MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday asked the public to calm down over the reported lack of supply of cheap rice from the National Food Authority (NFA), saying the country’s overall rice supply is “more than sufficient.”
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra sought to allay public fears after the Grain Retailers Confederation of the Philippines said there is no more supply of NFA rice in Metro Manila, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.
“We all know that the stock of NFA rice is low, but the overall rice supply is more than sufficient with plenty to spare. No need to panic,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
Guevarra and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) have said absence of cheap stocks of the staple in the market should not trigger high rice prices.
NEDA officer-in-charge Rosemarie Edillon said the NFA accounts for only 8 percent of the market and is not big enough to influence prices.
Edillon also said removing the commercial function of the National Food Authority would help it focus on building the country's buffer stock of rice.
Guevarra, for his part, said: “An unusual rise in price despite more than adequate supplies could only be the result of manipulation. The government will monitor rice traders very closely.”
Cabinet Assistant Secretary Jonas Soriano, meanwhile, said the inter-agency NFA council also wonders why the NFA ran out of stock of cheap rice.
The NFA is required to have a 15-day buffer stock at any given time and a 30-day buffer stock during the lean season.
“Iyan din ang tanong ng NFA council. And 'yun din ang dahilan kaya nag-special meeting nung March 19 kasama si Pangulo kasi malaking kuwestiyon para sa lahat including the Council bakit naubusan ng NFA rice,” said Soriano, who works under Secretary to the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco, chair of the inter-agency NFA Council.
“Ang NFA rice is supposed to be used as a buffer stock sa kalamidad so dapat talagang hindi dapat maubos 'yan. Kung maubos, anong dapat gagamitin natin sa emergency?”
Soriano said NFA operations must be looked into in order to determine why the country’s rice buffer stock has gone down. He said the NFA Council has already agreed that an independent audit by the Commission on Audit must be done on the NFA.
“Napansin din namin ayon din sa NFA report eh noong October, November, December na marami silang binenta na bigas. It was harvest season, so bakit kailangan magbenta ng maraming bigas during Christmas season? 'Yung lean season na wala masyadong bigas, hindi naman sila nagbenta na masyado so where's the logic? But we don't want to make any judgment here,” he said.
The government has already approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice through the government-to-private mode of procurement. Soriano said this should boost the country’s rice supply.
“Sabi nga ni presidente, even we have the assurance na there's rice supply in the Philippines, better pa sobra kaysa kulang,” he said.