MANILA - Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday called for the abolition of the National Food Authority, while Senator Kiko Pangilinan recommended sacking the agency's officials amid a shortage of government-subsidized grain in Zamboanga City.
The southern metropolis on Wednesday declared a state of calamity due to the rice shortage that drove up the staple's price at P50 to P70 per kilo.
"First things first: Fire the top management of NFA," Pangilinan said in a statement.
The rice crisis, he said, is a "combination of both corruption and incompetence by top government officials in cahoots with wealthy private players in the rice industry taking advantage of the rising prices to profit handsomely."
"Powerful and influential forces both in and out of government are making a killing in manipulating both the availability of NFA rice stocks in particular, and the rice importation and procurement processes in general," said Pangilinan, who once chaired the NFA.
New NFA leaders, he said, should ensure that the subsidized grain is properly distributed and not re-bagged, mount a government-to-government importation process and buy rice ahead of market needs.
Pangilinan also called for a Senate inquiry into the rice crisis.
"How can a rice shortage happen in the land of plenty under the first Mindanaoan president? For prices to shoot up to over 70 pesos a kilo, is the shortage real? Is it hoarding? How did the rice situation in Zamboanga City reach calamity level? Who are responsible? What can be done to resolve the shortage?," he said.
"These are just some of the questions we want answered in a Senate investigation into this gut issue that threatens to affect every Filipino."
Gatchalian, meanwhile, said the NFA should be abolished amid "inefficient and unproductive" operations, which have supposedly made the agency "a liability to the government."
NFA's revenue shrank 38 percent to P17.93 billion in 2017, from P29.3 billion in 2016, while its losses swelled to P150 billion, the senator said.
The NFA also received P5.2 billion out of the P9.72 billion in subsidies that the treasury department allocated to government owned and controlled corporations in June, noted Gatchalian.
NFA, however, used subsidy funds to settle debts although these were intended "specifically to stabilize the price and supply of rice and corn," the senator said, citing findings by state auditors.
"Taxpayers continue to shoulder the losses that NFA despite its consistent failure to fulfill its mandate to stabilize the market price of rice so that every Filipino family will be able to put enough rice on their plates. It's time to abolish this unproductive agency and put taxpayers’ money to better use," he added.
The lawmaker threw his support behind the recommendation of the country’s economic managers to let market forces determine rice prices instead, which he believes will make the staple more affordable.
Gatchalian also reiterated his call for the passage of his proposed law seeking to replace quantitative restrictions on grain with a tariff.