MANILA - An inter-agency body will investigate the purchase and distribution of rice by the National Food Authority, as the government moved to ensure enough supply of the staple grain, officials said Wednesday.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he was not accusing the NFA of irregularities but he said the supply chain could be abused by traders, some of whom mix government-subsidized rice with those intended for commercial sale.
The proposal to audit the "acquisition, down to the distribution" of the grain by the NFA was made by Bangko Sentral Deputy Gov. Diwa Guinigundo, a member of the inter-agency NFA Council, said Agriculture Usec. Ariel Cayanan.
"We are talking here of food and food is a national security issue," Piñol said, adding that if he had his way, he would not allow traders and middle men to "control" the supply chain.
"Where does the problem lie? Bakit hindi maramdaman ng publiko ang saganang ani ng Pilipino(Why can't the public feel the bountiful harvest of Filipinos)? The food supply chain, from the farm to the market, has always been controlled by traders and middle men," he said.
Piñol said he "commends" the NFA Council's decision to audit the NFA, the state-run grains authority that is also part of the council.
The Philippines is roughly 96-percent self-sufficient in rice, Piñol said.
The government is rushing the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice to replenish the NFA's buffer, which had dwindled to 2 days worth.
Farmers produced 19.4 million metric tons of palay in 2017, enough to meet the estimated 11.2 million metric tons in demand, Piñol said.
"By mathematical computation, the supply of the production of palay is already above and beyond the national requirement. But we are not declaring rice sufficiency yet," he told reporters.