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There is no rice shortage, says DA chief




Workers dry newly-harvested unhusked rice grains in Pulilan Bulacan. The government looks forward on the harvest in the coming months. (Mark Balmores)

WORKERS dry newly-harvested unhusked rice grains in Pulilan Bulacan. The government looks forward on the harvest in the coming months. (Mark Balmores)

DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said yesterday that the Philippines could have a stable rice supply but his department lacks funds for an ac­celerated rice production program.

Appearing before the Senate fi­nance sub-committee “F’’ to defend the DA’s proposed 2019 Php49.8 bil­lion budget, Piñol said he pointed this out to President Duterte during a recent meeting on the continuing rice distribution problems persist­ing in the country, particularly in the Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (ZAMBASUTA) region.

He admitted that the usual inflow of cheap smuggled rice from near­by Malaysia has been constricted and this triggered price rises in the ZAMBASUTA, adding that he did not propose legalizing the smug­gling of rice.

He blamed the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the current crisis in the agricul­ture sector when it restricted DA’s agriculture-related projects, includ­ing an accelerated rice production, by reducing to Php7.4 billion the DA’s proposed Php15 billion budget for these projects.

He pointed out that the 2018 Php55.6 billion budget of DA was reduced by DBM to Php49.8 billion, or a reduction of Php5.8 billion (-10.4 percent) for the coming 2019 fiscal year.

Clarifying an observation by Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, sub-committee chairwoman, of high rice prices in the country and rice shortages in parts of the country, particularly in the southern Mindanao, Pinol reit­erated for the nth time his refrain: “There is no rice shortage.’’

In fact, rice farmers are enjoying high prices for their palay produc­tion as farm gate for palay at Php25 per, the highest so far, and are thus encouraged to increase production, he added.

Remember, the farmers have been economically handicapped, he added.

After the budget hearing, Piñol told Senate reporters that the price of rice and other agricultural pro­duce have stabilized because of the good weather and arrival of cheap vegetables from Bukidnon.

He pointed out that palay would be harvested in November and that he projects that the cost of National Food Authority (NFA) rice would be Php27 while commercial rice would be in the Php40 per kilo range.

Piñol stressed the current rice crisis was created by delayed ar­rival of rice imported by the private sector, driven by the speculative effect of the Tax Reform for Ac­celeration and Inclusion (TRAIN), and hoarding by traders creating supply constriction they say is “in­ventory management.’’

He said he would submit the rec­ommendation of Senator Villar to the Economic Cluster of that price ceilings should be imposed by the President on basic commodities when prices are abnormal.

Reacting to a conversation be­tween Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and con­gressmen that rice production is not a priority, Piñol said he chose not to comment because “this is discouraging.’’

“We are going through a rude awakening that agriculture should not be shunted to the sidelines

Villar said the country produced 11.8 million tons of rice and even imported 500,000 tons of rice.

Yet, there is a current rice sup­ply problem, she added.

Pinol told Villar that the DA is not involved in rice importation and distribution as these are un­der the responsibilities of the Na­tional Food Authority (NFA).

Several senators have asked for the abolition of the NFA for the current rice supply mess.

Asked if he would want to be­come a member of the NFA Coun­cil, Pinol said yes, explaining that this would synchronize their ef­forts, projections and schedules.

Piñol had said the NFA is not un­der the DA.

Villar said it appears that trad­ers are controlling the flow of rice supply,

Sen. Francis Escudero noted that the price of imported rice is so low yet the price tags at the markets are very high.

“Kasalanan natin lahat yan,’’ an exasperated Villar said of the un­checked prices of rice.

Piñol said the DA has put up re­wards against leaders of rice car­tel and hoarders in the Southern Philippines.

Citing Vietnam and Israel that produce rice at least cost, Vil­lar stressed that technology and mechanization are keys to efficient and increased palay production.