House panel to start probe on alleged NFA rice shortage next week

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2018 06:33 PM

MANILA - The House Committee on Agriculture will start investigating next week the reported shortage of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) in the market as well as the agency's low buffer stock, House Committee on Agriculture chair Jose Panganiban Jr. said Tuesday. 
In a resolution filed on Feb. 7, Panganiban said there is a need to investigate reports that the NFA had admitted to having only 65,200 metric tons of its affordable rice left as buffer stock, which could last for only 2 days. 
House Resolution No. 1658 also took note of the NFA's admission on February 6 that it could "fully resolve the shortage in government-subsidized rice unless an inter-agency council approves its request for grain importation."

"The mandate of the NFA is to ensure that at any given time, may buffer stock na 15 days na bigas. Unfortunately, inamin mismo ng NFA na 2 days na lang ang buffer stock. That's way, way below the 15-day period," Panganiban said. 

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier denied that there is a rice shortage in the country. He said commercial traders were fanning reports of an alleged shortage to "justify the entry of additional imported rice."

Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin said the presence of a sufficient buffer stock is important in controlling the price of rice in the market. 
"May correlation. Ang presyo ng bigas mako-control dahil andiyan ang NFA, may buffer stock. Pag nawala 'yun, who will determine the price? It will shoot up. Kailangan ang function ng NFA for food security," she said.
Panganiban said among the topics that the House inquiry would look into is the relationship between the NFA and the NFA Council. NFA Administrator Jason Aquino had earlier blamed the NFA Council for denying its request to import rice to address the shortage. 
Panganiban, for his part, found the composition of the NFA Council anomalous.
"The Secretary of [the] DA is not part of [the] NFA Council. That's anomalous. Parang walang pakialam ang Department of Agriculture," he said, adding that to address this, he has filed a bill reorganizing the NFA Council.
He said that at present, the NFA Council is composed of representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Cabinet Secretary, the Development Bank of the Philippines, and the Land Bank.
In Panganiban's draft bill, the NFA Council will be chaired by the Agriculture secretary with the NFA administrator as vice-chair. 

Other members will include the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor, the secretaries of Finance, Trade and Industry, National Economic and Development Authority, Social Welfare and Development, and Interior and Local Government, the chair of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the Executive Secretary, and 2 farmers' representatives.
The substitute draft bill is currently pending at the House Committee on Appropriations, after having gone through the Committee on Agriculture. The Senate is due to conduct public hearings on the draft bill's Senate counterpart.
Beyond the composition of the NFA Council, BUTIL Partylist Rep. Cecilia Leonila Chavez said there's also a need for the government to examine the NFA's readiness to handle stocks of rice stored in its warehouses.
"'Yun bang warehouses ng NFA, are they capable of storing palay or rice? I don't think so. Kaya di rin nakakabili ng malaking stocks sa mga magsasaka," she explained.
Panganiban said the bill would also look into allegations of the existence of a rice cartel.
"Totoo bang cartel naglo-lord dito? Kung cartel man, ano action ng gobyerno? Pwede ba pasukin ang warehouse of cartels trying to manipulate price of bigas?" he asked.

At least two senators have called for a Senate inquiry into the alleged shortage of government-subsidized rice.