MANILA, Philippines - The National Food Authority (NFA) admitted it cannot curb rice smuggling and hoarding in the country.
Some retailers have been caught selling mixed and re-bagged NFA commercial rice with a price pegged for the latter. Others have resorted to price manipulation, repacking, hoarding and false shortages.
To reduce these incidents, NFA has partnered with the civil society organization Kaya Natin for the "Bantay Bigas" project.
The agreement between the government and Kaya Natin involves monitoring of rice distribution from NFA storage to markets or houses.
"Hindi po talaga kaya ng NFA na bantayan lahat kaya kailangan namin ng tulong ng mga citizens na bantayan ang NFA rice," Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan explained.
New NFA administrator Renan Dalisay said they have received omplaints of non-availability of NFA rice in some small markets and even provinces. He assured cases have been filed against erring retailers and even NFA inspectors.
"Marami na po tayong nakasuhan at tuloy-tuloy ang panghuhuli sa Pilipinas, meron nga po isang kaso sa Cebu na hindi naging available ang NFA rice dahil hinahalo sa commercial rice," Dalisay said.
Licenses of erring retailers are at stake if they will be caught or reported smuggling, overpricing or hoarding rice. Pangilinan added they are moving to raise penalties within the year.
Only 20 percent of the available rice in the market is NFA rice while the majority is commercial rice.
Pangilinan and Dalisay declined to give details on the quantity of rice to be imported to sustain the market.
On the question if NFA will reduce the prices of rice, Pangilinan said at the moment the department cannot follow the trend.
He noted the NFA is still paying its debt of P160-billion and the current pricing of NFA rice is not enough to pay it off. He assured they are not increasing the price of NFA rice because of this.
The NFA sells two kinds of rice: the 25 percent broken rice sold at P27 per kilo and the 15 percent broken rice at P32 per kilo.
Pangilinan pointed out that the selling price is not even profitable.
"We are biting the bullet here, we are selling at a loss," he said.