairly blaming the new TRAIN law or adverse weather conditions. (With a report from Ellson Quismorio)